Compared to the mountains of its namesake, the hills of Bohemian Switzerland may appear at first glance to be mere lumps in a rug of greenery. However, if you’re willing to look a little closer, you will find a region of rugged majesty. Across the landscape ancient forms rise up, making this one of the most visually stunning places to visit in the Czech Republic.
Bohemian Switzerland abuts Saxon Switzerland in Germany, together forming Bohemian Saxon Switzerland, though the two national parks are officially separate. The great sandstone outcrops which are the region´s main appeal were formed as deposits of an inland sea during the Jurassic era. Millions of years ago the sea receded to leave an intricately carved landscape that has been further sculpted by wind, rain and vegetation.
Today, the area attracts a large number of hikers – both people there for the day and those wanting to take in the sights for longer. There are enough creature comforts to relax and grab some refreshment after a day’s walking or a place to stay if you plan a longer trip. The towns Hřensko, Mezní Louka, Vysoká Lípa, Jetřichovice, Chřibská and Doubnice all have restaurants and a variety of places to stay from camps to hotels. The official website for Bohemian Switzerland lists various recommended places to stay. If you want something more low key there are a number of places in the towns offering rooms or apartments. Look for the ubiquitous ‘zimmer frei’ sign.
Two tips before you go. The Czech Hiking Club’s map for the region, map no. 12, is invaluable. It not only gives you an idea of how to plan your trip but it includes accommodation and places to eat along the trails. It would also be useful to take the timetable for the 434 bus with you. It serves the towns mentioned above, which can all be used as starting points for hikes. If you plan to come with a lot of gear or kids, this mobility may be handy. The timetable can be downloaded as a PDF here.
On the Czech side, the trail with the most sights is the red trail leading from Hřensko to Jetřichovice. Stretching 24 kilometers, it isn´t necessary to do the whole thing in one day. Mezní Louka serves as a perfect midway point from where you can explore both halves of the trail. The first attraction you will see on the way from Mezní Louka is Velký Pravčický Kužel. This great cone which resembles some gigantic beehive, overlooks the deep valley and forms a natural border between the Czech Republic and Germany. All along the trail, the sandstone cliffs create an imposing natural buttress. It’s easy to see why the region fired the imagination of visitors a century ago.
Further along, you will find the region’s main attraction, the Velká Pravčická brána, a natural stone bridge 26.5 meters from the base to the top and spanning 16 meters across. To think, millions of years ago this lay at the bed of ancient sea. It is possible to view the bridge from below, or you can enter the surrounding area for 75 CZK. From this point it is possible to ascend to the top of nearby rocks and take in the full view of the area including the solitary chimney-like stone. The castle Sokolí hnízdo (Falcon’s nest) is also located here, with a cafe on the balcony. The people at the refreshment stand will graciously refill your water bottle from the tap free of charge. The area closes at 6pm, but you want to come no later than 5pm to really appreciate the views.
The eastern half of the track will bring you just under the small peak of Větrovec. A little more than a kilometer along you will find the Malá Pravčická brána. This natural formation is about a tenth of the size of its big sister. To see it you have to follow a small sidetrack for about 200m. From here, the path leads again through some incredibly dramatic scenery. A deep ravine drops away from the path. At several points you will find natural vantages for photo opportunities of the hills, forests and
A little further along is the rock castle Šaunštejn. Established in the 15th century, the rock´s shape lent itself naturally to serving as a fortification, particularly for travelers along the Česká silnice, a historical path now one of the marked trails in the region. The top of the rock is interconnected by a series of bridges and affords some of the best views. Entry is free. However, those who are not so sure-footed might want to enjoy the rock castle from its base.
Continuing along the red trail will bring you to Vilemínina stěna (Wilhelmina’s Cliff), named after Princess Wilhelmina Kinský, the wife of the estate’s former owner. Near the cliff is Mariina skála (Maria’s Rock). A wooden shelter was once located there, dating back to 1856. It was added to over time until it burnt down in 2005. Two years later a shelter was built. Along with Wilhelmina’s Cliff, Maria’s Rock is an ideal look-out post to savor the beauty of the region.
For those who would prefer a gentler hike, the green trail from Mezní Louka to bývalé (former) Zadní Jetřichovice offers an easier way through the national park. The trail leads down into the aptly named Hluboký důl (Deep valley), a sheltered tree-lined gully, through which even the intense summer sun doesn’t always reach. The trail lacks the breath-taking scenery of the red trail however, it is a serene entry point to the German side of the region. At Zadní Jetřichovice you can cross a footbridge and be abroad, if only for a moment. From here it’s possible to follow a number of paths to the German village Hinterhermsdorf. Otherwise stick to the green trail and continue to the cross roads of the green and blue trails at Panenská jedle (Virgin Fir Tree). Going right (south) along the blue will lead to Wasp Peak, formed by a basalt lava flow. Four kilometers from there, you will find Na Tokání. This site is believed to be one of the oldest settlements in the region. In the 19th century hunting lodges were built. Unfortunately, they also suffered the ravages of fire, so the present ones are replicas. This can be a good place to rest and eat before making your way back.
A more strenuous walk is to be found over on the German side. From Bad Schandau take a bus to Beuthenfall, where the red trail called Konigweg starts. This path includes a series of climbing areas. Equipment is not necessary as rails, ladders and steps are fixed into the rocks. However, a head for heights along with sturdy boots and good hiking clothes are all necessary. The landscape may not be as physically beautiful as the Czech side but the climb is worth it. Furthermore, the fact that the trails are prepared means they are perfect for someone who wants to ease themselves into more adventurous hiking. For the more daring, there are plenty of other more challenging climbing opportunities in the area.
This is but a small sample of what you can do on a two day trip to the region. For much longer stays, or for those not into hiking, the region offers many other activities. The park is served by a number of bike paths, starting at Hřensko and heading east, branching towards the border or off to Jetřichovice and Chřibská. For those who don’t want to bring their bikes, there is a bike hire service at the camp in Mezní Louka.
A guided boat tour is good way to see the gorge up close. There are three possibilities, the Poseidon ferry which travels from Děčín to Bad Schandau in Germany. The whole trip takes two and half hours and costs 200 CZK one way/280 return. It’s possible also to take just a pole barge through the gorge. The ferryman offers a somewhat cheesy commentary. However, it does give you a better opportunity for a closer look. It is also possible to hire a raft and take yourself down the Labe. Information for all three services can be found here. The information for Poseidon and the raft hire are in Czech.