About the region

So long, wide and ...

    You can travel around it or travel the length and breadth of it, carefully examining the fruit of the love relationship of land, water and air, the Karkonosze and the Izerskie Mountains, bathed in colours of the given season of the year. You may also go deep inside it, under the surface of topographic names, ruins, old photos, legends... and meet there treasure hunters, laboratorians and alchemists, glassworkers who smelted glass in secret, religious fugitives, lovers of old-German fairy tales, guests carried in sedan chairs, or the Mountain Spirit, called Rzepiór or Rzepolicz in Poland and Krkonoš or Mister John in the Czech Republic. But everything in turn.
    The bicycle land is located within the Karkonosze, in the highest mountain group in the Sudetes, the Izerskie Mountains, constituting the most western fragment of the Polish Sudetes and in the Izerskie Foothills, towards which a visible tectonic step of the Izerskie Mountains falls in the northern part. The borderland between Poland and the Czech Republic comes across both the Karkonosze and Izerskie Mountains, but more than half of the area of both mountain groups is Czech. The highest peak of the Karkonosze Mountains is Śnieżka (1603 m), and the queen of the Izerskie Mountains is Wysoka Kopa (1126 m).
    The mountains of the bicycle land constitute a shelter for natural treasures, protected on the Polish side by the Karkonoski National Park (KPN) and the following reserves: "Torfowiska Doliny Izery" (the "Izera Valley Moors") and "Krokusy w Górzyńcu" ("Crocuses in Górzyniec"), and on the Czech side by the Krkonošský národní park (national park) (Krnap) and the "Jizerskohorské bučiny" natural reserve. Forests of the lower and upper wooden sections of the mountains, with predominant spruce tree (though, initially, the lower sections were overgrown by beech and fir forests), are partially protected in the KPN, where you can come across a moufflon brought to the Karkonosze at the beginning of the 20th century from Corsica. Natural areas of beech groves have been preserved on Bukówka hill (590 m) above Szklarka Waterfall. Sub-alpine and alpine belts, with postglacial cirques, dwarf-pine belts, and high peat bogs are strictly protected. The routes of Cyclist Association do not run though those areas. In the Izerskie Mountains, however, several bicycle trails lead through the very centre of the "Izera Valley Moors", the habitats of dwarf birch, longleaf pine or Baeothryon caespitosum, over which you can hear the characteristic "beeee!" of a snipe, a strictly protected species, or see an endangered European white-tailed eagle, the biggest winged predator in our country.
    However, apart from all the treasures, a world as if from an old fairy tale is lurking in this land. The very name Riesengebirge - the Gigantic Mountains - used to describe the Karkonosze and Izerskie Mountains, as one chain, until the end of the 18th century, makes us guess that our visual experiences say less about them than our imagination. When the lands were visited in mid 18th century by the Wallonians, they laid at the very end of the contemporary world, inhabited by giants that were the more dangerous the bigger the mountains seemed from the perspective of the Jelenia Góra Basin. The Wallonians, who searched for gold and precious stones, protected their places of work by disseminating throughout the whole world a locally known legend about the ominous Mountain Spirit, who punished anybody who dared to disturb the peace of his kingdom. Nevertheless, many such daredevils tried to snatch the legendary treasure hidden in the Evening Castle. The Mountain Spirit was used as a shield by the first glassworkers to protect them from unwanted curiosity, when they located their glassworks and, having melted and divided their products, went off to sell them. There were also thieves searching its green lands for martagon lilies, from which supposedly gold could be derived, or mandrage roots, constituting an antidote for any ailment. They were called laboratorians, as they collected herbs themselves and prepared medicinal mixtures from them. Even Rudolf II von Habsburg, the Emperor known for his alchemic interests, who had an office near Prague since 1583, learnt about these natural treasures. He sent a doctor from Strzegom to conduct reconnaissance within the mountainous lands, and since then the latter was called Montanus, for his mountain hiking. Through his intolerant approach towards Protestants, the Emperor made Czech reformed Protestants flow into this land. They founded Marysin in Szklarska Poręba and the village Wielka Izera (German Gross Izer) on Izerska Hala. Then these lands were discovered by romantic artists, who even erected a Fairy Tale Hall (that does not exist nowadays) in Middle Szklarska Poręba, with eight pictures showing the Mountain Spirit as an embodiment of natural forces. Their admiration for the landscape and climate of the land, coupled with the fact that since the mid 18th century the negative European attitude towards the mountains gave way to a passion for travelling, resulted in a mixture that paved the way for mass tourist traffic. In the mountains of the land appeared guests carried in sedan chairs, enthusiasts of downhill sleigh races, bobsleigh riders and skiers, and then cyclists, painting the land with their single-line tracks into a spider-web of unusual spots, both in terms of their landscape and their history.
Sandra Nejranowska
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