A Bohemian Switzerland wilderness adventure in the Czech Republic
The picturesque region of Bohemian Switzerland showcases dramatic landscapes, lush forests, babbling brooks and idyllic villages. In this article I share a 3-day experience exploring this northern region of the Czech Republic, lead by the folks from Northern Hikes (a local tour operator).
The northern part of the Czech Republic offers nature lovers an enthusiastic journey into a world in which movies are made. I spent three glorious days hiking throughout Bohemian Switzerland, a region with a confusing name, as it is nowhere near the country of Switzerland, but rather the northern border of Germany.
In less than two hours the folks from Northern Hikes whisked me (and several others) away from the chaos of Prague, to the serenity of Bohemian Switzerland, a refuge nestled within a wondrous national park.
DAY ONE IN BOHEMIAN SWITZERLAND
Our first stop was lunch in the town of Tisá, at a popular place called Refugio, near the entrance of Rock Town (aka Tisá Rocks or Tisá Walls). After lunch we walked up a fairly steep paved path to an admission booth where we paid a nominal fee. It wasn’t long before the whimsical setting revealed itself. The scenery is extraordinary and distinct. It was quickly evident why the Chronicles of Nardia was filmed here; it’s the perfect place to inspire mystery and intrigue.
It didn’t take long to discover how much there was to explore. The area is a cluster of unique sandstone spires and configurations, which overlooks the town of Tisá from the top. The Tisá Rocks is a labyrinth that takes visitors on an exceptional adventure through unique alleys and passageways, providing stunning views from every angle.
We started our exploration at the base of these mesmerizing rock formations, but soon weaved through a corridor that elevated us to the very top, providing sweeping views of Tisá while looking down some several hundred feet to the base of the eroding and ever-changing stone arrangements. Surveying the top of these rock formations requires some agility and caution, as there are many gaps and voids in which a long fall could occur if not careful.
Coming from the Southwestern part of the U.S. I am accustom to seeing red sandstone with smooth and arching curves. This was the first time I had seen such dark colored sandstone in a completely different form of erosion. I’ve hiked all over the world and have seen few settings as enchanting as Rock Town. It was a wonderful start to the trip.
As evening approached we drove to the small town of Krásná Lípa, which would be our home base for the next few days. Some in our group stayed at the Falkenštejn Brewery (which has a small inn on the top floors), while a few, myself included, stayed down the street at the Lipa Resort. The Lipa Resort is a wonderful facility and not like your traditional hotel, but rather a compound of buildings that has a number of small apartments, a restaurant, spa and other recreational amenities. It had subtle inclinings of a high-end private hostel with a bit of a communal feel.
That evening we boarded our buses while our guides from Northern Hikes took us to a remote place with some elevation over the incredible landscape to see the setting sun.
DAY TWO IN BOHEMIAN SWITZERLAND
After a delicious breakfast at the Lipa Resort, we were off for a long day of hiking through the national park. Most of Bohemian Switzerland is encompassed within the national park, however small towns and homes are situated within. Unlike the National Parks in the U.S. where very few businesses or concessionaires are seen, Bohemian Switzerland reminds me a lot like the Adirondacks in upstate New York.
Our day started at the “First Zone” trail head, which is a relatively steep climb through a densely forested area. The initial part of the trail is lined with what looks like shards of broken rock used as pavers. I’m not sure if this is true, but legend has it that these shards are actually pieces of German gravestone. Before WWII this area was populated by mostly German residents, but after the war, the Germans were exiled—their property confiscated and their presence removed. [Regardless of if it is true, the story brought back some haunting feelings I had just a couple weeks earlier after visiting Auschwitz while road tripping around southern Poland].
The trail soon turned to natural earth as it winded up the mountain toward Pravcicka Gate, which is the largest natural stone arch in all of Europe. With heart rate elevated and beads of sweet dripping from my forehead, I was the first to reach the arch. I waited at the entrance for the rest of our group and our guides who took care of the admission fees before continuing onward.
