Sunday in Saxon Switzerland
The Sandstone mountains along Elbe river are a perfect setting for rock castles and defense towers. While the military function, fortunately, lost its meaning, throughout the years, the impressive structures became main attractions of Saxon Switzerland National Park.
On the western bank of Elbe river, a sandstone mesa provided a plateau for a fortress. The impressive structure surrounded by natural sandstone towers belongs to one of the biggest forts in Europe.
The first written record of a castle on the Königstein Cliff dates to 1233. Back then, it belonged to the Kingdom of Bohemia. Throughout the centuries, it was used as a palace, fortress, monastery, prison, and for a brief period after WWII as a lazaretto. Today, the platform offers fantastic views over the Elbe valley. The fortress itself serves as a military museum and a space for several events and exhibitions throughout the year. Use the forts’ website for up to date information.
With good weather, you can easily spend 2 to 3 hours exploring the area. From the car park, it’s an easy 10-minutes-walk up to the fortress, but there is also a bus shuttle.
At the fort, you can walk up the main entrance, or use an elevator to get up the sandstone cliff. There are lovely outdoor restaurants and even a fortress bakery on the premises. However, only cash is accepted.
Iron mines of Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge)
South of Elbe Sandstone Mountains, the landscape changes into green hilly Ore Mountains, which also form a natural border between Saxony and Czechia. The area hides Europe’s oldest mines dating back to 2500 BC. Some abandoned mines serve as tourist attractions, where visitors can learn about the history of mining in the area. If the weather doesn’t play along, or you need to cool down in summer heat, visiting a mine is a great way to get to know Erzgebirge from underneath.
We stopped at former iron mine Marie Louise Stolln in spa town Kurort Berggieshübel. The owner and, at the same time, the guide is very enthusiastic about his job and loves sharing mining stories he collected throughout decades.
Tip: In Germany, a road trip is a great way to get to know the country. The autobahn network makes it possible to reach almost every corner easily. However, if you use google maps, download maps beforehand. In several rural areas, high-speed internet is unheard of.
Bastei Bridge & Neurathen Castle
Bastei is probably the most famous rock formation of Saxon Switzerland. Tourists have been coming to admire the natural wonder located close to the town Rathen since the beginning of the 19th century.
The chimney-like sandstone peaks fall nearly 200 meters (650 feet) directly to the river bank. The view over the entire area is magnificent. A stone bridge uniquely connects the sandstone towers creating a symbiosis between natural and manmade structures.
In middle ages, unique rock formations had served as natural walls for castles and fortresses. Bastei cliffs used to form defense walls of the Neurathen Castle (Felsenburg Neurathen), dating back to the 13th century. Its ruins are accessible through Bastei Bridge. Former wooden structures didn’t survive until today. However, visitors can walk above stone passages, tunnels, and cisterns.
Good to know: Bastei Bridge is easily accessible, there’s no entrance fee. A small fee is only required only to enter the ruins of Neurathen Castle. For more information, check out Saxon Switzerland’s website.