Imagine riding a couple hours from tourist-packed Prague and hiking in a landscape that looks like it came right out of The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s not a dream: you can easily do it by heading north to Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic.
There’s a good reason this region of rock towers and cliffs makes you feel like you’re in Narnia: much of the movie was filmed here. You can visit the Tisa Rock Labyrinth and where you enter—across from the ticket booth—you see the exact spot where the first two children stumbled out of the wardrobe into the magic land.
This national park area got its name from some Swiss painters who put scenes on canvas back in the 18th century. It’s a part of Bohemia where you can see Germany at some high points and many Germans lived in the area until after World War II when they were relocated. You can come here on your own and tour around if you’ve got a vehicle, or you can visit on a tour with Northern Hikes of Prague.
Pravcická Brána Arch
The most famous place in Bohemian Switzerland is Pravcicka Gate, sometimes listed as Prebischtor. It’s the largest natural sandstone arch in Europe. There’s one scene in Narnia where the children are walking across it in the snow, but that was done with movie magic: it’s been decades since anyone could walk across it because that will hasten the time before it collapses someday. (We saw what happened in Malta…)
You get a good workout hiking up here and some out-of-shape visitors get winded, but the company I went with, Northern Hikes, had one grandma who was 97 do it, so I think you can probably make it. Most of it is a steady incline and there are places to catch your breath. Once you get to the top, there’s a restaurant that was once a grand estate, up so high that there’s a cable contraption going down the the bottom for bringing up supplies. You can see the arch from multiple angles, including right under it. This is the first time in my life I’ve found a line to wait for Budweiser to be really worth it. That’s because it’s the original Czech Budweiser, not the weak yellow fizzy stuff they call beer that’s from St. Louis.
When it’s time to go you can walk down the way you came, or there’s a gorgeous trail through the woods that leads you to a terrific restaurant (Forta) and even better beer from a microbrewery. The total hike is 10 miles (16 kms), so you’ll feel like you deserve some hearty Czech food.
A Canyon Boat Ride at Gorges of Kamenice
The small Kamenice River winds through a lush and mossy canyon where the air is fresh and cool. Here boatmen move small passenger dinghies through the water with poles.
It’s a calm, zen-state experience that shows off a whole different look than the dry sandstone cliffs you see in most of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. It’s like something out of a fairy tale or Middle Earth. Before you get to the boat you walk along babbling sections of the river where you can see trout in the water. On our visit a colorful kingfisher was darting through as well.
Tisa Rocks, Overlooks, and Sunsets
If you come to this area on a day trip, you’ll probably be heading back to the big city when the sun is going down. If you spend the night in the area, however, you can catch glorious sunsets from several different vantage points. The Northern Hikes crew knows the whole area well, so on multi-day tours they’ve got their secret spots picked out where you’re liable to be the only people around.
We based ourselves at the Pivo Falkenstejn Hotel, which happens to be right above a brewery. (Seeing a theme here yet?) This is in the town considered the gateway to the national park, with the main tourism office, so it was easy for us to branch out to different spots. We got two sunset views over the trees and rock formations, with Table Mountain and Germany as a backdrop.
My favorite though was when we went back to the Tisa Rock Labyrinth as the sun was going down. There were very few other visitors around at that point, but a fair number of rock climbers scaling the surfaces.
During the day we also had coffee with a view. The partners in a local father-son roasting company, Bohemian Coffee House, hiked with us up to a mountain spot that overlooks the Elbe River and yet more rock chimneys poking out of the green forest. We ate homemade strudel and sipped three kinds of coffee made from three different brewing methods. It was a treat for the eyes, the taste buds, and the nose, plus we enjoyed the sounds of a breeze going through the branches of the trees. At one point two local mountain bikers joined us, the rest of the time we had the place to ourselves.
Northern Hikes runs the one-day nature trips from Prague all year, including in winter when it really does look like the “eternal winter” in the first half of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Soon they’re adding a two-day option that will give you more time to explore some lesser-known lookout points, places where you won’t see so many other visitors. This will be especially helpful in the summer, when the big arch can get packed.
Take a video tour of the Bohemian Switzerland area here:
Some 80% of visitors to the Czech Republic never leave Prague, even though the country is packed with interesting places to experience. Don’t be one of them. Get out of town! See more ideas on the Czech Tourism website.