This area is one of the most iconic spots representing Bohemian Switzerland. Along with the massive stone arch is an old lodge with a restaurant, which is a great place to take a break and sip on a cold beer. To get a full view of the arch, climbing a few additional flights is required. Once on top of the opposing bluff, the views of Pravcicka Gate are on full display. It’s a spectacular sight, not just of the arch, but of the entire park. Trees provide shade while railed-off lookout points let you take in each vantage point. Even during this popular time of year the crowds were quite bearable, each person generously jockeyed for position to take photos.
After a fair amount of time to enjoy the views, our group began moving past the Pravcicka Gate area and continued through the park down Gabriel’s trail. Along the way, as we descended into the canyon, I admired the incredible sandstone formations and steep rock walls with ancient oak and beech trees lining the way.
About three quarters of the way through the hike we stopped at a small village for lunch at a traditional Czech Restaurant. At U Fořta we sat outside under umbrellas that shaded us from the unusually warm summer weather.
After a lovely lunch, the easiest part of the hike laid in front of us. We continued to descend into a small canyon that was full of lichen and moss making it exceptionally green, like the colors of brilliant emeralds. Fresh air filled our lungs as we hugged the Kamenice River, a completely different scene from the first part of the hike. The trail was nearly flat and the atmosphere quite tranquil as the harmonic sounds of water gently cascaded through the canyon, delicately amplifying off the towering walls.
As the trail came to an end, we walk down a ramp to some large wooden boats that waited to ferry us down the river to conclude the day.
DAY THREE IN BOHEMIAN SWITZERLAND
On day three we had three different short hikes planned, first was a leisurely stroll along a subtle stream that runs through the park near the village of Jetrichovice. This area has a wonderful display of traditional Bohemian Switzerland style homes, which are a bit of an architectonic rarity called “semi-timbered houses,” a fusion between German and Czech cultures. About 1500 of these types of homes have been preserved in the park.
We strolled along the small stream for several kilometers before encountering an old water wheel sawmill. Much of the stone ruins still survive, along with many artifacts. I was enamored by this place and spent a fair amount of time examining all of the various nooks and crannies.
The stream we had been following feeds into the Kamenice River, which we floated down the day before. This is the water that powered the once vibrant sawmill.
After our morning hike we went to lunch at a charming inn called Na Stodolci where they have a focus on farm-to-table food cultivated by nearby farms.
Our next hike was a bit unusual, but such a treat…it’s called Coffee and Canyons, which is a new excursion for Northern Hikes. This is a short walk through the forest to an incredible lookout point called Ruzova Vyhlidka. Once we reached the end of the trail, not only did we have an incredible view, but also some delectable coffee served by the folks from Bohemian Coffee House.
The last hike of the day was to Šaunštejn Castle, a rock castle carved from sandstone in the 14th Century, which is essentially a ruin today. It’s also a place that you will likely not find on your own, it’s just one of the many hidden gems that the folks from Northern Hikes know of and will show you first hand.
What makes this hike so unique and exhilarating is the fact that you have to climb a series of ladders tucked within the cracks of the rock. Some light scrambling is also required to make it to the top. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but once you’re up there, the breathtaking views make the effort so worth it.
Bohemian Switzerland is a mystical landscape filled with lush forests, deep valleys, magnificent rock towers, deep ravines, towering walls and labyrinths that mingle within an empire of rock spires.
Whether you want to do a day trip from Prague, or a customized multi-day tour, the folks from Northern Hikes are a first-class tour operator. They know of many lesser-known areas, and are continuing to discover new places for their guests. Sustainable tourism is extremely important to Northern Hikes, so they invest a lot of time and energy to diversify their offerings to balance the influx of tourists that are just now discovering this wondrous area of the Czech Republic. The Coffee and Canyons tour that I mentioned is a great example of how they are addressing over-tourism in the national park and finding new places to take guests. We were in the area enjoying our coffee and views for nearly 2 hours and saw just two people the entire time. It really is an incredible experience to go with a tour company that takes you to places that not every other tour company is going, and, is not over run by other tourists, especially in places that you want to be one with nature.
If you’ve ever been to Bohemian Switzerland in the northern part of the Czech Republic, leave a comment below and share your experience. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask.