The Saxon Swiss National Park and the Elbe River

Over the first few years of my driving from the German border into the Czech country, I kept noticing signboards with an interesting design of mountain peaks on them. There was just one though at repeated intervals. I think somewhere between wanting to go deeper into the German countryside and my disapproval of Prague’s tourist scene came the idea of actually following the direction that came from the signboard.

I drove to the Saxon Swiss National park and my GPS read 7 kms or so when the scenery had already started to get interesting. The Autobahn was a bit boring with acres of flat fields but now on the country road, the fields gave way to intermittent hills. Just around 3 – 4 kms before Bastei, the village in the park, I could see the sandstone formations slowly appearing. As the road got narrower it also got interesting with pensions (family-run guest houses) dotting the sides of the road. I parked and started following a small group of tourists assuming that they were headed to the park entrance. I only came to know later that there was no such thing as the park entrance and that I was already inside the park.

It is only at the first viewpoint did I realize how high up I had come. The sandstone formations rise up from the surrounding countryside and the first viewpoint is just the introduction to what lies ahead. As I continued walking again in the direction of the people with me, I passed the Panorama Bastei hotel, by this time I had read the letters B A S T E I more than 10 times including on the GPS. There was enough build up for the grand view that was supposed to come in. I had sneaked a peak on the internet the night earlier and was keen to see if this looks as good as it did on the internet.

What I saw was way better than the internet. From the first viewpoint the river Elbe is not visible but from the second and the final one what I was sanding over was something that I could count as the best 10 views of my traveling life. The River went parallel to the road which went parallel to the railroad and when the red german rail coaches went by the contrast was perfect. As the river snaked its way up north my eyes could see right to the next big town. In my first year of visiting Bastei and the Saxon Swiss National park I only took in the view from the top but in my subsequent years I went on the famous Bastei bridge and took in the view of the Sandstone formations that so beautiful cropped up from ground zero next to the Elbe River. Just visiting the Saxon Swiss National park and actually soaking the scenery up is different. I guess one needs to take on the many trails of the park and maybe spend a night camping in it. Or perhaps visit in the winter when the snow makes up for an interesting contrast with the grey sandstone. In any case, if you are a just a tourist like me and not an adventure enthusiast to truly take it easy in the park, staying in Bad Schandau by the banks of the Elbe would be a good idea. Similarly staying at Rathen, the town at the end of the famous 2-hour Bastei trail is a good option too. The later is more charming with quant countryside hotels lined up along the river.

I stay at The Lindenhof hotel in Bad Schandau. It is family run and feels like one. I often go there in Spring-Summer, when the Asparagus and strawberry are in season and many of the menus in the restaurants of this region have season specials to choose from. I have only once cruised the Elbe river downstream from Bad Schandau to Rathen which was the next stop but I could very easily have gotten to Dresden or Meissen further downstream. Both Dresden and Meissen are special in their own way. The former is more like a city and used to be one of the principal ones in former East Germany along with Berlin and Leipzig. Meissen, however, is small and charming with its shot to fame coming from the Porcelain Manufaktur, the first porcelain factory in Europe back in the times when the royalties used only the works from China, homegrown porcelain was something to be proud of.

Staying on the Elbe and visiting the Saxon Swiss National park is something that I look forward to every year, and every year I take the same number of pictures and act like a tourist. Perhaps the Elbe ages with time and with each year it looks more beautiful.

Where: on the border of Germany and Czech 30 km from Dresden.
How to reach: Coming from Berlin you could take a train to Dresden and then change for a train to Rathen or Bad Schandau. The bus is not too handy.
To stay: Hotel Lindenhof in bad Schandau was doubled are from Eu 100 onwards.