The Czech Republic has long been a site of pilgrimage for beer drinkers. It is, after all, where the town of Pilsen (the birthplace of the ever-popular pilsner) can be found. Approximately 60 km west of Pilsen, however, lies a sleepy little town called Chodová Planá, just steps from the German border. The main attraction of the town? The Chodovar Brewery.

This brewery, of course, is much more than just a brewery. It is a restaurant, a hotel, and yes, a beer spa. To be clear, this is not a place where drunken 20-something tourists pile into giant tubs of suds and drink their own swill. This is a classy establishment, where spa professionals believe very firmly in the restorative and therapeutic effects of unpasteurized beer and mineral water. Credentialed medical doctors even go so far as to recommend a trip for a “wellness treatment” to improve the complexion of skin and hair, to relax muscles, and ease joint pain.

Before going, I remained skeptical about the health benefits of marinating oneself in beer, but it was an experience too strange to pass up.

Bathing in beer while drinking beer.

Before Going

For obvious reasons, taking a beer bath has become a popular pastime in Chodová Planá and if you expect to be going anytime remotely near high tourist season, you should book your beer bath well in advance. Spots are often booked weeks or even months ahead of time, so don’t bother making the trek from Prague – about 3 hours, due west – on a whim, expecting to get a spot. The baths are booked in 20-minute sessions, and each is accompanied by a 20-minute “relaxation period”, but more on that later. The baths are mostly singles, but there are one or two double tubs where two can bathe. Lastly, you also have the option of booking several types of massages, which range in price and duration.

There are multiple trains that go to and from Chodová Planá every day, so making it a day trip is perfectly feasible, especially since there is little else in the tiny town to warrant a longer visit. A couple Jewish cemeteries surrounded by parks can be found close to the brewery and are a great place to take a walk if you have time before or after your appointment with small maps available at either the hotel or the restaurant attached to the brewery.

Being a relatively remote Czech town, there is little English spoken outside of the brewery complex, and brushing up on some basic Czech would definitely not go amiss, here. Of course, if your Czech is rusty, try German, you’re only about 15 km from the border, after all.

The Beer Bath Experience

The Chodovar brewery is actually a series of large, historic buildings that include a hotel and a restaurant as well as the spa. The restaurant is well worth a visit on its own, where of course you can have one of the brewery’s two types of beer (dark and light pilsners) but also a fine variety of traditional Czech foods. An array of sausages and dumplings are featured prominently on the menu, but different items such as wild venison steaks and beef tongue appetizers (don’t knock it ’till you try it) are all deliciously prepared. To add to the atmosphere, the restaurant is actually beneath the brewery in a series of man-made caves, carved out of the local bedrock. “Central Europeans know how to be full,” said my wife at the end of the meal.

The beer spa is found in the main building, though after entering, you are escorted down a series of stone staircases to a windowless basement, where men and women are shown to separate changing rooms, and asked to wear a towel to the baths. The baths themselves are in a large room and are each separated by curtains that keep things private, but by no means soundproof. A quiet and reverential attitude is expected, as most of the guests are there to relax, not to party. In fact, upon our afternoon visit, most of the guests seemed to be elderly, in search of relief from joint pain and other medical ailments.

You will be escorted to your designated bath, where a beer tap sits over the tub as if it were designed to be in a bar. In the tub waiting for you is a warm mixture of the brewery’s dark beer and mineral water (from the natural spring beneath the brewery) that foams up a bit like a bubble bath. While soaking, you’ll be served a beer to enjoy (“no, gross, don’t drink your own beer bath water, have these instead”), and left to simply enjoy the wonderful aroma of warm barley and hops. Staff may encourage you to get your hair wet before you get in, as the beer is known to be good for restoring body and shine to your locks, but you’ll be left to make your own decisions.

After your 20 minutes are up, the beer will be drained and the tub cleaned for the next occupant. A spa worker will be waiting to wrap your sudsy person in a warm towel, and you will be escorted to an adjoining room, where you can recline on chaise lounges, swaddled in blankets. There seems to be some emphasis on sweating after finishing your beer bath – something to do with opening pores – while you are served another beer. The room is kept extremely quiet, and some guests may choose to nap after the bath. After 20 minutes or so of relaxing, it’s off to the showers for you. Yes, you are likely to be sticky after such a treatment, and a quick rinse is a good idea.

Not being someone who normally goes to spas, I was actually surprised at the effects (“Hey, my skin really is soft!) but then, I have no basis of comparison when it comes to the effectiveness of spa treatments. Suffice it to say that I was thoroughly relaxed, and found myself impressed at how much I enjoyed the experience, and not only because of the good food and beer.

Photos courtesy of JP Nikota