I finally checked off something that’s been on my bucket list for a long time. Something which can be found in the bottles and glasses, in the hearts, and in the vineyards of Czech people— and now even in a bathtub.
You can find many spas throughout Czechia advertising beer and wine treatments. I was almost not sure which I wanted more, but after my experience with wine, I’ll definitely be back for a beer bath.
Ondra and I made reservations with the Chateau Spa Klimkovice, which is in a village outside of Ostrava. So on my birthday weekend, we made our way by train to the famously industrial and coal-mining city, arriving on a gloriously wintry evening.
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore Ostrava, and didn’t manage any of the typical things (like seeing Ema slag-heap or visiting the mines) this time around, but one thing I did notice is that the center of Ostrava has got a surprising amount of beautiful architecture and displays. Take, for one, an installation that you’ll see walking out of the train station:
It’s a Jewish star which is made of about six disparate parts, and when viewed from the correct angle (straight on) falls into place. There is a plaque in front of it which reads:
“In memory of the victims of the first deportation of European Jews on 18 October 1939 from Ostrava to the Polish town of Nisko”
While walking in the daylight through the small park of Husův sad, you can see some of Ostrava’s villas. The one that appealed to me in particular was this one, built in a striking Art Nouveau style with beautiful sculptures and designs, which I found out after some Googling belonged to Felix Neumann, an Ostrava architect who died in 1942. Another similar building, sadly in a state of disrepair and identifiable by the women’s faces, could be found a couple blocks away from the park.
While walking to the center we encountered a few very imposing churches. This is the Church of the Virgin Mary (Kostel neposkvrněného početí panny Marie), which is all alone in its big open square. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1899 in a Neo-Gothic/Romanesque style.
We passed by Ostrava’s modern town hall, and unfortunately this photo can’t even begin to show how breathtaking all those beautiful lights were in the darkness and silence. We had only a few other fellow photo-takers; everyone else was at the Christmas market.
When taking selfies, it’s very difficult for Ondra to get all him, myself, and whatever tall structure is in the background together in the frame. This took us five full minutes but I don’t have a chin and the clock tower doesn’t have a top. Ondra is not able to crack an American smile due to his subtle but necessary look of intense concentration.
Luckily, right across from the town hall is new wave coffee shop U Černého stromu (By the Black Tree). We stopped for some toucan-themed lungos and cappuccinos and I embarrassed myself, as I sometimes do, speaking Czenglish to the barista.
Finally, we made our way to the main square where the Christmas market was taking place.
The Christmas market is small relative to Brno and of course Prague, as the stands are mainly in this square (there was a mostly empty set of stands in a small square adjacent to it), and a lot of them were people selling bramboráky, or potato pancakes. We did see some cool things though, like a stand selling handmade musical instruments, and people making kitchen tools and decorations (like roses) out of wood right in front of us. There were also rides for children and ice skating on the square.
Ondra and I got oštěpek (Slovak, ostiepok), a type of cheese which is grilled and served with cranberry sauce. YUM.
We were freezing after wandering around for a time and decided to get some dinner. There were not a lot of places open and we didn’t want to spend a lot, so we decided on pizza in this nicely lit Italian joint, Pizzeria Opatija, with a lot of families, a lovely though non-native Czech-speaking waiter (I feel his pain), and the ability to see our pizza being made right in front of us!
We chose our own ingredients, which were spinach, cheese, and eggs. I never knew how much I love egg on my pizza, but then again I would eat twenty eggs every day if I could.
We were really happy because we both ate for 150czk ($7) together and we had leftover pizza for breakfast!
The next day we woke bright and early for our journey to Klimkovice. It wasn’t hard to get there; it took us about 30 minutes with public transportation including a few transfers. Ostrava has a really cool, modern system that involves you touching your credit card to a sensor on your way in and out of the bus or tram in order to pay for tickets. The machines automatically calculate the price based on the time and distance.
The bus drops you off right next to a supermarket and the town’s chateau. Klimkovice is not made explicitly for tourists, but they had enough options (including the spa, some cafés and restaurants) that you could spend the better part of a day there exploring the Renaissance center and running through the arcades. Next to the spa entrance is also a path leading down into a large, tree-canopied park, which I’m sure is quite beautiful in the spring when all of the greenery that surrounds the village blooms.
In the square you can see the interesting phenomenon in many Czech towns of brightly colored buildings next to old, unrestored ones that have been institutions since the Soviet era:
The main attractions here are the chateau and spa. The four-wing chateau was built in a Renaissance style in the second half of the 16th century by Ondřej Bzenec on the site of a medieval fortress, and had to be reconstructed twice after fires, including one during WWII. It displays work by Italian stonemasons. The chateau is a multi-purpose building, as in its enclosed courtyard you can find that it houses the town hall, police station, a wine cellar, and a health food store.
We found, after some careful searching, that around the corner and through the arch of St. Katherine’s (or Kostel sv. Kateřiny Alexandrijské) church, is the entrance to the spa. The church also had to be rebuilt after fires. Go through the arch and turn to the right for the park I mentioned before.
We got there about ten minutes early for our appointment, and after the receptionist showed us to our bathing room, she explained the contents of a jug that she poured into the bath, containing some wine and some grape seed oil that smelled divine. Then we were left alone to use the káď, the special word for this thing halfway between wine barrel and bath, for an hour and a half.
It was surprisingly large, considering it can fit a 6’3″ (193cm) person comfortably! You can see the slight red or rose tinge to the bathwater. The oil makes your skin shiny and smooth and though you can feel it on your skin after you leave the bath, it’s not greasy. Usually the heat of bathwater makes me nauseous, but this was really perfectly heated. I don’t remember enjoying a bath so much since my sister was in there with me and I was playing with mermaid dolls whose hair changed colors in the water.
The heat and the scent of the room was so relaxing (it even had heated floors), plus a private toilet, a massage table and a big chair-bed to relax on all wrapped up in your towels. You can turn on bubble jets in the bath if you feel like getting smacked in the face with wine bathwater. You also get a huge pitcher of wine of your choice – according to the daily offer – to share. (If you choose beer, you probably have full use of that tap!)
Once we got back to Brno, Ondra and I stopped by one of my favorite cafés, V Melounovém cukru (“In Watermelon Sugar,” named after a book), for a visit we’ve been trying to make since June.
This café has the most amazing cakes. I think we had something with raspberry and pistachio. We also had these “coffee cocktails” – mine had cotton candy stuffed in the top, and was called “Babiččina paruka” (Grandma’s wig), and Ondra’s had whipped cream and almond liqueur and was named “Lemur se závazky” (Lemur with obligations).
You’ve got to give them presentation points. They are expensive, but it’s worth it when you’re treating yourself. We ended this evening with Vietnamese pho soup, which is something I’d eat any day of the week.
Overall, I will remember that weekend as an amazing birthday gift and I would recommend wine baths, and particularly Chateau Spa Klimkovice, to anyone.