Czechia’s national treasures

25 August 2022Douwe de Vries and Shirley Nijhof

Czechia’s national treasures

In the north of the Czech Republic, special natural treasures wait to be discovered. Here you find regions with poetic names, such as Czech Switzerland (Saské Švýcarsko) and Bohemian paradise (Český ráj). The beautiful nature of the Northern Czech Republic is well suited for a visit. These mountains with bizarre and whimsical sandstone rock formations guarantee several days of fun and wonder.

The story goes that some two hundred years ago, two Swiss painters visited the border area between the German city of Dresden and the Czech city of Dĕčín. The spectacular landscape reminded them of their own country. They called the sandstone mountains on the German side of the Elbe “Saxon Switzerland” and on the other side of the border “Czech Switzerland”. Together, these ranges form the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.

Off to a good start

Our exploration doesn’t start immediately in the Czech Republic, but from a well-equipped motorhome stopover in the German town of Struppen, south of Dresden. Manager Markus Guhr provides us with a cycling route map to the Bastei. This is the most famous rock formation on the German side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, and we reach it via a ferry over the Elbe near Oberrathen. Summer temperatures ensure a lively atmosphere on the Elberadweg, a designated bike route. It’s beautiful cycling and walking weather and that suits us fine! We notice that the Bastei is generously furnished with hiking trails, containing ample viewing platforms. Out from the sandstone bridge that was built between several rock towers, there is a magnificent view of the Elbe valley on one side and of the rugged rock formations on the other. Today, an almost continuous clicking of cameras offers the background soundscape.

Driving our motorhome along the Elbe

The next day, we cross the German-Czech border at Schmilka. We drive along the Elbe to Hřensko. Here we turn left and drive along the Kamenice river towards Mezní Louka. From there, according to the local tourist office, we can reach Europe’s largest natural sandstone bridge, the Pravčická brána, also known as “Europe’s Gate”. Along the way we pass various parking areas. However, as motorhome owners we’re resolutely referred to a large parking space for buses and motorhomes in Mezní Louka, about six kilometers away. The stone bridge can only be reached on foot. We can choose between two routes: the longest leads past the Gabrielina gorge, a walk of about three hours, the shortest starts halfway between Hřensko and Mezní Louka. We opt for the latter. The route takes us up quite steeply for almost three kilometres. From early on, we pass towering rocks and deep gorges, but at the end we’re bedazzled by the hike’s highlight: the sixteen-metre high sandstone bridge, spanning an incredible twenty-six meters!

Pravčická brána - Campercontact blog
Pravčická brána - Campercontact blog

An unforgettable view of Europe’s gate

Because we want to see the non-accessible bridge up close, we have to buy a three-euro ticket at the Falcon's Nest. This former nineteenth-century country hotel hosts a restaurant and a small exhibition about the nature reserve. From different viewing platforms we enjoy an unforgettable view of Pravčická brána and the surrounding rocks. It’s rather busy, so it is a bit of a squeeze to reach the most beautiful viewpoints. Although there is a small, busy campground in Mezní Louka, we decide to spend the night in the larger town of Dĕčín, where motorhomers can spend the night at a quiet spot without facilities, directly on the Elbe.

A fascinating natural phenomenon

When we take route 13 towards Liberec the next day, we stop shortly after the village of Kamenický Šenov to marvel at another natural phenomenon. Here we find the Panská skála, literally meaning: men's rock. It is located close to the road, where a brand-new visitor centre with a parking area has been built. Within a hundred meters, we reach the grey columns of solidified lava that look like organ pipes. We hold our breaths when we see two daredevils on top of the imposing columns waving at their parents and we marvel at this fascinating natural phenomenon.

Panská skála - Campercontact blog

A Bohemian paradise

Between Dĕčín and the town of Turnov, in the middle of Bohemian paradise, we have to cover a distance of almost a hundred kilometres. When we get near the considerable town of Liberec, the landscape starts to become mountainous. Via the E442, road number 35, we drive through the town of Turnov to Rustic Camp in Knĕžnice, where motorhomes are welcome. Ceský ráj is a seven hundred square kilometre national park, where bizarre rock towns stick out from the surrounding forests, turning the nature reserve into a paradise on earth.

The most famous rock formations are Prachovské skály (Prachov’s rock) northwest of the town of Jičin and Hrubá skála (rough rock), not far from Turnov. The entire area is littered with bicycle routes. It takes some effort to find our first goal, Prachov’s rock, but we manage! This rock town is hiding about eight kilometres from the campsite. It is located near the village of Holin, among the forests. It harbours various walking routes. The 3,5-kilometre green route is the most impressive. It includes a course along rock towers, sometimes fifty meters high, through extremely narrow gaps, gorges and abysses. A fascinating experience of about three hours of climbing and descending. Names like Americká sluj (the American cave), Prachovská capká (Prachov’s cap) and Pracovská jehlá (Prachov’s needle) speak to the imagination. The rock town of Hrubá skála is made up of hundreds of towers and sports hiking trails of various difficulty levels. One of the routes leads to the Valdštejn castle ruins.

Until the 19th century, Českýráj was called “Terra Felix”, meaning “happy country”.

Humprecht_Sobotka - Campercontact blog

A castle on huge basalt cones 

Another unmissable sight is the fourteenth-century Trosky castle. The name literally means: debris. The castle is built on two immense basalt cones, and almost all bicycle routes end here. The view from the castle is beautiful. On the way, we spot an assemblage of characteristic wooden houses that adorn the landscape. The town of Sobotka is known for them.

Close to Sobotka, south of Trosky, the special, seventeenth-century castle Humprecht is located. Here we can leave our motorhome on a large, guarded parking lot. The little castle is round. It was constructed by Count Jan Humprecht Cernin, who earned big money in the Thirty Years War

He built several castles and palaces, but it caused his financial downfall. The shape of the tower is reminiscent of a tower in former Constantinople (now Istanbul), where Humprecht’s uncle had been imprisoned. Fortunately, some English information panels provide sufficient explanation, because the Czech tour guide only speaks her own language. In the meantime, the weather has deteriorated to such an extent that we decide to head back to Germany. After all, we have achieved our goal: to visit the special natural phenomena in Northern Bohemia. And what an impression they have left on us!

More information

The rock towns can generally be visited for a fee from April to October. Castles in the area are open to visitors on a daily basis in summer, in winter usually only on Sundays and public holidays. Great local hiking and cycling maps are often available free of charge at local tourist offices.

Overnight stays

Sitecodes refer to the location in our App and Website.

Rustic Camp Kubanek - Campercontact

Source: NKC / Kampeerauto. The NKC is the Dutch parent company of Campercontact.  
Editor: Douwe de Vries. Photos: Douwe de Vries, Konrad Steidel and others 

This blog is published with the permission of the relatives of Douwe de Vries.