Saxon Switzerland: between a rock and a winding river

By Finn McCarthy, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Germany.

Overall rating:5.0 out of 5 (based on 10 votes)
Enjoyable
4.9
4.9
Useful
4.9
4.9
Inspirational
4.8
4.8
Recommended for:
Activity, Cultural, Food and Drink, Budget, Mid-range

Find out about walking trails and peaks in Germany's Saxon Switzerland national park. After that discover the historic towns and castles.

The name Saxon Switzerland sounds initially like a mellow heavy metal band or a fantasy mountain kingdom. It is neither but instead a magnificently rugged region in eastern Germany dominated by bizarre sandstone formations overlooking the River Elbe.

Situated about an hour by the S1 train from Dresden and close to the Czech border, it offers some of the best walking in Germany, cycling, rock climbing and the chance to explore historic towns and castles.

Bad Schandau

We based ourselves in Bad Schandau, a compact spa town, which in 2009 was the setting for Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglourious Basterds. It had a helpful Tourist Office (+49 35022 90030; www.bad-schandau.de) as well as a separate National Park Centre (+49 35022 90060; www.lanu.de/en/Nationalparkzentrum.html). Excellent advice, information about the availability of travel cards and maps were all easily accessible. The town has its own recently reconstructed Toscana Therme, a thermal spa, which has several pools where guests can choose a variety of experiences. Nevertheless we were drawn to the area for the scenery, the history and the hiking.

Schrammsteine

Strolling east by the River Elbe towards Ostrau was the prelude to the climb towards the peaks of Schrammsteine. The path, like all the trails in this area, was clearly marked by the National Park authorities and was a difficult but not an exhausting climb. There was a magnificent panorama including grandstand views of daring climbers scaling sandstone stacks. It is Germany’s premier rock climbing site where practitioners have to use traditional methods.

The Bastei

Castled crags and extensive views dominated our daily experience. The top headline act was the Bastei, meaning “the bastion” or “the fortress”. Armed with a family day ticket (euro 11) which covered most forms of travel, we took the ferry across to the station. A brief train ride to Rathen and another short ferry crossing led us to the start of the climb.

It was not too daunting an ascent. After half an hour’s exertion, we reached these eccentric steeple-like rock formations that rose dizzily above the Elbe. Linked by a series of stone footbridges, they gave wonderful vistas of the river and the surrounding forest. It was worth getting here before the coach loads arrived and an added bonus was the opportunity to return through the valley via the town to Konigstein. Towering leafy trees, gorges and gullies reminded us why this landscape was an inspiration to German Romantic artists. The pathway had even been named the Painters’ Way and it led back to the fortress at Konigstein.

Konigstein

This was an impregnable castle which housed a number of famous prisoners. We explored dungeons, armoury displays and a mysterious, fathomless well. Again the views were outstanding and the trip there was enhanced by a variety of transport including an ancient bus and land train.

Pirna

Saxon Switzerland was not just about castles and mountains but also featured attractive towns. Pirna was full of baroque buildings and had a splendid Gothic town hall. Its clock frontage, flanked by two lions that sprung into action at key times, was another quirky curiosity. The Marienkirche, a late Gothic church, had a striking façade and a wonderful Renaissance altar. This town was easily accessible by train from Bad Schandau but it was also possible to take a cruise on the Elbe (+49 35150160160; www.dresden.de/tourismus ).

Lichtenhainer

It was appropriate to finish on a high. The Kirnitzschtalbahn was a narrow gauge tramway that negotiated its way alongside a river to the Lichtenhainer waterfall. From there it was a hike to a rock formation known as the Cow Stall and a steep climb up a flight of steps called the Stairway to Heaven.

How fitting to end with recollections of one the legendary heavy rock anthems.

