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; 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;, which offers B&B accommodation from €169 (£147) a night.

Further Information

Novosad Glassworks, Harrachov (00 420 481 528 1412;

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?