You are on a German expedition and still haven’t satiated your adventure quotient in this picturesque country. Where do you head towards? Well, the Saxon Switzerland National Park is a strong contender to fulfill your latent desires for thrilling activities such as rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking and a lot more. But before we delve a little deeper into the nitty-gritty’s of this visually pleasing landscape in the East German wilderness, here’s a small tidbit on how the place acquired its rather intriguing name.
‘Saxon Switzerland’ as we know it is located in the German free state of Saxony, southeast of the capital city of Dresden, surrounding the Elbe valley. The name came to be derived in the 18th century, when two Swiss artists Adrian Zingg and Anton Graff joined the Dresden Academy of Art in 1766. They both felt the beauty of the place came very close to Jura mountain range in Switzerland; and thus the name became popular through its repeated usage by Wilhelm Lebrecht Gotzinger in his books, after it was coined by the former two. Though it was the latter that was responsible for getting the general public well versed with the name ‘Saxon Switzerland’.
The park covers two areas of 93.5 square kilometers and is adjoined by the Bohemian Switzerland National Park in the Czech Republic. It is as such located in the midst of a 710 square kilometer expanse of Saxon Switzerland, with human population peppering the landscape in smaller towns and villages like Bad Schandau and Konigstein. With the status of National Park being afforded to the area in 1990, around 40% of the vast, forested region is subject to dormancy and no activity at all.
The beauty of this place owes its thanks to two things mainly – the wild forests and the visually bizarre rock formations that have formed over millions of years. Within such a phenomenon, we humans have created around 400 kilometers of hiking paths, 50 kilometers of biking paths and a whopping 755 climbing locations with an astounding 12,600 possibilities of climbing routes! No doubt this forms an integral part of the bucket list for international climbers, year-in year-out.
Very literally, this area of Germany has been steeped into history with close to 200 years of tourism and 140 years of rock climbing, making it a sort of pioneer in both regards. Though not known much to the public outside of Europe, these activities have left a deep trace on the identity of the stunning landscape on show at Saxon Switzerland. There is a lot of contradicting word play used to describe this location, with many calling it a ‘rock landscape national park’, even though they are completely forested!
Now a bit on the viability of this place. Saxon Switzerland can be reached by either train or bus. There are regular National Transport Trains to the Dresden Main Station and to Bad Schandau. From there onwards, there are regional S-Bahn trains from Dresden that take you straight to Saxon Switzerland. Also, there are passenger trains between Bad Schandau, Sebnitz and Neustadt or there’s always an option to make it by bus.
As for your stay, there is a variety of accommodation options to choose from ranging from hotels and inns in Bad Schandau as well as an authentic experience of the mountain inns surrounding the Elbe Valley. Do make sure that in the peak hiking times of May/June and September/October, you book in advance. The good news when it comes to climate is that this region is amazing to visit at any time of the year. There are a plethora of distinct activities and occurrences to be enjoyed in any season of the year; though winter is least favored of all due to the ice.
So once you are there, what do you first plunge into amongst the wide range of options at your disposal? It would be advisable to take your hiking boots out and take them for a spin at the romantic “Malerweg”, also known as the Painter’s Way. This trail will make you appreciate the fascinating, rocky landscape of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The path will also lead you to a one-of-a-kind Rock Theatre within the Elbe Valley, into the heart of the National Park. As you conclude the walk, get ready to be mesmerized by the Konigstein Fortress and then sign off with the beautiful view from the vantage peak points of Papststein and Pfaffenstein.
Now if hiking is too main-stream and you want to crank up the stakes, climbing is your best bet. As stated earlier, there are numerous climbing options to choose from in this extensive landscape of the Saxon Switzerland National Park. With top notch safety mechanisms in place, get ready for the climbing experience of a lifetime in the backdrop of one of Europe’s lesser known picturesque landmarks.
If you’ve had enough of climbing and hiking and family time is what’s on your mind, don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed. Delve into the 40 kilometer long cycling trail with your eager family members and appreciate nature in its pure, original form. The stretch runs through Saxon Switzerland as it takes you past the water’s edge in the Elbe Valley surrounded by awe-inspiring sandstone formations. And don’t worry; there are lots of restaurants along the trail, where you could halt for quick refreshment!
If you thought that was about it, then you were miserably wrong. Water enthusiasts too have something in it for them in Saxon Switzerland. Wade through the Elbe River in either a dingy, canoe or a kayak either alone or with your family. There is 700 meters of crystal clear water waiting for you to swim in, fish from or paddle through! Not just that; the spas, sauna and thermal springs by the Elbe are sure to relax you after a day’s hiking or climbing. Or if you aren’t tired enough, you could always indulge in a game of beach volleyball by the Elbe.
Let’s dig deeper into the cultural escapades of Saxon Switzerland now. The Konigstein Fortress, Weesenstein Castle, Fort Stolpen and the Baroque Garden sum up the royalty of Saxon Switzerland. These castles, stately homes and gardens add that sparkling touch to nature’s vast bounty that blesses this place in Eastern Germany. Surrounding the National Park, you have a lot of muse temples, monuments and museums, rich in the arts and crafts that tell the story of the region.
Finally, you could take a tour of the National Park Centre to marvel over the beauties hidden from the human eye and know more about the myriad evolution of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.
How better can it get for the tourist as well as adventure freak in you? One gets to admire the raw, speechless beauty of rock canyons, crazy formations owing to the sandstone and at the same time scale such peaks or take a hike or bike ride through the wild. Pack your bags and explore this natural hinterland as soon as you can!