Winter Hiking in the mist and snow of Saxon Switzerland National Park
I stumbled upon the Saxony Switzerland National Park by pure chance, back in 2017. Logging onto my laptop, dell bought up one of its random screensavers- an image of a bridge straddling the most impressive rock formations rising up out of the forest below- I did my research and after finding out that this mystical world was in fact in Germany I knew that one day I would just have to make a visit!
Despite its rather misleading name, the Saxony Switzerland N.P. is tucked right in the corner of East Germany, on the border with the Czech Republic.
Visiting the park in early January, my friend, Sophie and I were braced for cold weather. As we set off on our two days of exploration, I was struck by the silence of the park. The wind was surprisingly non-existent and as we climbed up higher from the riverside village of Rathen, the smudge of rain turned to a sprinkling of snow, just kissing the tops of the trees and higher up on the rocks it formed thick coatings of white icing.
In the Summer the Park is humming with tourists and families but in January we were thrilled to have most of the trails to ourselves.
As we followed the paths up, we headed deeper into the wild and rocky terrain of ancient, Elbe sandstone rock formations. These giant rock formations are the work of millions of years of erosion by nature’s shaping forces: wind and water.
The views across the Elbe River must be incredible, but due to the shroud of mist we were granted with limited vision, and were unable to get a clear view of the Bastei Bridge. Still. I wouldn’t have changed this for the world, the wintry weather conditions only added to the magic.
As we walked on, imposing rock pinnacles and cliffs dipped in and out of view in the mist and we worked our way down narrow gorges and between giant rock boulders. Following the trail up through the 115m-deep Polenztal Valley we walked through deep beech woods, where the fallen leaves had left a carpet of smouldering, rusty orange. Walking for hours, we were content in the silence of one another’s company and the forest. We finally reached Hohnstein castle, just as the last of the light was beginning to fade. Tired, and hungry, we were VERY lucky to find a bus in the village that could take us back home to our base in Konigstein- otherwise we might have had to spend the night in the forest!
Look familiar? A lot of the locations and scenes in the film: Grand Budapest Hotel were filmed in or based on the Saxony region of Germany and the National Park. Just as this weird and wonderful landscape has inspired films in the 21st Century, it was also a site of inspiration and spiritual connection for famous artists including the 18th Century Romanticist, Caspar David Friedrich, whose dark and brooding paintings of this wild landscape have become world-famous.