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).

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
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
  • Get to the point
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: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own