• Germany's news in English

Wandering around Saxony's answer to Switzerland

22 Jun 2011, 07:01

Published: 22 Jun 2011 07:01 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Anyone who has ever taken the train from Berlin to Prague may have noticed the picturesque valley that stretches from Dresden to the Czech border. This stretch of the journey along the River Elbe passes through lush woods, with pretty villages on one side, and imposing mountains and the odd castle on the other.

What many foreign tourists may fail to realize, however, is that through those dense forests on either side of the track lies a unique and spectacular landscape, known as the Sächsische Schweiz or Saxon Switzerland.

The area is famed for its sandstone formations and table mountains, almost like canyons in the American West except set amongst dense woodlands instead of desert scrub.

The unusual landscape, with its waterfalls and romantic gorges, has been a huge draw for tourists since the late 18th century. But the fact that this national park was locked behind the Iron Curtain for decades means it is still less well known than many of Germany’s other natural attractions.

In fact, of the 1.4 million overnight stays in the region, only around three percent are foreigners, though a somewhat higher number make a day trip to the area while visiting nearby Dresden.

Tino Richter, director of the Saxon Switzerland tourist board, said the area had developed significantly as a destination since the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a marked improvement in the accommodation on offer.

“It is an advantage to some extent that there has been so much investment in the past 20 years,” he told The Local. “Everything has been modernized.” The terrible flooding in the region almost a decade ago also forced hotels and restaurants to renovate significantly, he explained.

But while there has been a development of the infrastructure, with thermal baths as well as a new five-star hotel at Bad Schandau, once a notable spa resort and now a tourist hub on the River Elbe, the main focus here is always nature.

Adrian Hughes, an Irishman who has lived in Berlin for years, was captivated by the uniquely romantic landscape when he visited. “It makes you feel as if the last Ice Age had melted away just a few weeks ago, depositing huge stones all over the place,” he told The Local.

For Hughes, the attraction of the region was also that it seemed less developed and organized than other nature parks in the country. “It was a quite wild and unkept,” he said, something that appealed to him greatly. “You feel very much alone wandering through it, directly in nature.”

Richter said that the main target group was definitely active holiday makers such as Hughes. “Most visitors come here to go hiking, cycling and climbing,” he said.

One example of what draws the more adventurous tourist is the Schrammsteine, the biggest rock formation in Saxon Switzerland. It towers above the valley and stretches from Bad Schandau all the way to Schmilka on the Czech border and beyond. Scaling the stone is no easy feat, with climbers having to tackle sheer rock stacks and hike along narrow paths, and climb steep steps and ladders to reach the view at the top.

Yet there is also much for the more culturally minded visitor to explore, with the spectacular Königstein fortress hugging the hills as well as pretty gateway town of Pirna and other picturesque villages.

Königstein, which towers 240 meters above the Elbe, was first mentioned in 1241, and in the 16th century its heavy fortifications and location meant it was considered unconquerable. Eventually the king of Saxony turned it into a prison for political enemies and one of its most famous inmates was August Bebel, a founder of the Social Democrats, who spent two years in its cells. The castle now gets around half a million visitors a year and in December it holds a historic Christmas Market.

Story continues below…

Less active tourists can also take trips down the Elbe on steam boats or hop aboard the old-fashioned tram, the Kirnitzschtalbahn. It has been transporting guests through the romantic valley since 1898 and recently British actress Kate Winslett took the trip for a scene in the film “The Reader.”

The newest attraction in Saxon Switzerland is a new hiking path known as the Malerweg, or “Painters Path.” The 112-kilometre trail leads up and down both sides of the Elbe, breaking off at intervals to delve into the national park. The name harks back to the area’s popularity with artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Carl Gustav Carus and Ludwig Richter, who would traipse through this lush rugged landscape, sketching and painting as they went.

“Artists have been coming here since the late 18th century,” Richter says. “And the term Malerweg was around even back then.” However, it was only in 2006 that the tourist board developed the path, placing specific signposts along the way so that visitors could retrace the steps of the creative types of times past.

