Like many of us, I’m no stranger to a chilled-out spa day. But as I snuggle into a white robe and a pair of slippers, I quickly realise I’m heading for no ordinary pampering session. Scents of jojoba and lavender have been replaced by hops, and if I close my eyes and inhale deeply, it’s easy to imagine I’m walking into a brewery.
The Purkmistr Beer Spa in Pilsen (900 CZK/ €34.90 purkmistr.cz/en/spa/) offers a selection of alternative bathing sessions, ranging from a peat or cannabis bath, to sloshing around in Pilsner-style beer – because not only do Czechs value the taste of their local delicacy, they believe it does wonders for skin and hair, too.
Located 95km from Prague, Pilsen is home to the Czech Republic’s world-famous blonde lager, still made in the city almost 180 years after Bavarian brewmaster Josef Groll launched the first batch of bottom-fermented beer.
Czechs take great pride in this local drink; of the 1.5 million litres brewed in the huge Pilsner Urquell Brewery every day, 35% is transported around the world. The rest is lapped up by locals and tourists alike in the Czech Republic. And on International Beer Day, there’s no better place to celebrate by literally imFmersing myself in the liquid gold.
A good old soak
Sinking into a bath of warm beer might not sound appealing, but with Adele’s dulcet tones floating from stereo speakers, I’m able to relax as I step into a standalone wooden tub, with my very own keg of Purkmistr 12° lager on tap. (The bathwater is non-alcoholic, I’m told, so don’t even think about having a glug.)
I manage to sip half a glass of beer during my bath, but the keg contains a full five litres, which I could enjoy if I was so inclined. Some people, I’m told, have been known to sink 12 rounds.
After 25 minutes of hoppy heaven, I get out for a 25-minute relaxation stint, and am advised to avoid showering for around six hours, to ensure the goodness can seep in.
Quenching a thirst
If you prefer to sip rather than soak, take a one-hour-and-40-minute tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, which was purchased by Japanese company Asahi in 2017 (250 CZK/€9.69; prazdrojvisit.cz).
As part of the experience, each visitor gets a glass of unfermented, unpasteurised Pilsner to drink – tapped straight in front of you from an oak lager cask.
I enjoy the rich, smooth texture, and regular Pilsner drinkers in my group all agree it tastes even better straight from the source.
The brewery’s Na Spilce restaurant is also worth a visit, serving up traditional Czech cuisine, including melt-in-the-mouth beer-marinated pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut (main meal and drink costs 230 CZK/€8.92).
Tapping into the city
It may be much smaller than Prague, but Pilsen has a rich history, colourful buildings and some beautiful modern art.
The Gothic St Bartholomew’s Cathedral sits in the centre of the Republic Square, while cobbled side streets are bursting with bars, ideal for enjoying a cold beer in the sun.
Before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which ‘gently’ ended four decades of Soviet communism, the city was known as ‘black Pilsen’ due to its dark, industrial appearance. Yet today, it’s as pretty as many of its European counterparts.
A further boost came in 2015, when it was crowned European Capital of Culture, prompting more than three million visitors to come to the city that year.
A natural hangover cure
There’s nothing like fresh air to soothe a sore head, and there’s plenty of green space in the stunning Sumava National Park – 83km from Pilsen.
As the bright summer sun glistens through a canopy of tall spruce trees, I savour the silence, which is broken only by the tweeting of birds flying overhead. It’s hard to picture the troubled history of a region once divided by the Iron Curtain.
“Here, nature developed according to its own rules,” says my guide Josef Stemberk, whose brother was a student in Prague at the time of the revolution. “You are now standing in the wild heart of Europe.”
The 263-square mile area was designated a national park in 1991 and is the largest protected green space in the Czech Republic, with multiple cycle routes and hiking trails, taking in beautiful glacial lakes and viewpoints high up in the mountains.
Bordering Bavaria, the park currently attracts mostly visitors from Germany and the Czech Republic – which explains the lack of English on many tourist information signs.
Efforts are being made to attract more visitors from the UK and Ireland, Josef says, but he emphasises that no words on a pamphlet can beat being there and taking in the spectacular scenery.
As I sit with my feet dangling over the clear waters of Black Lake deep in the forest, I couldn’t agree more. It may lack the alcoholic oomph of a pint of Pilsner, but as far as I’m concerned, the sight is even more intoxicating.
How to get there
- Press Association