Friday, March 7, 2014

Chodovar… a beer spa in the Czech Republic

This is the review I wrote about the Chodovar Beer Spa in the Czech Republic.  It was a great place to check out Czech beer!

Checking out Czech beer in more ways that I ever thought possible

 Feb 16, 2009 (Updated May 15, 2009)
Review by    is a Top Reviewer on Epinions in Hotels & Travel
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Fun, very reasonably priced, beer baths

    Cons:Glitchy online booking, not near public transport, slightly corporate feel

    The Bottom Line:Czech out Czech beer at Chodovar!  It does your body good, both inside and out!

    This review will definitely NOT be lean n' mean!

    Those of you who have been around for awhile may remember a now defunct shampoo called Body On Tap. Created in 1978 by Bristol-Meyers products, Body On Tap's list of ingredients included beer, a not so secret ingredient that was supposed to make hair soft and shiny. I remember seeing the ads for that shampoo as a little kid and hearing the warning that I shouldn't drink it! I always wondered if beer really did do such great things for the hair.



    Thirty years later, I've just had the chance to find out about the wonderful things beer can do for my hair and skin. My husband Bill and I took advantage of President's Day weekend at Chodovar Beer Spa and Brewery in Chodova Plana, Czech Republic. Let me tell you, the folks at Chodovar are onto something. Business is booming at their beer spa and when we were done there, my hair was definitely better off for the experience.

    The Chodovar Brewery

    The Chodovar Brewery, located just beyond the German border, has been around since 1573. In 1992, the Chodovar brewery became a limited liability company owned and operated by four partners: RNDr. Tomáš Zuckermann, Jiøí Plevka Sr., Jiøí Plevka Jr. and Jan Plevka. As Bill and I drove through Chodova Plana and the surrounding areas, we could see that many of the local bars and restaurants served Chodovar beer.

    Though the Chodovar Brewery has been making "suds" for centuries, it's only been in the beer spa business since 2006, when it started offering beer baths as a spa treatment. I learned about the Chodovar beer spa watching the Czech Republic episode of Three Sheets, a travel/drinking show that was aired on the now defunct channel MOJO HD and is currently available to be downloaded on iTunes. The host, Zane Lamprey, traveled to Chodovar for a beer bath as a means to cure the wicked hangover he got from drinking too much Czech beer and absinthe. Because Bill and I are living in Germany and we had already been to Prague and Cesky Krumlov, we decided the long weekend was the perfect excuse to try out this unusual mode of beer tourism.

    The hotel

    It's safe to say that the Chodovar Brewery pretty much makes up the whole town of Chodova Plana. Luckily, the Hotel U Sladka, owned and operated by the brewery, is part of the Chodovar beer spa experience. The three star hotel is a fairly basic but very economical affair. There are currently 120 rooms. Singles, doubles, triples, and even quad rooms are available.  Pets can also be accommodated for a small fee.

    Bill and I booked a double. Our room was small, but very clean. It had a direct dial phone, television with about ten Czech channels and the hotel's own brewery channel, and free Internet access (bring your own cable). The bed was the typical European type, two twin beds pushed together. It wasn't the best bed I've ever slept on, but it was comfortable enough. There was also a very cheap minibar stocked with Chodovar products (beer and mineral water).  Beer was priced at 20 Czech crowns ($1) and mineral water, including a delicious orange variety, was 18 Czech crowns (about 90 cents).

    The bathroom had an excellent shower with great water pressure and a knobby floor that massaged my feet. There was a towel warmer and two soap dispensers full of Chodovar's own shower gel... made with beer, naturally! Bill and I came home with a whole range of Chodovar beer cosmetics: shampoo, shower gel, balsam, bubble bath, and even the makings for our own beer bath.

    Breakfast is included in the price of the room. It consists of a variety of delicious sausages and salamis, cheeses, hard boiled and scrambled eggs, breads and pastries. You can get a thermos full of Tchibo coffee or use the coffee machine, which makes espresso drinks and hot chocolate. Tea and juice are also available.

    There is free unsecured parking in front of the hotel or you can park in the secure lot behind the hotel. The secured lot costs 70 Czech crowns a night (about $3.50), but the lot is locked and presumably very safe from criminals.

    Booking the Beer Spa

    The first thing to say about the beer spa is to make sure you book it in advance! The Chodovar Brewery has a revamped Web site that will allow you to book online. My advice is to skip the Web site and call the hotel directly. Bill and I decided to visit Chodovar a bit on a whim and requested a reservation ten days in advance. We tried to use the Web site, but got nervous when we didn't get an immediate confirmation. We called the reception about an hour after we booked and were told that they hadn't yet received our request through their Web site. We ended up booking our room and beer bath over the phone.

