Karlovy Vary Region is the westernmost territory of the Czech Republic and, following the Liberec Region, it is the second smallest region. The region consists of 3 districts - Cheb, Karlovy Vary and Sokolov. According to the present administrative structure, there are a total of 132 communities of various sizes in the territory of the region, consisting of one or several dozen town sections, which makes it the region with the lowest number of communities within the CR. The average community area is 25.1 km2 and, as per 31.12.2000, each is inhabited on the average by 2,306 people. The seat of the Regional Administration and, at the same time, the largest town of the region is Karlovy Vary, in which almost 18% of the population lives.
More than a half of the border’s total length is formed by the border with the Federal Republic of Germany, namely, in the west with Bavaria and in the north with Saxony. Other neighbours are the Plzeň (Pilsen) Region in the south and the Ústí nad Labem Region in the east. Almost the whole territory of the region falls within the river catchment basin area of the Ohře (Eger) River, the south-east area is covered by the river catchment basin area of the Berounka River, and waters from the northern slopes of Krušné hory (Ore Mountains) flow into the Saxony tributaries of the Labe (Elbe) River. Smrčiny (Spruce Mountains) and Krušné hory, forming a natural border with Germany, stretch along to the north of the Ohře River. The Český les (Bohemian Forest) is located to the south of the Ohře River, on the Bavarian border, while the Slavkovský les (Slavkov Forest) and Doupovské hory (Doupov Mountains) spread inland. The south of the territory is occupied by the Tepelská vrchovina (Tepel Uplands).
The highest point of the region is the Klínovec Mountain (1,244 m above sea level) in the Krušné hory; the lowest point (320 m above sea level) can be found on the north-eastern border of the region in the Karlovy Vary District. The landscape is predominantly hilly. The climate and the soil do not offer suitable conditions for the development of agriculture here. Of our natural resources, deposits of brown coal, ceramic clays, minor deposits of metal ores and residual deposits of pitchblende ore can be considered as the most important; the most significant resources are, without doubt, the mineral and curative waters.
The Karlovy Vary Region is the second smallest, and with its area of 3, 314.4 km2 it occupies 4.2% territory of the CR. The forested area of 1,429 km2 represents a forestation share of 43.1%, which is almost 1.3 times the CR average, the second highest value among the CR regions, right after the Liberec Region. It is the only region where the agricultural area of 1,255.4 km2 is smaller than the forestland area. The percent of arable agricultural land does not reach even a half of the average share in the CR. In fact, with its584.6 km2 (17.6% of the total region’s area) it is at the lowest level among all within the CR by a large margin.
In terms of geology, geomorphology, hydrology and biology the territory is very diversified, although there are many localities where they have been, in the area of the landscape and nature protection, negligent, and much has been destroyed. The largest territory specially protected is the Chráněná krajinná oblast Slavkovský les (Protected Landscape Area of Slavkov). The area is a unique landscape unit, under-populated, with many locations of the natural beauty (forests, meadows, peat bogs, rock formations, outflows of mineral water and natural gases); at the same time it is a venerable cultural landscape. The most valuable localities are a group of peat bogs near Kladská and a serpentine ridge south-west of the village Prameny. Aside from this area, there are another 80 localities of all categories have been declared as being protected. The most valuable territory, even on an international scale, is the SOOS Nature Reserve in the Cheb District, with its mountain peat bogs and swamps, with outflows of mineral water and gases. Other significant territories are the mountain peat bogs in Krušné hory, habitats of freshwater pearl mussels in the Aš District and geological localities along the foothills of the Doupovské hory.
The structure of the region economy is very diverse. In the districts of Karlovy Vary and Cheb the main priorities are the balneology and tourist industry. The Sokolov District is mainly characterized by the concentration of brown coal mining, energy production, chemical industry and machine industry. Traditional regional industries, such as the production of glass, porcelain, the distillation of spirits (Becherovka), mineral waters, musical instruments and textile have their considerable position in the region also. The location of the region in the centre of Europe, its internal potential, the natural and cultural conditions; as well as its historical traditions, are prerequisites future successful development of the entire region.
According to the preliminary results of the Census of the Population, Houses and Flats from 1. 3. 2001, there were 306,799 inhabitants, of which 50.9% women, living in the region. Out of that 20.1% inhabitants professed to be religious, of which the largest share -75.9% belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. According to the preliminary results of the Census, there are 125,099 flats in the territory of the region, of which 7.6% uninhabited. It means that 2.66 inhabitants fall on 1 permanently inhabited flat.
After 1989 an unprecedented situation arose in the region’s traffic. Opening the borders resulted in a multiple growth of road traffic; both of the passenger cars and especially of trucks that have had an unfavourable impact on the environment. This is one of the reasons why the transport infrastructure does not correspond with the needs of the development of the region. The Karlovy Vary Region is covered with a relatively dense network of railway lines. There is a relatively dense network of the roads of the I, II and III categories in the region. Considering the region’s location, the roads of I category are of supra-regional importance, and they are the main links to inland and to the FRG. The Karlovy Vary Airport has an international airport statute; regular flights depart from here to Moscow. In tourist seasons passengers can fly also to Tunisia or to Greece from here.
In relationship to the region’s balneology tradition there is a wide range and a large number of cultural and sport facilities, as well as many recurrent cultural events (for example, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Dvořák´s Karlovy Vary Autumn, Tourfilm, the International Jazz Festival, Beethoven’s Days, Antonín Dvořák’s International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary, Ota Hofman´s Film and Television Festival for Children in the town of Ostrov, and the International Chopin Festival in Mariánské Lázně); as well as a variety of sport events (for example, the Canoe Mattoni, CANON CUP, the Carlsbad Triathlon in Karlovy Vary) and many other social activities.
In the Karlovy Vary Region there is the most exceptional concentration of spa resorts in the CR. In the Karlovy Vary District there are spa resorts of Karlovy Vary and Jáchymov. Spa operations in Kyselka were discontinued after 1989. Mariánské Lázně, Františkovy Lázně and Lázně Kynžvart are in the Cheb District. Development of balneology and the amount of guests visiting the spa resorts are very dependant on the national, European as well as the global political situation. In the year 2000 spa treatment in the Karlovy Vary Region was utilized by 140,642 persons, out of which 41.1% came from the Czech Republic. The number of visitors to the region is significantly higher than claimed by statistic data, particularly because the so-called “one-day visitors” are not recorded anywhere. Despite the fact that the main attraction of the visitors to the region are spa resorts, there are many other appealing destinations, such as renowned historical towns - Cheb, Loket, Jáchymov, Ostrov, Horní Slavkov just to list a few. Historical monuments are in other towns and villages also. Visitors seek various cultural, technical and natural monuments and curiosities too.
The mountainous territory, especially in the Krušné hory and to some extent also in the Slavkovský les, offers favourable conditions for winter sports, for which down-hill skiing trails, cross-country skiing paths and other facilities have been built. For visitors with an affinity towards sports special facilities for golf and horse-riding are available. In the recent years a network of cycle tracks has been developed. For culture-oriented visitors a wide network of cultural facilities is available and various international cultural events - festivals, competitions, shows – are organized. The outdoor tourist industry has yet to be sufficiently developed. The first-class facilities of the spa resorts enable the expansion of the so-called congress tourism, especially in Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně. Recently a network of information centres for visitors is being developed.