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DESTINATIONS SHORT BREAKS | GERMANY


LEFT: Bastei GETTING THERE


The closest city to Saxon Switzerland is Dresden, around an hour’s drive away, to which Lufthansa, KLM and Swiss offer connecting flights via their hubs. Berlin is about a three-hour drive away.


Walks Worldwide has an eight-day, self-guided Trails of Old Saxony holiday including visits to Bad Schandau, Bastei, Königstein and the Malerweg. It costs from £599 excluding flights. walksworldwide.com


On The Go Tours offers a Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland National Park Day Trip from Prague for £131. onthegotours.com


Bridge BELOW LEFT:


Königstein Fortress BELOW: The Elbe


PICTURES: GNTB/ Francesco Carovillano, Jens Wegener; Shutterstock


forest sprawled out below, table mountains rising in the distance in faint, silhouetted squares that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Wild West.


BIKE ALONG THE BANKS It’s not just the hiking that draws active types here, though. Among the biggest lures in the region is the Elbe Cycle Route, a 600-plus-mile bike trail that meanders along the river, starting in the Czech mountains before cutting through the heart of Saxon Switzerland and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. It’s a popular route for domestic tourists and locals,


and it’s easy to see why. Cycling a section of it on e-bikes, from nearby spa town Bad Schandau to the Czech border, revealed postcard-pretty scenes, with tree-carpeted slopes on one side and the shimmering emerald hues of the Elbe on the other. It was flat and nigh-on empty, meaning a relatively easy ride, and it was beautifully peaceful, the only sounds the rustling of leaves, and the odd hum of a ferry shuttling visitors across the river in a slow, sleepy way that seemed to typify the feel of this region as a whole.


VISIT THE KONIGSTEIN FORTRESS Away from adventurous activities there’s plenty more to lure visitors here, not least the Königstein Fortress, a medieval, hilltop castle dating back to at least the 13th century that draws significantly more overseas tourists than the rest of the (largely deserted) park. Once used as a hunting lodge and hangout spot for Saxon royals, then as a state prison, it’s now a museum,


66 5 MARCH 2020


displaying armoury and other military relics across a collection of stone houses built into the battlements. It’s well worth a visit for the views alone – think lemon-yellow fields and lush-green canopies, punctuated once again by the distinctive rock forms – and there’s a circular path you can follow all the way around to get the best panoramas.


BROWSE THE BASTEI BRIDGE The biggest attraction in the region, though, is the Bastei Bridge, a man-made platform that takes you to admire some of the most dramatic karsts in the park. Here the grey-black shards sprout up like giant fingers, wisps of greenery bursting between them as forested mountains rise in the distance. There’s a series of steps you can follow to get the best views, as well as plenty of hiking routes that take you right into the heart of it. But wherever you wander, it’s a seriously impressive, if imposing, landscape that feels more film set than reality – much like the rest of this extraordinary, little-known region which, if it’s not already on your radar for active clients, seriously should be.


TRIED & TESTED


HOTEL HELVETIA Bio und Nationalpark Refugium Schmilka


One of several hotels set on an organic eco-retreat – designed like a traditional German village, with a bakery, mill, spa and more on site – Hotel Helvetia makes a peaceful, scenic base. It’s set right on the banks of the Elbe in quiet, verdant surroundings, with rustic rooms spread across several colourful buildings. The location is ideal, with the Elbe Cycle Route right in front and spa town


Bad Schandau nearby. Food is a highlight: it’s all organic, with a daily set menu including fresh salad, much of it from the hotel’s garden. The hotel seemed more popular with domestic than British tourists, which made it all the more authentic. Book it: From €159 per room based on two sharing and including breakfast, dinner and use of the spa. biohotels.info/


en REVIEWED BY Laura French travelweekly.co.uk


TW


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