Through the good graces of the U.S. military, my husband Bill and I have had the pleasure of living in Germany for the past 18 months. We’ve made it a special point to see as much of Europe as possible while it’s still very accessible. Although we’ve been trying to see Europe’s famous capital cities, we’ve started to focus more on the former Eastern Bloc countries, mainly because we’ve found them to be very authentic and extremely affordable.
The Czech Republic is one former Eastern Bloc country we’ve fallen in love with for many reasons. Although its borders have only been open for about 20 years, the country has made great strides toward becoming a very comfortable and economical destination for tourists. Bill and I are also beer lovers and the Czech Republic is one place where beer is taken very seriously. With that in mind, we were both very eager to visit Chodovar Brewery’s Beer Wellness Land, located in the western Bohemian town of Chodova Plana.
How I discovered Chodovar
I get a lot of my ideas for trip planning by watching travel shows. One show I really enjoy is Three Sheets, a combination travel/drinking show hosted by comedian Zane Lamprey. Three Sheets used to be aired on the now defunct MOJO HD cable network and it is still available for download off of iTunes. In any case, Zane Lamprey visited the Czech Republic to partake of its excellent beer and try absinthe. To cure the horrible hangover he got from drinking so much, he paid a quick visit to the Chodovar Brewery for a trip through their beer spa. Lamprey took a bath in Chodovar’s special dark bathing beer, then enjoyed a massage. He made the process look like so much fun that I had to investigate it myself!
The family owned Chodovar Brewery has been making beer since 1573, but they’ve only been in the beer spa business since the spring of 2006. And the beer spa business is definitely booming at Chodovar. I found out through the process of making reservations that the management recommends booking the beer spa treatments as much as four months in advance! I don’t know if that’s actually necessary, but I did notice that the beer baths were in constant use while we were there. There are several single beer tubs there as well as one double tub for couples. Bear that in mind if you want to use the double tub because the time slots for the double tub fill up quickly.
Bill and I drove to Chodova Plana from our home near Stuttgart, Germany. Had we not encountered traffic and bad weather, it would have taken us about four hours to get there. Chodova Plana is located not far from the German border at Weidhaus. The cities of Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) and Plzen are about an hour away, while Prague can be reached within two hours. It’s best to get to Chodovar by car, since it’s located in a fairly rural area. There is a train station in town, but it appeared to offer infrequent service.
Secure parking in a locked lot is available at Chodovar at a cost of 70 Czech crowns (about $3.50) per day. There is also a limited amount of free parking in front of the hotel.
Chodovar owns and operates the Hotel U Sládka, a three star hotel. We found the hotel room basic but comfortable. The bed was the typical European style of two twins pushed together with nightstands on either side. The room had a direct dial telephone, a television with about ten Czech channels and the hotel’s brewery channel, free Internet (bring your own cable), and a very inexpensive minibar stocked with Chodovar beer and mineral water products.
The bathroom included a nice shower with excellent water pressure, a towel warmer, and two soap dispensers stocked with Chodovar’s own shower gel made with beer. The Chodovar Brewery makes a very reasonably priced line of beer cosmetics including shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bubble bath, and beer bath.
The hotel offers singles, doubles, triples, and even quad sized rooms. Pets can also be accommodated for a small fee.
Bookings for both the lodging and spa treatments can be made online, but I recommend calling the hotel directly for reservations. I tried to use the online booking, but got nervous when I didn’t get an immediate confirmation. When we called a couple of hours later to confirm, we found out that the hotel had not received our online request. It was a good thing we confirmed by phone because we ended up getting the last available appointment for the beer spa over President’s Day weekend.
Breakfast is included in the price of the room. It’s served in a breakfast room near the reception area and consists of excellent salamis and sausages, cheeses, hard boiled and scrambled eggs, and cereals, breads, and pastries. Tea, juices, and coffee are available and there’s also a coffee drink machine for those who prefer a cappuccino or hot chocolate.
There are two restaurants located on the Chodovar property. Both offer hearty traditional Czech fare, with lots of meat, cabbage, potatoes, and gravy… and beer, of course! Stará Sladovna (Old Malt House) is in a brick house adjacent to the hotel and seats 150 people. The outside terrace seats 300. Menu selections are paired with the beer sommelier’s recommendations. Ve Skále is a restaurant located within a cave-like rocky labyrinth that once served as Chodovar’s beer cellars. Ve Skále seats 260 people and is very unique with its underground catacomb-esque atmosphere.
