Ostrava — Immersed in Pilsner of the Czech Republic

This Rooms to Explore feature focuses upon places to stay throughout the country and the world that become part of a visit to a destination. These are hotels, inns and other accommodations that help to bring the local history, culture and lifestyle alive in a very meaningful way — where the sightseeing and travel experience begin in the lodging itself. When I’m lucky enough to come across such places, I take pleasure in sharing my fortunate encounter, and my observations, with others.

I have long known that beers brewed in the Czech Republic are among the very best in the world. That’s one reason why residents of that country imbibe more of that liquid per capita than people anywhere else.

Even so, one recent experience there with what the Czech’s call “liquid bread” wasn’t exactly what I had expected. Granted, I was enjoying a cold glass of draft that equaled any I’ve have tasted anytime, anywhere. The pleasant surprise was how much the outside of my body enjoyed sitting in an oversize wooden barrel marinating in the same brew that was trickling down my throat to the inside.

The opportunity to soak in suds awaits guests at Zamek-Zabreh Hotel & Brewery in Ostrava. That city of about 300,000 residents, a three-hour train ride from Prague, is overlooked by many travelers to the Czech Republic because of its reputation as a faded industrial and mining center. The upside is that it introduces visitors to a “real” city free of trappings of tourism, yet which has attractions enough to fill several days.

© Victor Block

They include the de rigueur castle, in this case a 13th century fortress populated by sculptured devils, demons and witches; an open air museum of houses and other structures dating back to the 17th century; a collection of scale-model replicas of famous European buildings, and “the street that never sleeps,” lined by dozens of restaurants and nightspots.

The Zamek-Zabreh Hotel embellishes the list. Constructed as a fortress that was first mentioned in 1529, the building over time also served as church offices, a workshop and a residential chateau for a succession of noble families. Following a major renovation, it was reincarnated in 2007 as an inn which promises, and delivers, “travel back in time.”

It was there that I enjoyed my close up and personal spa experience, with a twist. “Taking the waters” at mineral spring spas has been an inherent part of life over centuries in the present-day Czech Republic. What made my soak different was the addition of a combination of light and dark beer to the water, and of a tap adjacent to the tub from which I could fill my glass at will.

My beer bath took place in a brick-covered cellar that could pass as a Medieval dungeon, and perhaps once did. I never decided if benefits attributed to the beer bath – including release of stress, easing of tension, mental relaxation and more – resulted more from what I soaked in, or swallowed. The beer that I imbibed was made in an on-site mini-brewery which keeps alive the history of beer making at the chateau that dates back to at least 1574.

Hotel guests confront reminders of its colorful past everywhere. The Knight’s Hall is lined by coats of arms of the chateau’s aristocratic owners. The restaurant is tucked into the vaults of the oldest part of the building. Hallways and other public spaces display antique furniture and period decorations. Centuries-old beams continue to provide support for ceilings.

The travel – or, more accurately, sleep – back in time continues in theme rooms that immerse guests in realistic environments. The Hunter’s Room creates the atmosphere of an old hunting lodge. Furniture is covered with fur, and trophy mounts resulting from European hunting trips of nobility line the walls.

Africa room 1A menagerie of more exotic wildlife resulting from expeditions to farther reaches adorns the Africa Suite. The heads of buffalo and several antelope peer down into the room. The skin of a regal python and zebra complete the transformation.

The gated Tower Room is reached via a wood beam staircase. While the Persian carpet in the Magic Room may not fly, it combines with the original Baroque ceiling, decorative antique maps and other touches to create another inviting environment. The name of the appropriately furnished Chaplain’s Room refers to members of the clergy who once resided in the chateau.

A stay at the Zamek-Zabreh Hotel might not include a ride on a magic carpet, but it will provide a near-magic trip to times past. For more information log onto http://www.zamek-zabreh.cz/en/