Friday 8 July 2016

Cheers! Bathing in Czech Beer

Beer! Who doesn't love it? Especially Czech beer. A few years ago I visited the Czech city Olomouc and actuallly bathed in the stuff.

As my article about that experience has since disappeared from the Web, here it is again for your enjoyment...

I glance around to check that no-one is watching, then bend over the large wooden tub and scoop up a handful of liquid.

I swallow some of it, then lick my lips and smile. It really is beer that I’m about to have a bath in.

I’m in the small city of Olomouc, well away from the tourist hordes of other Czech destinations such as Prague and Český Krumlov.

Above me at ground level is Svatováclavský Pivovar, a small brewery with a good reputation for its house-brewed ales, produced without pasteurisation or filtration.

However, the most intriguing part of its business is a fairly new installation in the cellar – a beer spa.

When I first saw this written on a leaflet at my hotel, I thought perhaps I’d misunderstood what was on offer.

But no, this tub is full of beer, a weak 2% version with some added oils to make it smooth on the skin. The plentiful froth in the bath isn’t from soap, but is the head on this vast serve of ale.

Immersed in the brown foamy liquid, I can smell the faint aroma of what seems like wheat beer. Or a light pilsner.

But the beery fun doesn’t stop with immersion; included in the entry fee are two large steins of the real stuff from the brewery above, a cold full-strength brew which I sip while soaking in the tub.

There’s beer inside and beer outside, and I’m feeling fairly mellow in the warm oily bath.

The Czech geniuses who designed this spa have definitely figured out how to make wellness seem appealing to blokes.

When I later ask the attendant who are their best customers, she says "Couples." It seems that soaking and sipping in beer make a romantic night out in Olomouc.

It’s certainly a pleasant environment – a quiet room with dimmed lighting, walls painted with vineyard scenes and two big wooden tubs. There are several sets of these his-and-hers baths, I’m told, and one double-sized tub for two people.

Personally, I’m quite happy soaking alone on a quiet weekday afternoon, with the faint aroma of hops drifting around my head.

Afterward, I recline on a couch in the relaxation room which is decorated to resemble an old village tavern. And, on cue, the second stein of beer arrives at my elbow. I could get used to this.

Upstairs, the Svatováclavský Pivovar’s dining room is a good place to sit and eat while sporting the soft skin of a man who’s been soaking in an alcoholic beverage.

Timber tables with checked tablecloths are arranged around big copper-coloured vats in the centre of the room.

I’m feeling in the mood for a snack, so I order the potato cakes stuffed with the local matured cheese.

Heavy, but tasty, and perfect with a beer. Of which there are seven on the menu, including a dark beer, a wheat beer, and even a cherry beer.

With all that alcohol on offer, it’s lucky that Olomouc is easy to navigate on foot.

The historic Old Town is focused on the main square, featuring a statue of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, said to be the founder of the city.

In the centre of the square is the town hall, pretty in white with its Renaissance-era architectural exterior.

What’s stunning, however, is the astronomical clock on its north side. This was once a collection of elaborately carved wooden canopies and little angels who moved when the hour was struck.

After World War II, however, the damaged clock was completely redesigned by the new communist authorities.

Its various faces are now flanked by a mechanic and a scientist, and at noon a bunch of workers parade above: blacksmiths, farmhands, bricklayers and so on.

Another reminder of Cold War Czechoslovakia is the daily tour of a civil defence shelter, designed for a nuclear or chemical attack.

Its blocky concrete entrance leads into chambers embedded beneath the 18th century city wall.

My guide Jan, a young student who leads tours on the side, unlocks the entrance and takes me through stark corridors with huge metal doors.

It’s the type of environment in which you’d expect to find a Bond villain holed up, with escape hatches, a huge generator and air-pressure gauges still in place.

After the tour I buy Jan a beer at Moritz, another popular local brewery on the other side of town. It has a beautiful beer garden next to an elaborately decorated stone gate dedicated to the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa.

I order the Moritz 12° beer, a smooth lager brewed onsite. Jan insists we also order quargel, a tangy sour milk curd cheese which arrives on pieces of bread topped with onion and a paprika sauce.

He’s right – eating it in the warm sunshine, with beer in hand, is the perfect way to end a day in this attractive Czech town.

For more about Olomouc, visit its tourism site.

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