Both restaurants feature long tables with benches as well as single chairs. Consequently, you may find yourself sitting with someone you don’t know! Also, be advised that smoking is allowed in both restaurants. Menus are available in English, although we didn’t run into any English speaking wait staff. If you don’t speak Czech, it helps if you can speak a little German; most of the staff we encountered spoke that language.
The Beer Spa and Massage Treatments
This is my favorite part of our trip to Chodovar! Bill and I had a ten o’clock appointment for a beer bath on Saturday morning. The smell of freshly brewed beer wafted past our nostrils as we waited for the staff to invite us into the spa. A very enthusiastic spa worker asked us to remove our shoes, then showed us to dressing rooms where we were directed to undress and wrap ourselves in a sheet. We placed our belongings in lockers and followed the spa worker to our baths, which had already been drawn for us. The spa worker drew the curtains around our tubs and invited us to climb in.
The beer used for the spa treatment consists mostly of warm mineral water and the spa’s own special dark bathing beer. I was expecting the beer spa to be sticky and stinky, but it was neither of those things. Instead, I found the treatment to be very relaxing. The beer mixture did smell of beer, but not offensively so. It was warm, foamy, and very comforting, even though we both found ourselves doing a lot of floating! As we rested in the bath, we sipped a .33 liter glass of unpasteurized Chodovar beer, which supposedly acts as a digestive. I don’t know if my digestion improved as a result of drinking that beer, but I do know that rinsing my hair in the bath did amazing things to my crowning glory. My hair was incredibly soft, clean, and shiny after it dried.
After twenty minutes of beery bathtub bliss, a spa worker unplugged our tubs and invited us to follow her to the dimly lit relaxation room, where we were asked to lie down on lounges. She swaddled us in fleeces and asked us to rest there for another twenty minutes. We sipped another .33 liters of unpasteurized beer as we listened to pop music over the sound system.
Bill and I also booked massages. It pays to book those in advance as well. I had a 50 minute complex massage, while Bill enjoyed a 20 minute simple massage. Both treatments required us to disrobe down to our underwear. Bill’s simple massage, given to him by a female therapist, focused on his back and neck, while my treatment, delivered by a male therapist, included massage on my back, arms and legs. One thing to remember is that nudity is not as big of a deal to Europeans as it is to Americans. I was a little surprised that my therapist stayed in the room while I undressed. He was very professional, but didn’t speak much English.
Chodovar also offers what they called a “remedial wrap”, which involves being packed and wrapped in a fleece full of warm malt draft. Bill and I did not try this treatment, though it did look interesting.
Things to do around Chodovar
There’s not much to the town of Chodova Plana. Although Chodovar offers spa treatments and daily brewery tours, chances are good that you’ll want to visit some of the local cities. Luckily, as long as you have a car at your disposal, it’s not too hard to find other things to do.
Bill and I visited Karlsbad, which is a beautiful spa town within an hour’s drive of Chodova Plana. The town offers museums, churches, and great shopping. And if you’re still in the mood for spa treatments, you’ll find plenty to choose from. There’s a wide variety of spas and treatments to choose from. You can also buy a small pitcher for tasting the spring water that bubbles up from several fountains around the downtown area.
We also went to Plzen, where we toured the surprisingly extensive Pilsner Urquell beer museum. After the museum and a very tasty lunch in the museum’s restaurant, we caught a glimpse of the enormous St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, located on the main square.
We ended up driving back to Karlsbad because I had spotted some very interesting art being sold on the street and wanted to purchase a painting. The artist who sold us our painting in Karlsbad lives in Prague, which is also located within driving distance of Chodova Plana.
We had a great time visiting Chodovar. Better yet, our trip was extremely economical. For three nights in Chodova Plana, two beer baths, two massages, an array of Chodovar beer cosmetics, and a few raids of the minibar, we spent a mere $309! Adding in food and souvenirs, the grand total for our excursion only cost $570! That $570 covered a very comfortable stay. We could have spent less money and still had a great time.
The hotel accepts credit cards, but be advised that the closest ATM machine is located in another town about three kilometers from Chodova Plana. Also, remember it’s helpful to know a few German phrases. We only encountered one employee at Chodovar who spoke English. Aside from that, if you decide to visit Chodovar, I hope you have a wonderful time… and don’t forget to bring your camera like I did!