For several years now we have seen pictures on Instagram of chubby, dreamy rocks in fog and deep, lush, magical forests. Bohemian Switzerland was discovered by the nation’s romantic souls in late 1800. Trails were built in the area and an early wave of tourism swept through the region. Since then tourists kept coming. And now we are here.
The area is rich with history. Castles on the hills survived both war and communism. Five million Germans were expelled from the northern Czech Republic following World War II as retribution. The National Park is not far from Prague and if you only have one day at your disposal to do some hiking, then it is a rational choice to book a day tour with the Northern Hikes.
It’s 8 in the morning, the guide from Northern Hikes just picked us up at the hotel in Prague. Our group for the day consists of 5 people plus the guide himself, Marek. The Portuguese, the French woman Stefanie and the Slovakian Susanna, who both work in Prague.
We ask about the history of how Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Marek and Susanna look at each other, representing the two sides. But they seem to quickly agree that it has always been two countries and that they were merged by coercion and out of practicality. When the opportunity came, both wanted to be its own and independent. There was nothing more to it and historically it became the most peaceful division of a country. The rest of the group exhale, a conflict averted! Europe is not known for dividing countries peacefully.
One and a half hour later we reach the start of the trail. We hurry past a large group of 30 people on the trail, better not getting stuck behind them, nice to see that all in the group have the same mindset. After a 350-meter climb through the forest, we reach the first sandstone rock formations. It’s beautiful!
I have to admit that we are not used to go with a group. We tend to have our own tempo and we constantly fall behind as we want to take in everything around us. Where ever we look there is something new that needs to have its picture taken, be it a cliff or moss covered branch. We can’t resist.
At midday, it’s time for a coffee break and at the same time we reach one of my highlights and the pride of the National Parks. The erosion has created formations in the soft sandstone. Arches and pillars. All this beauty is doomed to wither away as the millenniums pass. It will wither away and collapse.¨
On ladders and passageways we climb up to the top of the mountain. When we look around we can see the entire path of our hike, what we have done and what will come. Our guide points enthusiastically to where we started and where we will have lunch. Before we continue our hike we have some refreshments, mandarins and water while we sit under the stone arch. It won’t fall over today, will it?
A cold wind picks up so it’s gloves on after the break and the path ahead is exposed with no shelter. We head downwards, taking it slowly among the treacherous roots and rocks. Falling on your nose will hurt. The hike down to the lunch break is extraordinary, but little do we know that the best is yet to come! The trail is well maintained, among the better ones we have walked. It’s wide and safe. Many of the hikers we meet, as we see it, are not even geared for hiking. One man is even wearing flip-flops.
We eat lunch in a cute little village with houses and cottages that seem to be taken right out of the Grimm Brothers’ Hansel and Gretel. Duck, bread-dumplings and beer. We know the drill by now. Czechs are not picky eaters and the portions are more than enough.
After lunch we continue down into a green fairy-canyon filled with moss and trees, the next highlight of the hike. We walk along a small river at the bottom of the canyon. There are no words to describe its beauty, it’s just breathtaking. If unicorns would live on earth, this would be the place to find them. The magical trail ends at a cozy cottage with a smoking chimney, just on the bank of the river. Oh! I want to live there! Exclaims one in our party out loud.
We leave the canyon behind us, continuing our journey by boat. Our guide encourages us to open our mind, to use our imagination. While strong arms steer the boat downstream, we start to see elephants, dolphins and apes in the rock walls all around us. We learn tales of old smugglers from our guide. It’s easy to see why they choose this path, it’s well hidden from watchful eyes. But hundred years ago the smugglers changed from carrying contraband to tourism instead.
Our hike ends at the same parking lot from where we started. We hiked 16 km through Bohemian Switzerland and it’s among the most varied walks we have done. There are dramatic sandstone formations, cute villages and the rural landscape is full of mysterious forests and canyons. All in a single hike and a boat ride. We are more than satisfied.