    I didn't actually get a confirmation from the online service until the next day. The receptionist didn't realize we had already booked over the phone and wrote that the beer baths were fully booked through the weekend. She explained that they recommended booking the beer baths up to four months in advance. I don't know if that's really necessary, but I will say that there were no free appointments for the baths the whole time we were there.  In other words, if we had just shown up at the hotel, we probably would not have gotten into the spa.  It was a good thing we called and snagged our spot when we did. We had gotten the last available appointment on Saturday.  It didn't appear to me that treatments were offered on Sundays.

    There are several single tubs available and one double sized tub for couples.  Those who want to use the double tub may want to bear that in mind when planning a trip to Chodovar.

    Our Beer Bath experience

    Since the double sized tub was booked, Bill and I arranged for two single baths. The smell of fresh beer wafted through the air in the foyer as we rang the doorbell by the spa. We were welcomed by a very friendly spa worker who asked us to remove our shoes. She showed us to dressing rooms and asked us to completely disrobe and wrap up in a sheet. The dressing rooms have lockers and showers in them.

    Bill and I came out of the dressing rooms looking like we were headed to a toga party. Another spa worker showed us to our individual tubs, which had already been prepared for us. She drew a curtain around us, leaving the one between the tubs open so we could share the experience!

    Our large tubs were full of a warm, foamy, mixture of the spa's own dark bath beer and mineral water. It smelled of beer, but not offensively so. I found the bath very pleasant and relaxing, as pop music played over the sound system and other couples took their places in their own beer baths. One thing Bill and I both noticed was that we floated a bit! While we soaked in our baths for 20 minutes, we each sipped a .33 liter glass of non-pasteurized Chodovar beer. Supposedly the beer works as a digestive. All I know is that after drinking that beer, I really needed to pee before I got out of the tub!

    After 20 minutes, a spa worker pulled the plug on our tubs. We wrapped up in our sheets again and she led us to a dark, quiet room where there were a number of lounges separated by soothing lamps. We laid down on the lounges and the spa worker swaddled us in a fleece quilt, where we were supposed to rest for another twenty minutes. The spa workers served us another glass of beer, which made me have to pee even more! I ended up getting up a little early so I could go relieve myself.

    My impressions of the Beer Baths

    The extreme need to whiz kind of dampened my ability to relax during the beer bath treatment, but I'd definitely do it again. The bath was very relaxing and fun. And ladies, I recommend letting your hair get wet. After my hair dried, it was incredibly soft and shiny. My skin also felt soft and smooth.

    Massages and other spa stuff

    Bill and I booked massages, which are also very much in demand. At first, the receptionist told me that because they were booked, we could each only get so-called "simple" massages, which last for 20 minutes. But then she told me that a time slot for a 50 minute "complex" massage was also available. Bill had never had a massage before and was a little skittish about it, so I took the complex massage while he stuck with a simple one. In addition to simple and complex massages, there are also lava stone and foot massages available.

    The first thing to know about massages at Chodovar is that they involve almost completely disrobing. The second thing to know is that the Europeans have a lot fewer hang ups about nudity than Americans do. Bill got his massage from a lady, while mine was given by a young man. Neither spoke much English, though the lady did speak a little German. The man who gave me my massage saw me in nothing but a pair of undies, which frankly made me feel a little bashful. However, he was very professional and gave me a very thorough massage.  He was also quite pleased when I gave him a tip.  The last thing to know is that the pervasive scent of human body odor pretty much trumps the scent of the beer bath... or at least it did when I had my massage.  Luckily, my nose shut off halfway through the treatment.

    In addition to massages, Chodovar also offers what they call "remedial packs", which basically involves being wrapped up in malt draff. Bill and I did not try this treatment, though we thought it sounded interesting.

    Dining options

    I mentioned that the Chodovar Brewery is pretty much the only game going in Chodova Plana. We also couldn't help but notice that the management seemed very big on marketing and looked like they'd taken a few corporate cues from Anheuser-Busch (now owned by InBev). In any case, there are two restaurants run by the resort. There's Stará Sladovna (Old Malt House), which is in a brick house located right across the secured parking lot, and Ve Skále, which is about 250 meters from the hotel and housed in an 800 year old cave-like rock labyrinth that used to serve as a beer cellar. Ve Skále also houses a very small museum and gift shop, where patrons can buy Chodovar's beer cosmetics, apparel, and other paraphernalia.

