27 January 2011

Karlovy Vary is good for your health

One of the few advantages of traveling in the dead of winter is less crowds in tourist destinations. This was my mindset when I took the 2 hour bus journey to Karlovy Vary in January. This small Bohemian town is in the northwest "spa-triangle" region and the hot attractions (pun intended) are the thermal springs. You may remember from the photo of the week that there are 13 drinkable hot springs. Hot water from the Earth doesn't taste like the "fresh spring water" you find in bottles at Whole Foods. I'm at a loss for adjectives to describe, but I'll settle on salty, metallic, and therefore repulsive. I choked down as much as possible- when in Rome Karlovy Vary, right?! To help with the taste there are special sweet wafers (lázeňské oplatky) that, if swallowed in combination with the mineral water, are supposed to neutralize the salty taste. It didn't work in my opinion. Despite the taste, the mineral water from this region is actually said to be very good for your health. Balneology, the study of medicinal springs, has been a part of this region since the 14th century. The history of the springs and their alluring display under magnificent colonnades is enough to attract you from one to the next- giving you quite a nice tour around town.

The mineral water treatment wasn't for me. But there's an easier (and more fun) way to reap the health benefits of this region. It all started when pharmacist Josef Becher created an herbal medicine using the mineral water from this spa region. But it is no longer sold in pharmacies. Instead you'll find the famous Czech concoction called Becherovka in the liquor store possibly right next other Czech favorites like Slivovitz or Absinthe. Even with its fame as a liquor, Becherovka is still said to have health benefits, like improved digestion, at a recommended 40 cl daily. That's 2 shots per day of a medicine many people don't mind taking! The Jan Becher Museum (named after Josef's son) is great for learning and drinking. At the end of the tour they serve shots not only of Becherovka original, but also 2 other products. One of my favorites is Becherovka Lemond. Before you drink in the Czech Republic you say na zdraví which means "to your health." With Becherovka it really is to your health! 
Are there other alcoholic drinks that started off as "medicinal"? 
In what other languages to you drink "to your health"? I only know of the Czech na zdraví  and French á santé.


  1. in bulgarian its наздравй or something like that, but its pronounced nazdrave, so it sounds like czech i guess.

    in italian, they say chin-chin but i think its just the sound of the glasses clinking put into words.

  2. in spanish they say "salud" and in portuguese they say "saude" (sa-ow-gee) which both mean "to your health". In Chile they used to say, "Salud sin tomar, siete años de mal sexo" which means if you toast and say salud without taking a drink, you have 7 years of bad sex.

    so. we always drank. haha

  3. Brandy invented by Maghreb wizards long-long ago as a medicine and of course Russians drink "za zdorovie", rather than "Nazdrovie" in those Hollywood movies :)