Czech Republic: The craftsmanship here is clear to see

Harrachov is to glass what Blackpool is to rock. Tom Mangold made the short trip from Prague to see Europe's oldest glassworks

The wine glass has an ephemeral quality; its body is gossamer thin; it has a long slender stem that looks unable to support the weight of its content, and oval-shaped teardrops cling like translucent blue limpets to its fragile base.

I'm in Harrachov, in the Czech Republic, and I'm in glass heaven.

This tiny town of 1,700 souls is to glass what Montélimar is to nougat or Blackpool to rock. It also happens to be a famous winter-sports resort, set in the Krkonose mountain range in the north of the republic. Delay Prague for a few days; it's a friendly and history-driven capital city, an absolute must to visit. First, hire a car at the airport and drive the 135km to Harrachov.

The start of the journey is dull, then abruptly you are climbing into the mountains, past tumbling waterfalls, through pine forests, until you arrive at the resort. Harrachov, with air like champagne, looks, feels and smells like a Swiss tourist resort – but without the rudeness and the silly prices. Most visitors here are Poles from across the border or local Czechs.

The village has a mining museum, a ski museum, beautiful walks and endless cycle trails. But I had come to tour Novosad, the oldest working glassworks in Europe and probably the world. Founded in 1630 and famous for the quality of its stunning stemware glasses and chandeliers, it is currently facing hard times. The glass business is murderously competitive and quality is less in demand by a recession-hit world than cheap repro.

Petr Novosad, the 34-year-old son of the boss, is gloomy. "Frankly, we survive on day-tourists," he says, "about 500 a day, mostly from Poland. But we have our own modest little hotel here [£15 a night!], a good restaurant, and we own the attached brewery, too."

Only one of the two furnaces remains open. What I found there would keep British health and safety inspectors on overtime for a year. Small eight-man teams of trained workers surround the gas-lit furnace, which burns at 1,750C, blowing glass, cutting, moulding, swinging molten glass around each other in a precision-timed work ballet, in nothing but shorts and open sandals – no gloves, no headgear, no eye protectors and, get this, they drink beer and smoke on the job.

"It is their wish to work like this," says a hapless Petr. "We employ them for life. They are like family. We don't order them to enforce normal safety rules."

The glassworks is currently working on an order for thousands of wine glasses for the American Crate and Barrel houseware chain, which will be sold for some $3.90 each. For Novosad, with its distinguished history and skills, it's a demeaning but life-supporting contract.

On I went, into the heat polishing and cutting room. Where once 40 men sat by wheel grinders and used only eye and rock-steady hand to carve the decorations into vases, glasses and chandeliers, today just one craftsman sits at his wheel (which is still powered by water turbine).

The works were compulsorily purchased by the Nazis after they occupied the former Czechoslovakia. As a precaution, the owners took their most precious glassware – the products, models and showcase pieces of nearly 300 years of glass-making – and hid them in a secret loft space, which they bricked up. The haul was never found.

Then, just when it seemed to be safe to unbrick the treasure trove, the Communists took over and the state seized the works. They found the secret space, but, in their ignorance, never appreciated the value of the glass, and merely gave a few score pieces away to friends and relatives.

Today, some 1,500 pieces remain in locked storage. There is no space to display them, but Petr, armed with the keys, took me on a privileged visit to his stash of beautiful old glass. Scores of wonderful pieces stand dust-covered and neglected. "When we have the money," he promised, "all this will be cleaned, restored and put on public display."

Until then, visitors to the site will have to content themselves with a side trip around the Novosad Brewery, which contains what must be one of the very few beer saunas in the world. Let me quote from its brochure: "Our original curative beer therapy will grant you a pleasant experience and rejuvenescent effects ... great for your cardio-vascular system as well as skin nutrition." Well, why not?

There are six single saunas, two "Lovestory" double saunas and one "Lovestory" private sauna (don't ask) to choose from. They dunk you in a bath mixed with Czech spring water, five litres of light lager, milled hops and five litres of dark lager. You then wallow (not swallow) in this alcoholic brew for half an hour. Afterwards, you receive a massage. The effect, they allege, is to detoxify you (my GP's eyebrows hit the roof at this claim); it apparently "helps cure" acne and cellulite, while offering "total relaxation".

After a beery dunk here, you might want to wait a while before getting back behind the wheel of your car to return to Prague.

Compact Facts

How to get there

British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com/prague) offers a seven-night fly-drive to Prague in October from £299 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow and Avis Inclusive car hire for the duration of the trip. Tom Mangold stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, Prague (00 420 221 427 000; fourseasons. com/prague), which offers rooms from €397 (£346) a night, and the Hotel Jalta (00 420 800 22 00 88; hoteljalta.com), which offers B&B accommodation from €169 (£147) a night.

Further Information

Novosad Glassworks, Harrachov (00 420 481 528 1412; sklarnaharrachov.cz).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links