168km (103 miles) W of Prague, 40km (25 miles) SW of Karlovy Vary

Few people who travel through Cheb -- most on their way across the border to Germany -- actually stop and take a look around. From the outside, that's understandable, but it's too bad, since the center of Cheb is one of the more architecturally interesting places in west Bohemia. Its history is fascinating as well.

A former stronghold for the Holy Roman Empire on its eastern flank, Eger, as it was then known, became part of Bohemia in 1322. Cheb stayed under Bohemian rule until it was forcibly handed over to Germany as part of the 1938 Munich Pact. Soon after the end of World War II, it was returned to Czech hands, when most of the area's native Germans, known as Sudeten Germans, were expelled for their open encouragement of the invading Nazi army. You can see this bilingual, bicultural heritage in the main square, which could be mistaken for being on either side of the border if it weren't for the Czech writing on windows. These days, the Germans have returned as tourists (regrettably, many indulge in the town's thriving sex trade -- although it's been cleaned up in recent years, you may still see a woman standing incongruously next to a bus stop wearing nothing but a bathing suit). Still, Cheb is worth exploring for its mélange of architectural styles, the eerie Jewish Quarter, Spalícek, and the enormous Romanesque Chebský Hrad (Cheb Castle).

Only about 20 minutes up the road from Cheb is the smallest of the three major Bohemian spa towns, Frantiskovy Lázne. Though it pales in comparison to Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázne, Frantiskovy Lázne has taken great strides in the past few years to erase the decline it experienced under Communism. There's not much to see save for the Spa Museum, which holds an interesting display of bathing artifacts, but it's a quieter place to spend the night than Cheb. We've listed places to stay and dine in both Cheb and Frantiskovy Lázne.