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Bohemian Switzerland National Park/Czech Republic

Introducing Bohemian Switzerland National Park

The main road and rail route between Prague and Dresden follows the fast-flowing Labe (Elbe) River, gouging a sinuous, steep-sided valley through a sandstone plateau on the border between the Czech Republic and Germany. The landscape of sandstone pinnacles, giddy gorges, dark forests and high meadows that stretches to the east of the river is the Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Národní park České Švýcarsko), named after two 19th-century Swiss artists, who liked the landscape so much they settled here.

A few hundred metres south of the German border, Hřensko is a cute village of pointy-­gabled, half-timbered houses crammed into a narrow sandstone gorge where the Kamenice River flows into the Labe. It’s overrun with German day-trippers at summer weekends, but a few minutes’ walk upstream peaceful hiking trails begin.

A signposted 16km circular hike takes in the main sights; allow five to six hours. From the eastern end of Hřensko a trail leads via ledges, walkways and tunnels through the mossy chasms of the Kamenice River Gorge. There are two sections – Edmundova Soutěska (Edmund’s Gorge; 9am-6pm May-Aug; Sat & Sun only Apr, Sep & Oct) and Divoká Soutěska (Savage Gorge; 9am-5pm May-Aug; Sat & Sun only Apr, Sep & Oct) – that have been dammed. Continue by punt, poled along by a ferryman through a canyon 5m wide and 50m to 150m deep. Each ferry trip costs adult/child 50/25Kč.

A kilometre beyond the end of the second boat trip, a blue-marked trail leads uphill to the Hotel Mezní Louka. Across the road, a red-marked trail continues through the forest to the spectacular rock formation Pravčická Brána (www.pbrana.cz; adult/child 50/30Kč; 10am-6pm Apr-Oct, 10am-4pm Sat & Sun Nov-Mar), the largest natural arch in Europe. In a nook beneath the arch is the Falcon’s Nest, a 19th-century chateau housing a national park museum and restaurant. From here the red trail descends westward back to Hřensko.