Bohemian Switzerland is a fabulous day trip from Prague, but it’s even better when you stay there for a night or two. It gives you time to relax, hike, and see a lot more of the area.
After visiting the Instagram-worthy Pravcicka Gate yesterday, we were really looking forward to seeing what today had in store. So when we met our guide Vitek on our second day, we were eager to get on the road.
“Are you up for Edmund’s Gorge?” he asked. “It will be a long walk, but the boat ride at the end will be worth it. I am sure you will get some good photos.” That’s for sure. We’d seen images on Google and were already excited.
Unlike yesterday’s hike to Pravcicka Brana, today’s walk was an easy one on semi-flat pavement, so I could focus on our guide. As we walked, Vitek told us that the region had little to offer the world until 1890. That’s when Edmund Clary-Aldringen began offering punting-boat rides on River Kamenice, which ran through the gorge.
Soon, the poor local population were constructing bridges, hewing steps in rocks, building viewpoints, and doing whatever they could to encourage visitors. They embraced Edmund's dream and before long, folks were acting as mountain guides and hotels and restaurants grew up.
And this is why the gorge was named in his honor.
We dodged rocky overhangs, passed through dark tunnels and crossed footbridges. All the while, River Kamenice gurgled beside us. I really can’t imagine why they sometimes call it Silent Gorge; it’s anything but.
Eventually, we arrived at a dock and joined some other tourists on a small boat. Our ferryman lifted his pole and punted down the stream, beginning a rolling commentary in Czech. Vitek smiled and rolled his eyes. “I don’t know why they feel they have to keep everyone entertained with lame jokes. Sometimes, I think you can appreciate the gorge better when it’s silent.”
Vitek pointed out interesting rock formations here and there, but he didn’t try to fill up every bit of airspace with endless chatter. We sat in companionable silence and watched the high sandstone walls pass by, covered in moss and ferns. This is truly a magical landscape.
Edmund’s Gorge took up most of our morning, so by the time we were back at the car we were all ready for lunch. We asked Vitek to take us anywhere he would recommend. “Great! I will take you to a place I know that serves traditional Czech food.” We’re in.
With such glorious weather, we sat on the terrace at U Nas Restaurant, sipping our Czech beers as we waited for our food to arrive.
Vitek pointed out Mary's Rock in the distance. “A lot of our guests like to go there,” he said. “But you have to have a lot of stamina. Mary's Rock is a long climb, but at the end, you get one of the most beautiful views in Bohemian Switzerland.”
Restaurant U Nas has a nice setting and a large menu. Since they specialize in game meat, I ordered the Elk goulash.
The historic town of Jetrichovice is the gateway to numerous hiking trails, as well as sandstone towers that rock climbing enthusiasts dream about. But before you head off for your adrenaline dose, make sure you spend a little time just wandering through this picturesque town. Its numerous traditional style homes have become an attraction in the town themselves.
Dwarf Rock (Trpasličí skála)
A local legend tells of a poor homeless woman, Rietschel, who made her living selling firewood that she gathered in the forest. In summertime, she lived under an overhanging rock, while in winter, she used the money she had saved to buy warm lodgings with compassionate people.
One day, she got caught in a sudden storm. Running for cover under her rock overhang, she fell and got wedged between the rocks. Suddenly, seven little men with pointy hats appeared in the gorge. They helped her out and carried her to her little shelter. Before they disappeared, they placed seven coins on the rock, to help her live out her days in peace.
Inspired by this tale, around the turn of the 20th century two local artists – a father and son – set about to immortalize the story. They carved the figures of a woman and seven dwarves (elves) into the rock, and it became known as Trpasličí skála, Dwarf Rock.
Tip: While counting the dwarves you find, look for a little niche cut into the rock. Ernst Vater used to put his beer there when he was working, to keep it well chilled.
Cross the border into Germany and you will find yourself in Saxon Switzerland National Park. Okay, so maybe it’s not in the Czech Republic and thus not a scheduled part of our road trip, but so what? This beautiful forest is chock full of incredible formations throughout. And besides, the two countries know it’s one forest. They work together to manage and protect the entire region, which is almost evenly divided between the two. (Bohemian Switzerland section is approximately 80 square kilometers, while 90 square kilometers are in Saxon Switzerland.)
Just as Pravcicka Gate is the best known sight in Bohemian Switzerland, the Bastei rocks are the biggest attraction on the German side of the park. The rocks are almost 200 metres high, and they offer an exquisite spot for viewing the Elbe River.
Named for a fortress that was built on the farthest rocky pillar, Bastei (“bastion”) has been a popular tourist attraction for over two centuries. A wooden bridge was built in the early 19th century so that tourists could get out to the fortress (which was already a ruin by then). Only 30 years later, the locals decided to replace it with a sandstone bridge, and it remains to this day.
The park has been improved over the years to encourage tourism. It now has a nicely paved walkway from the parking lot, which holds everything from snack shops to an organ grinder. At the far end of the walk, you’ll find a building that houses a snack bar, shops and even a hotel with a restaurant. We’d stay there – the panoramic views are phenomenal.
Passing through the building, we came to a beautiful Bastei overlook. We were astounded by the long-range view to the horizon.
Tip: If you have the time and energy, you can choose from a number of hiking trails leading off from here in many directions. There are many other viewpoints in the park as well, and some of the trails lead there.
Vitek guided us to a path that led down to the sandstone bridge. It was late afternoon, and the low angle of the sun enhanced the rocks – and the height of the walkway! No worries about falling though, because the bridge is extremely solid! Finally at the far end, we paid a small fee to enter the castle area. Considering the unrivalled views of this stretch of the Elbe, it was well worth it. A don’t-miss, if you ask us.
After climbing around on the rocks (totally optional, don’t worry), we ventured back to the hotel’s restaurant. We all savored a cool drink as we watched the sun disappear and turn the sky to fiery hues, and drove back in the dark.
Day well spent.