The Harrach-TourThrough Harrach-County
The old and distinguished Harrach dynastie is related to a large number of European aristocratic houses. It has bred cardinals, diplomats and industrialists. During the Thirty Years‘ War the Harrachs arrived in the Krkonose Mountains and acquired the castle of Horni Branna from Albrecht von Wallenstein in 1632. They expanded their influence in the western part of the Krkonose Mountains an in 1701 acquired other acreage around the town of Jilemnice. In spite of further manors in Bohemia, Hungary and Austria, they were based in the Krkonose Mountains. Their family members were extraordinary good farmers, well educated and entrepreneurially oriented, promoting the whole western part of the Krkonose Mountains on a long term basis. During the 18th century the yarns and fabrics produced in Jilemnice were exported even to Amsterdam and Venedig. The glassworks in today’s town of Harrachov gained worldwide fame in the 19th century.
One of the family’s most significant figures was Jan Nepomuk Frantisek Count of Harrach (1828-1909). He was a righteous patriotic man and a exceptionally good farmer anfd forester. He pioneered tourism in the Krkonose Mountains, he laid out hiking trails, built the first inns and he built the observation tower on Zaly mountain. Inspired by the Norwegians he brought the first skis to the Krkonose Mountains, that was declared a natural preserve in 1904. In 1897 he organised a silvicultural congress in Jilemnice, which was rather progressive at that time. The 600 participants elected the Prince Schwarzenberg to lead their association. In a long convoy of carriages Harrach led the congress members through his county and demonstrated the beauty of this swath of land.
Now you are invited to explore the Harrach county yourself. We start in Jilemnice and pass a roadhouse, built by Harrach on the Kozinec hill, that already gives us a nice view over the western part of the Krkonose Mountains. Later on we will again have the opportunity to look at the county from a hill above Roprachtice. After our descent into the Isera valley we cross a railroad track, laid out by Harrach in 1899. From there we pass through the Ponikla valley or the calm, romantic Stromkovice valley and head for the mountains. In both valleys we can find characteristic mountain log cabins with stonewall stables. In former times, many of these houses had a loom to produce fabrics. But people did wood work (for furniture, transport boxes, cartwheels, fiddles or shingles), manufactured shoes, braided baskets or blow glass. Up to the present day glass beads and Christmas ornaments are produced in Ponikla. The Rautis family, who still follows this handicraft, will be delighted to demonstrate the manufacturing process. There is also a Krkonose Mountains handicraft museum in Ponikla. In Jan Harrach’s lifetime many people produced goods at home in their houses. But with industrialisation things changed rapidly. Along the Isera river a few old factories from that time are still present. Our path now leads us up to the village of Benecko. From here the first hiking trails, laid out by Harrach, led up to Zaly mountain. Next to the Zaly observation tower, there used to be a roadhouse built by Harrach of which only the fundament is visible today.
From here we start the long descent to Vrchlabi.