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Karlovy Vary

History

Today it may look like a monument to order and good sense, but according to legend, Karlovy Vary’s springs were chanced upon. They were discovered by a dog that fell into the first of the town’s springs while hunting with Emperor Charles IV. The loss of the dog was negligible compared with the profits to be made from the warm springs, and in 1358 Charles had a hunting lodge built near the largest, and granted the town status as ‘Charles Spa’.

The town soon became a magnet for European aristocrats, who flocked to the growing watering hole hoping to purge themselves of the digestive disorders that were fashionable at the time. Russian tsar Peter the Great, Frederick I of Prussia and Empress Maria Theresa all made a splash in the early years.

Its popularity was further enhanced when Dr David Becher invented Becherovka, a potent herb liqueur, while analysing the composition of the town’s waters in about 1790. This gave people the opportunity to get sozzled and healthier simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, Becherovka remains the mainstay of Karlovy Vary’s souvenir industry today.

Attracting a growing population of aristocrats with plenty of money and plenty of time to kill between treatments, Karlovy Vary soon became a centre for the arts. The playwright Johann Schiller honeymooned here, and Goethe returned 13 times. Visiting composers included Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Liszt and Grieg. Dvořák’s symphony From the New World premiered here in 1884, and the Dvořák Autumn Festival is held each September.

As the money and famous faces poured in, the buildings went up and the ‘neo’-style and Art Nouveau structures that graced the skyline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries remain in fabulous condition today.

Now the celebrities are more B-list, attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July while wondering how their invitation to Cannes got lost in the mail.