Noel knockout: Czech mansion full of Christmas beauty — and teddy bears
Stars and Stripes December 15, 2022
If a certain center of holiday magic in the Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary had been around when Charles Dickens wrote Ebenezer Scrooge into existence in 1843, the icon of Christmas curmudgeons might not have long endured, if persuaded to visit.
Luckily for literature, the Christmas House, or Vanocni Dum as its Czech name is rendered without diacritical marks, didn’t come into being until 2008. It has since become enough of a phenomenon to warrant an Atlas Obscura listing.
A mansion that has a twin billing of museum and year-round retail extravaganza of the yuletide, the Christmas House becomes most captivating with the approach of its namesake holiday — or in other words, now.
Tickets provide dual admission to the Christmas House and the Teddy Bear Museum, which has more than 12,000 of the plush toys, the largest collection in the Czech Republic, according to the establishment’s website.
Although the two places are described as separate, I did not see a space designated as the Teddy Bear Museum during my visit. Instead, the vast trove of teddies was splayed out across the warren of rooms along with a cornucopia of Christmas stuff.
If I did somehow miss the Teddy Bear Museum while exploring the place, I didn’t feel cheated, though. In fact, I derived much amazement from a single tawny teddy bear that was placed behind a rotary-dial phone with a bell and bearing a sticker for the Wisconsin Telephone Co.
My mom spent her entire childhood in Wisconsin and many of my relatives still live there. Also, since my early teen years I have regarded the University of Wisconsin’s Bucky Badger as the coolest NCAA mascot.
According to the Teddy Bear Museum part of the website, the largest specimen in the collection is 15 feet tall, but the young lady at the ticket booth told me that the behemoth bear was on the mend after having a rip open up. It is therefore not on public display now.
She added that the current height champion is in the part of the mansion where browsing turns into buying. The volume and variety of winter holiday wares on sale in the Christmas House store are staggering.
My arrival about 90 minutes before closing time proved to be a rather tight fit for appreciating the place’s full splendor. And I had a minimal budget as well, given that my gift-buying list consisted of just one person. Even so, the temptation to splurge was strong.
The cash register clerk when I was there did not speak English. I don’t know whether that’s standard practice, but American shoppers might be well-advised to have a translation app or a Czech phrasebook at the ready.
I would recommend spending two to three hours on a visit to the Christmas House. That would allow for a diversion to the cafe for some refreshment and enjoyment of that area’s decorations, which include swan-themed setups and a fish tank.
There is another purported museum on site, and this one, the Christmas Museum, I did check out. I say “purported” because it’s basically a small cave containing a nativity scene and a modest assortment of bric-a-brac. I wasn’t compelled to stay in that section for much longer than five minutes.
The Christmas House is near the western fringe of Karlovy Vary, putting it about 10 minutes by car from the part of the city where the promenade along the Tepla River showcases the flashiness and healthful hot springs that are its biggest allure.
Once during the afternoon and again after sunset, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll amid the opulence, beautiful architecture and festive decoration.
It’s a safe bet that visitors who spend as much time hoofing it through KV as I did will work up an appetite in the process. For a hot drink and a snack, I found the Cafe Elefant offerings scrumptious. Dinner at Goethe’s Beer House was filling and tasty.
Both eateries are just a stone’s throw down Stara Louka from the Beerland beer spa, where you can bathe in hot suds while drinking the cold variety. Speaking of spas, the region of Karlovy Vary, which means “Charles’ Hot Springs,” has them in spades.
It is the site of the Bohemian spa triangle, a trio of resort areas among the 11 that in combination make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Great Spa Towns of Europe. The other two are nearby Frantiskovy Lazne and Marianske Lazne.
The abundance of things to see and do in Karlovy Vary can easily fill any itinerary. But whatever the plans, make time for the Christmas House and the Teddy Bear Museum. Despite the name, it’s always in season.
On the QT
Address: Studenska 1/4, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. From Grafenwoehr, it’s an hour and 20 minutes by car.
Cost: Adult admission is 200 Czech crowns (about $8.75); children ages 3-15 and people with a disability get in for 100 crowns (about $4.25); admission for retirees costs 150 crowns (about $6.50); a family rate of 550 crowns (about $23.75) allows admission for two adults and up to three children; no charge for children age 2 and under.
Hours: Closed Monday year-round as well as Dec. 24-25 and Jan. 1; November and December, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Dec. 26; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Dec. 31; January through October, 1-6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Information: Phone: +420 353-220-091; Online: vanocnidum.cz/en; email: firstname.lastname@example.org