While the revival of the historic path has added a new interesting element to the Saxon Switzerland experience, in the end it is the landscape that really takes one’s breath away.

“The voluptuous nature,” was what surprised Irishman Hughes the most when he first went there. “It was a much more primordial experience than I had expected.”

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

08:29 June 22, 2011 by DoubleDTown
The "gateway" town is PIRNA. (not prina) See http://www.pirna.de.
10:18 June 22, 2011 by andthenme
i have been to this place, it is a such a wonderful place with unbelievable views of river and forests. i recommend it to any one visiting Dresden, since it is not very far from that beautiful city.
19:34 June 22, 2011 by MJMH
The countryside is like a dream. Could never understand the name Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland). It doesn't remind me of Switzerland at all. Germany should hold a renaming contest.
19:45 June 22, 2011 by Englishted

"Germany should hold a renaming contest."

Agreed I'll go for squareheadland ,or blockheadland
20:15 June 22, 2011 by MJMH
Hey Englishted

If yo feel that way why don't you quit reading The Local. Nobody would miss you.
21:11 June 22, 2011 by bad_tolz
Just after the Berlin Wall was opened, my German Frau Simone and I traveled from the USA to West Germany. In December of 1989, I entered East Germany via an empty train going east to see my In-Laws, the Webers in Dresden, Saxony. While in Dresden, one of the first family trips we had with the In-Laws was to the Sächsische Schweiz or Saxon Switzerland. It was so convenient for a day trip from Dresden.

It is stated in this article in the ¦quot;Local¦quot; that only a small percent of foreigners visit this area. I did notice that the people told me that not too many foreigners came to this region. I found the area fascinating and most of the time quite remarkable. The view of the old Roman Fort with its battlements could easily be seen above the Elbe. There was a Catapult replica built by locals that was said to be an exact copy of the ones the Romans used well over one thousand years ago. The view down to the Elbe was spectacular, but in December a haze hung over the river valley. Then I was told about another haze.

Of particular mention was that my Father- In-Law told me that not far from Konigstein is where he and other East German, and Soviet soldiers had secretly marshaled and then invaded Czechoslovakia in the Prague Spring of 1968. He also showed me the ¦quot;TOTFORST¦quot; in the Erzgebirge near Seiffen where the East German government harvested deadwood to make wood toys such as Nutcrackers. On the bottom of these toys there was a little sticker saying, ¦quot;Erzgebirge¦quot;. I was stunned by seeing thousands if not millions of acres of lifeless trees standing grey and little wildlife about. My Father-In-Law Karl-Heinz did not know what had caused an entire forest to die. I never knew what had caused such death and lifelessness in this remarkable area of Saxony. I hope the forest has regrown. I wonder if anyone knows what killed that forest.
13:01 June 23, 2011 by Englishted
"Germany should hold a renaming contest."

How about the land of no sense of humour?

22:13 June 23, 2011 by anne k
MJMH suggested renaming Saxon Switzerland, not Germany, Englishted. Been here so long you now need to brush up your English language skills?
11:00 June 25, 2011 by darcy65
good article - would have been nice to see some photos to illustrate it for those, like myself, who have not visited the area yet.
14:28 June 30, 2011 by IgelEi
This area is reputed to have more neo-nazis per square kilometre than any other part of Germany, so if you are´nt lilly white or you speak German with a foreign accent, my advice is to steer clear of here!!!!
15:15 June 30, 2011 by jimscott
@ IgelEi. Thanks for the tip. If I ever go there, I'll grow a little moustache and start goosestepping up the mountains.
05:17 January 30, 2012 by heyheyhey
Englishted is a smartass, and nothing but a smartass.

For as long as he has been posting he has been a non- German know- it-all.

I wish he would take his smartass and go home to his England where he could be with other smartasses just like him.
08:26 August 30, 2012 by james5
It is a such a amazing place with incredible opinions of stream and jungles. i suggest it to any one viewing Dresden, since it is not very far from that amazing town.
Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd