One of the most famous natural landmarks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains is the Pravčická brána. In German it is called the Prebischtor and is the largest natural sandstone arch in Europe. It is truly striking and one sunny morning I caught the train to Schöna to try and see this incredible formation for myself.
I woke up at 7am. The sun was shining through my window. Part of me wanted to roll over and go back to sleep but a more powerful part of me knew an early start was what I needed to go and explore a national park I hadn’t managed to visit yet: the Böhische Schweiz, the Czech Switzerland. I was living in Dresden in Germany at the time and it is very easy to cross the border from Germany into the Czech Republic to start your hike. After getting off at Schöna train station I caught the ferry across the border, they take euro as well as Czech crowns. The ferries leave fairly frequently and seem to coordinate their timings with the arrival of trains. From the pier on the Czech side of the river Elbe I walked up into Hřensko and just followed the road, always going straight. It is then fairly well sign posted when you need to turn left and start walking on the trail. The path to Pravčická brána is nothing extraordinary. It is still pleasant to walk through woodland and feel your leg muscles groan slightly during the ascent.
It is only a short hike to the arch. It is 5km from the train station on the German side. It is spectacular. You go walk up a path which zig zags its way to the natural wonder. I also liked the traditional building built next to the arch. I later found out that it was a hotel called Sokolí hnízdo which translates into Falcon’s nest a fairly suitable name for its position nestled up to the rock face.It was built in 1881 by a Prince. Not planning on staying the night I brought my entrance ticket and accidently said good morning in Polish rather than Czech which did not impress the receptionist and started to explore.
I probably spent an hour or so admiring the sandstone arch from different viewpoints and enjoying my breakfast under the arch. I felt it was hard to truly appreciate its sheer size and just question why it had not yet collapsed under its own weight. Years ago you could walk on the bridge. I am pleased that efforts to preserve the natural monument now ban that so that future generations can stand awe struck just like those before them. Even film crews adhere to the ban such as the film crew of the Lion, the witch and the wardrobe. The producers edited the film in post to make it appear as if the actors and actresses run over it.
Not wanting to go straight back to Dresden I had devised a circular route to see more of this national park. Frustratingly I couldn’t go into one of the gorges as it was still low season and none of the boats were operating. Therefore I decided to go into Mezni Louka and then walk back towards Hřensko. Whilst this was a pleasant hike with exposed rock faces so symbolic of this national park I wasn’t overly impressed. In hindsight I should have saved the arch till last and seen it as a grand finale of my hike. I still enjoyed walking through the forest but had vastly underestimated my giangiantic detour. Back in Hřensko I was eager to relax on the train and enjoy a well-earned rest. I have added my route below should you desire to add a few kilometres onto your Pravčická brána hike. Otherwise just go straight to the arch, see how incredible it is, then walk back to the Elbe.
I feel that I didn’t manage to see other highlights of the Czech Switzerland National Park but I am incredibly happy that I was able to see Pravčická brána. It was beautiful and as I went early I almost had the site to myself. I love nature and felt very privileged to live so close to two national parks on my year abroad.
Have I inspired you to visit Pravčická brána?