    Both restaurants serve traditonal hearty Czech food, which means lots of meat, poultry, potatoes, and gravy! And there's also plenty of beer on draft, as well as mineral waters and bottled non-alcoholic brews. Ve Skále is definitely the more unique option, but it's a little bit of a hike from the hotel that I didn't find very pleasant in the frigid cold.  If the weather had been warmer, it would have been a nice walk.

    Be advised that smoking is allowed in both restaurants and seating is such that you might find yourself sharing a table with people you don't know. Both restaurants feature long tables with benches and chairs. During our two occasions dining at Ve Skále, Bill and I shared our table. The first time was with a young Czech man who seemed very intent on showing his date how smart he was. The second time was with a German man from Berlin who seemed surprised to find Americans in Chodova Plana. We did not share our table at Stará Sladovna.

    Food is very reasonably priced. For example, our first night, we ate at Stará Sladovna and had two good sized entrees and four beers between us. We left the restaurant very satisfied and only spent about $25. But as it's a brewery, we did find that the servers really pushed the beer! We didn't find that a bad thing since neither of us had to drive anywhere afterwards.  We also noticed that the male members of the staff really appeared to enjoy the brewery's product.  My beer gut definitely had lots of company.

    Things to do around Chodova Plana

    At this writing there's not that much to do in the town of Chodova Plana, though I've heard the management has big plans for expanding Chodovar's facilities. Brewery tours are available every day at 2:00pm, but Bill and I decided to skip it since we figured it would either be conducted in German or Czech.

    Luckily, Chodova Plana is within driving distance to several decent Czech cities. After our beer spa treatments, we drove to Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), which is about an hour away from Chodova Plana. The drive to Karlsbad from Chodovar is very scenic. You drive through a lovely evergreen forest flanked by a rushing stream that winds its way to a large lake. We thought the drive was especially gorgeous since there was a lot of snow on the ground. Karlsbad is a well known spa city and we saw lots of people using little ceramic pitchers to capture and drink spring water from fountains scattered around the downtown area. The architecture in Karlsbad is very beautiful and one can purchase spa wafers and Becherovka liqueur there as well as take in a massage or spa treatment at one of the many outlets. Shopping also appeared to be great there.

    On Sunday, we drove to Plzen, which is also roughly an hour's drive from Chodova Plana. Plzen is not as beautiful as Karlsbad is, but it is a place to go if you're into beer. We ended up touring the Pilsner Urquell beer museum and ate lunch at the museum's restaurant, where we got free samples of Pilsner Urquell beer.  Plzen is also a good spot for history buffs.  It did my heart good to see a huge memorial thanking American soldiers for liberating the city on May 6, 1945.

    After our brief visit to Plzen, we drove back to Karlsbad, where we bought a painting from a Russian artist who was selling his wares on the street. The artist lives in Prague, which is also within a reasonable driving distance.

    The area also offers excellent opportunities for hiking and viewing wildlife.  We spotted birds of prey, herds of deer, a couple of foxes, and, on the way into Plzen, two rather discreet prostitutes.  If you like castles, old churches, and museums, you're also in luck.

    In conclusion

    We had an awesome time in Chodova Plana at the Chodovar Brewery-- Beer Wellness Land. And our trip was very affordable. For three nights of lodging, parking, two beer baths, two massages, an array of beer cosmetics, and two beers and two mineral waters from the mini bar, we spent the Czech crown equivalent of $309!  Factoring in food, beer, and the painting we bought, we spent a grand total of $570 on our three day weekend.

    That said, there are a few caveats I will issue to American travelers. First, it helps to speak a little German if you don't speak Czech. We only ran into one employee who spoke English, although English menus are available in the restaurants and some of the promotional materials are written in English. Second, the closest ATM is located about 3 kilometers from the hotel. The hotel does accept credit cards, though I read in another review that one of the restaurants doesn't yet take them. Third, it's best to have a car. The town is a bit off the beaten track and I didn't spot any public transportation facilities nearby. And finally, while Chodovar's Web site offers online booking, it's probably best to call them for reservations. We found their online booking system to be a bit glitchy.

    Overall, Bill and I had a fantastic experience and would recommend Chodovar to those who love beer, spas, or both!

    Chodovar's Web site: http://www.chodovar.cz

    The Web site for the Russian artist who sold us a painting in Karlsbad: www.korelov.com


    Here's the Czech Republic episode of Three Sheets!

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