hidden europe 15

Witches and waltzes: May Day in a Czech spa town

by Nicky Gardner


In the northwest corner of Bohemia lies a trio of spa towns. The least known of the three is arguably the most beautiful of them all. We report from Frantiskovy Lazne (in German known as Franzensbad).

There was an early run on semi-sweet bottles of Bohemian sekt, but now everyone is more focused on the dance floor. Best to stay inside and waltz. Outside on the streets, witches are roaming the centre of town. Drum majorettes too! Václav and his wife have come over from Mariánské Lázne just for the evening and will stay inside till the witches have gone. Best to waltz till just after nine, and there'll still be time to catch the last train home.

The dance hall has Doric columns. Everywhere in Frantiskovy Lázne has Doric columns. Well everywhere except the Russian Orthodox church and the old Hotel Windsor - the one a feast of domes and the other overflowing with Gothic turrets. This is a town that comes with a theme - sweet shades of K&K yellow (kaisergelb), a thousand literary and classical allusions, coffee and cake, tea dances and cheap Bohemian sekt. Frantiskovy Lázne is the spa town par excellence, a place where those of a certain age come to enjoy a week or two of rest and relaxation. But others besides, for the Czech spa resort's many talented physicians - with their brass nameplates and consulting rooms tucked away in villas with imposing porticos - include a bevy of gynaecologists and specialists in infertility. That gives a quirky demographic slant to Frantiskovy Lázne, for scattered among the elderly who make the early morning walk to take the waters at the Luisen spring are a number of younger women who would like nothing more than to conceive a child.

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