On the border between Germany and the Czech Republic lies a natural park called Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz). The park lies in the Elbe Valley (the river runs through Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland) and attracts nature-lovers both locally and internationally due to the abundance of nature trails and climbing spots (which literally number in the tens of thousands).
Saxon Switzerland is actually only one half of the equation. Bohemian Switzerland lies on the Czech side of the border. Both together form the Elbe Sandstone Mountains as well as the natural border between the two countries.
Why is this area called ‘Saxon Switzerland’? What does Switzerland have to do with the area? It isn’t even close on a map of Europe. Well in the 18th century, two Swiss artists came to the Dresden Academy of Art and did some travelling in this area. It reminded them of where they came from in Switzerland (the Swiss Jura). They wrote home about this ‘Saxon Switzerland’ and the name appeared in Wilhelm Lebrecht Götzinger’s popular series of book about this area with the title ‘Saxon Switzerland’.
One of the most well-known attractions is the Bastei. The Bastei is a series of rocks eroded by water over the past million years reaching high up from the ground. They have actually been a tourist attraction for the past several hundred years. Restaurants, food stalls and hotels range back in one form or another over the past 200 years. Today, a continuous walkway connects all of the parts of the Bastei. Visitors can walk amongst the stones and enjoy the vantage point that they give over much of the Elbe Valley.
Another feature of Saxon Switzerland is the 112 km (approx. 70 miles)-long hiking trail called the Malerweg (painter’s trail). This trail takes its name not only from the two aforementioned painters in Dresden but also from the plethora of other painters visiting to capture this landscape ever. Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog), shown below, is one such painting. This trail crosses both Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland. You can do it in 10-20 km (6-12 mile) stretches between towns.
The Malerweg winds its way through the valley as well as into the mountains and ravines characteristic of this area. A pastime in this area is a type of camping called boofen, which is a type of open-air camping under overhanging ledges. Nowadays, due to conservation to protect its astounding beauty (and those idiots who cock it up for the rest of us), boofen can only be done in special designated areas. Usually, these areas are near climbing walls located within the park.
Another feature of the valley is of course the river and the inevitable river journeys (and are highly recommendable). Usually Czech guides can tell you (in either German, Czech or a mixture of the two) about them, including the history of the valley, some of the prominent features that can be seen in the ravines and on the river, and local legends. If you take a river tour, make sure you bring a rain jacket. No matter what time of year the temperature drops in the ravines and the river spray is cold.
Here are some more photos from the area: