I always admire beautiful and distinct landscapes. Landscapes that put me in a moment of awe, and allow a sense of wonderment, even if for a fraction of a second. And it was one of those days as I happened to explore a part of the Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland Park and walked along its many giant sandstone cliffs and steep canyons.
Before anything, I’d like to clear out that the Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland Park is, in no way, a part of Switzerland. It got its name in the 18th century, when two Swiss artists called it as Switzerland, because it reminded them of the landscape back home in Switzerland.
Straddling between the Czech and German border, the park is divided, almost evenly, between the two countries, with just a slightly bigger portion of it falling on the German side (where it’s known as the Saxon Switzerland Park) and the remaining in the Czech Republic (where it’s known as Bohemian Switzerland National Park). Amazingly, the two countries work together to manage and protect the entire region, and you barely find a difference between the landscape and its sheer beauty, as you explore the region from either side.
First Part Of The Tour: Czeching Out Bohemian National Park
With just a little more than an hour’s drive from Prague, and some interesting debate about the modern Czech history and the recent developments, between the two other guests and our tour-guide Tony, we reached our first hiking spot at ‘Tisá Rocks’ in the Bohemian (or the Czech Republic) side of the National Park.
[Also Read: My One Day Prague Travel Guide]
It was crazy how in just an hour’s drive we drove from one of the most touristy places in entire Europe (the town of Prague) to a place that had almost no trace of life. But nothing prepared me for the grandeur of the sandstone mountains that arose out of the greens. I stared at them a little longer to ensure they’re not just figments of my imagination. With such a distinct landscape, the Sandstone rocks at Tisá seemed no less than a different planet altogether.
As you enter the park (Bohemian National Park) and buy your entry ticket to walk through Tisá Rocks, the two 2-km long paths located on either side of the ticket booth, lead to a confusing, but ever-impressive rock labyrinth called the Tisá Rocks Educational path. As recently as in the 1920s, visitors were not allowed to enter the rock area without guides, but today you can. But it’s still advised to visit with a guide, as the labyrinth of rocks here can sometimes be very confusing.
To the left side, towards the west, the smaller path leads to the Small Tisá Rocks, displaying 19 numbered rock formations. To the right, and towards the east, the route goes through the Big Tisá Rocks (56 numbered rock formations), which form a wall up to 70 m in height, and in between the green shed is where you buy your entry ticket from.
It ideally takes no more than an hour to complete your walk across both sides of Tisá Rocks, unless you are walking unreliably slow or clicking too many pictures.
It’s unbelievable to see how so many giant rocks, with their hundreds (or possibly thousands) of years of slow erosion, have come to such an impressive formation. And yet, when as you walk through the place, or are reading this article right now, they’re still busy changing their formation, with every passing minute.
Next In The List: Saxon Switzerland Park
After finishing our walk through Tisá rocks, and having some traditional food with a glass of locally brewed Czech beer, in a village called Mezni Louka, we drove towards Germany.
It was crazy to see how, as soon as we entered into German territory, leaving the quiet countryside in the Czech Republic, everything became much more organized and configured. Germans sure love to keep their houses well built and intact — just like their cars.
[Further Reading: Living with a local family and getting horse-riding lessons in Germany]
I could never have guessed that eastern Germany’s best-kept landscapes would be Saxon Switzerland, in the state of Saxony. Though locally known as the Elbe mountains, it was hardly a mountain range in is more real and conscious form sense. Sandstone structures came out, standing erect, out of nowhere, and everywhere, among the dense forest, which sometimes resembled the fingers of a giant, and sometimes a tall row of statues. The baffling landscape reminded me of big boulders and the Emptiness in Hampi. I was immediately consumed with a desire to touch the Elbe and be engulfed by their isolation.
Spread out far below, I could see the Elbe River, villages dotting its banks, the flat-topped Lilienstein where a castle once stood, and in the far distance, the outline of Königstein Fortress. Every now and then a train would pass through, at a far distance, with sometimes carrying a few dozen cars, and sometimes, passengers.
Despite the chill that had set in as clouds took over the sky, the wind gusts blowing through the viewpoint was occasionally warm.
Bastei Bridge: The Highlight Of The Trip
Bastei, which means “bastion”, refers to these jumbled, towering rocks that once formed a part of the defensive barrier for nearby Neurathen Castle, inside today’s Saxon Switzerland Park.
Bastei rock formations have attracted travelers for more than 200 years now. And the prime attraction, within the mountain formations is Bastei Bridge — a sandstone bridge which connects the giant formations and gives fantastic views to the mountains around and Elbe river below.
Probably the most-visited single site in the entire park, the stone bridge now links the “mainland” – with its hotel, restaurant, and gift shop selling glass art – to an outcropping of vertical rocks where the 18th-century Neurathen Castle once stood.
Though today the Bastei Bridge can just be the highlight in Saxon Switzerland, back in the 19th century, and right after its construction, it had its own charm, for it was one of the first few tourism destinations in entire Europe. And the history of Bastei Bridge goes back much longer. The Rock formation was first identified in 1592 but was publicly acclaimed in and after the 19th century, as more and more tourists visit the place and spreading the word around. Initially, a wooden bridge was built here, which was later replaced by the current sandstone one. Steps were also built later in the time to make it more easily accessible.
Though it is possible to tour Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland Park on your own, I chose to do a day tour, from Prague, due to limited time (also I wanted more convenience!). I used a tour company called ‘Northern Hikes’, and couldn’t recommend them more for a similar trip, because of the kind of experience they offered. So if you decide on doing a trip to Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland Park, I say, go check their website.