When researching the Czech Republic before the trip, I kept coming across photos of candy colored buildings from Karlovy Vary, and yet it was hard to find much information about this spa town that’s supposedly the second most visited place in CZ after Prague. But since Vivienne and I would be driving past it on our way back to Munich, and our friend Steven wanted to hit up the spas, we booked an overnight stay at Revelton Suites. Our apartment was super cute, centrally located, and very affordable, so I highly recommend it if you’re in the area.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

Karlovy Vary is known for its sixteen mineral springs spread out around town, all supposedly with different healing qualities. As the three of us walked around town we saw people filling up mugs directly from the taps and chugging it, so we figured we couldn’t be any worse. We bought our own mugs from a street vendor, and filled up out of a spout shaped like a snake. Cautiously sipping at the warm water, we all wrinkled our noses and gagged a bit. My initial reaction was that the water tasted like having a nosebleed, which is probably accurate considering the high iron content in the water. Needless to say, we never got excited enough to chug it.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

As the whole town is marketed as a spa town, I thought it would be easy to find a spa for us to visit, but unfortunately most of the spas are tied to hotels, and don’t allow day use visitors. After calling every hotel in the area, I finally found one that allowed day use, the Balneo Wellness Center at Hotel Thermal.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

Excited for some R&R, we packed our swimsuits and walked over there, only to be met by one of the snobbiest receptionists I’ve ever experienced. We clearly didn’t fit the norm of “wealthy old Russian couples” that seemed prevalent in Karlovy Vary, but I’d still appreciate him not rolling his eyes at me as I’m dropping $25 on a day pass.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

We were shown down to the basement, into a cramped co-ed changing room with small curtained off areas, and the whole place felt more like a hospital than a spa. (Especially after our wonderful spa experience at Das Tegernsee the week before.) The spa itself consisted of a nice enough pool, tiny jacuzzi, dry sauna, steam bath, “infracabin” (we never figured it out either), and a Kneipp’s Path. Not one to pass up trying something new, I saw a path filled with about a foot of water in four different chambers, where the bottom was covered in smooth rocks, and had to step in to see what it was. Turns out it’s alternating freezing cold and hot water meant to stimulate circulation in your feet.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

I’m sure some of the fancy hotels in Karlovy Vary have nicer spas (and staff), but the whole town did not make a good enough impression for me to plan a trip back any time soon. On top of the medical feeling spa lacking in even the most basic “luxuries” (they were “out of towels”, so we got one small hand towel each, even as all the other guests were given large towels), we were surrounded by cigarette smoke everywhere. Want to eat dinner? Good luck getting food down while the table next to you breathes smoke all over the place. You’d think for a town built around health, they’d have picked up on smoking being bad by now.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

Despite the less than stellar spa experience, the town of Karlovy Vary itself is gorgeous. The candy colored buildings lived up to the photos I had seen, and I wish I had time to explore the rest of town before we had to leave.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

Instead of doing travel photos on my own, Steven and I decided that we had to do a shoot. Steven competed in Pole Theatre World in Prague the weekend before as Queen Ravenna (and won the whole thing!), and his costume fit perfectly with the glamorous architecture.

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography

Imagine the amounts of heads turned to look as a tall glamazon comes walking down the street in a cape and crown – it made my day. I love doing impulsive shoots like this, and Steven is one of the most photogenic people I know, so combine that with a gorgeous historic location and you have one happy photographer!

Karlovy Vary by Nina Reed Photography