Where to eat and sleep

We stayed at the long-established Hotel Lindenhofwhich had a wonderful restaurant and where we received great hospitality. Irish and English visitors were rare but fortunately Bille, our waiter, spoke good English and led us through the menu of the local delicacies. We opted for the fixed price menu that included wonderful wild boar cooked in mushroom sauce with noodles, ham in beer sauce with vegetables and dumplings, topped off with a dessert of quark with berry sauce. With half a litre of local red wine, the total bill for two came to a great value at euro 39. Other nights we enjoyed roasted wild boar and turkey with mushrooms in a white wine sauce served with basmati rice. We were spoilt for choice at breakfast with a vast array of meats, cheeses and breads.

It would be a mistake to be in Germany without tasting the beer. A picturesque spot on the terrace of the Elbhotel ( +49(0) 35022 570; www.elbhotel-bad-schandau.de) overlooking the river provided a perfect opportunity. Another memorable inn, slightly more old-fashioned, was Gasthof Lichtenhainer (+49(0) 35971 53733; www.lichtenhainer-wasserfall.de) next to the Lichtenhainer Waterfall.

A Footnote

Saxon Switzerland is a miracle of nature that deserves to be discovered. Recent television programmes by Julia Bradbury on the hiking possibilities (see video) and Andrew Graham Dixon on German art of the Romantic era may change the picture. But for now let’s toast this delightful place with a drink. On the rocks of course!
 

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More information on Saxon Switzerland: between a rock and a winding river:

Author:
Finn McCarthy
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
5
Average: 5 (10 votes)
Total views:
424
First uploaded:
31 January 2011
Last updated:
3 years 42 weeks 3 days 6 hours 51 min 41 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Activity, Cultural, Food and Drink
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
spectacular scenery, Great hiking, historic castles, interesting food and drink, unusual transport options

Finn recommends

Hotels

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(out of 5)
1. Hotel Lindenhof
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Community comments (10)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Very interesting at any point of view. The presentation is complete, and the description gives a beautiful insight of natural treasures. Finn manages beautifully Sheakespeare's langage.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

An inspiring guide from Finn.It reminded me of some places I visited in India!Turkey mushrooms and Basmati rice sounds good. Video has opened my eyes to the stunning landscape and scenery.

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Rating:
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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

As a walker and a water colour painter, the area looks truly inspirational. I haven't heard about this region of Germany before and I am intending to do a walking holiday in Germany this year, so may well choose this as the basis of my holiday. The clear and enthusiastic account packed with useful information was really helpful. This is my first experience of Simon Seeks, it will be my first port of call in the future.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

You've stirred my wanderlust again Finn. Another great article. Thanks

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5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Bad Schandau just doesn't live down to it's name. Sounds great in fact, and is definitely on my list of places to go hiking.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

The beauty of this report is that it generates in me a strong wish to go and visit this marvelous place, miraculously preserved, despite that I am not a keen mountain climber or even hiker! It sounds all so attractive! Thank you Finn.

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Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Another fascinating guide from Finn who makes this area of Eastern Germany extremely attractive to those of us who love walking. Save some of the wild boar and mushroom sauce for us!
The video is a very useful addition to Finn's guide.
Very informative - well done.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

The great thing about Simonseeks is finding out about places that you had never heard of before. And what a beautiful place you have written about. The photo selection really shows how stunning the scenery is.

The guide is very practical with all of the necessary information about how to get there and what to do and see. I like the sound of all the different forms of transport that serve this area.

Hotel Lidenhof’s restaurant sounds totally fabulous! Do you happen to have some photos of some of that lovely food you had? I would love to get a look at it.

The video is great and illustrates perfectly the attraction of Saxon Switzerland.

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Rating:
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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Thank you Finn for this new and very attractive finding. I knew the Harz mountains and forests, slightly north of this, also providing a warm welcome in protected villages, but certainly not as spectacular as this area. Next time I go there I will make sure I visit this spinoff Swiss.
But surely it must be a lot better in a fair weather, than in the winter cold or even snow.
Thanks again.

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Rating:
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2 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

Very inspirational, obviously Finn you have found a hidden part of Europe. Impressed with the video, it certainly adds to the description. Hotel and Restaurants also look interesting but what was impressive for me was the scenery.

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