For our fifth wedding anniversary, we decided to head to Europe. We prefer to go to Europe during the off season to avoid the crowds. We covered three countries during this trip - Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. We started our trip at the beautiful capital city, Prague. True to our travel style, we ventured out of the city on our second day in Czech Republic. We did a day trip to one of the most magical fairy tale small town in South Bohemia - Cesky Krumlov. On our last day in the country, we did another day trip to the Narnia Labyrinth and the Bastei Bridge (close to the German border). We did this trip with the Northern Hikes company.
This place was, clearly, going to be all about the mystical. After exploring quaint little towns, our next stop was going to be hitting the wild mountains of Bohemian Switzerland, located in the north west region of Czech Republic; about a 2 hour drive from Prague. You can also make this trip from Germany (don't you just love that you can literally cross a tiny road and you enter another country?)
Best time to visit
I would imagine the weather is pretty amazing in the summer but the winters are extreme with snow and temperatures in the low 20s (Fahrenheit not Celsius). That being said, visiting Europe during the winter is absolutely magical and something everyone must experience at least once. So if you haven't done this already, I would highly recommend visiting Narnia during the winter season. When we visited these parks there was a lot of snow (although we just had one night of snow in Prague) - perfect weather for a winter adventure.
Flights and Visa
We flew with Smart Wings - short, direct flights all through the week.
Schengen Visa required for entry into Czech Republic. Immigration was simple and quick.
The official language spoken in the country is Czech. You will also find that the second most common language is German, followed by Russian.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel and Medical Insurance is mandatory to travel to all Schengen countries.
Currency is Czech Crown. Restaurants and other places don't accept Euro but most big restaurants accept cards.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Ametyst Hotel in Prague. This hotel is in the New Town of Prague. The rooms were spacious for European standards with a beautiful view of the city. The staff are really helpful and knowledgeable. The hotel is just a 15 minute walk to all the major attractions. The breakfast was repetitive but was a pretty good spread (even for us vegetarians).
Tip: There is a small grocery right next to the hotel, which is incredibly convenient after a tiring day.
Cost and getting around
Prague is expensive but not ridiculously so. Hotels are reasonably priced (during the off season). Cabs are expensive, as you would expect them to be anywhere in Europe. A proper meal on average will be around EUR 10-15 per person.
Had no issues with safety. We felt everyone we met was warm and helpful.
During the trip, we stopped at U Forta in the Hrensko region, a local restaurant with Czech cuisine. Luckily our guide was able to get us vegetarian food - potato Parmesan gnocchi, crispy potatoes with baked goats cheese and a hot chocolate. It was included in the price of the tour.
What to pack
Winters are cold. You will need thick waterproof pants. Water and wind resistant jackets, thick scarves and beanies if you are going around the same time as us.
Itinerary: We did the trip with Northern Hikes, a well known agency in the country. I could not recommend them highly enough. They were responsive, on time and very professional. I had mentioned to them that this was our anniversary trip, so they gifted us a homemade organic soap and couple other gifts - how thoughtful is that? :)
Our day started at 8 a.m. with a pick up outside our hotel in Prague. Our guide was right on time. She was quick to hand out our goody bags with water, a chocolate bar and a fruit for the cold day ahead. The day was split in two halves - first the Narnia Labyrinth and post lunch the Bastei Bridge. So by 8 30 a.m. we were on our way to the first stop at Tisá.
After a 2 hour drive and a short 15 minute walk, we were ready to start our trek. While the weather was gloomy with a bit of rain, the entire place was covered in snow - just what we needed to make this a wonderful trek. The only problem? Crazy winds made staying at a place for pictures real difficult.
As we made our way through the stunning landscape, we were left in awe of the huge rock formation in front of us. Half through the trek we were at the exact location where a portion of the film Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was shot.
Yes, it was every bit as breathtaking as in the movie. It’s said to be the largest natural sandstone arch in Europe. The further you climb, the more you are left wondering if you are still on earth.
The landscape is WILD and untamed to say the least. Our guide passed on tons of information about the fascinating legends of this place. We made it all the way to the top but unfortunately we could not get a clear shot of the most famous place in Bohemian Switzerland - Pravcicka Gate. After couple hours hiking up, we made our way back to the car for lunch.
Bastei Bridge - Saxon National Park
After a hearty lunch, we started driving towards the German border for our next stop - the Bastei Bridge inside the Saxon National Park. I was pleasantly surprised to still find fall colors here. Despite the lousy weather, we were able to be make it to the park by 2 p.m. (keep in mind, during winter, it gets dark by 4 p.m.)
This part of the trip was less tiring since it was just a short walk with paved paths to guide us through the park. As we walked down, there was a short detour to take in the highlight of the place - the bridge. We also walked to other side of the park with a short ledge from where we were able to catch the entire expanse of the bridge.
Giant pinnacles of sandstone rock tower over the Elbe River and the green countryside. Spanning these pinnacles is a dramatic stone bridge which was home to a castle hundreds of years ago. Not much remains of this castle now.
To see the remains of the castle you will need to walk on the bridge. At first glance everything seemed normal but in reality the bridge was incredibly icy (people were actually skating through it). We had our rubber crampons handy, so we made our way to the other side without falling on our faces.
It's not hard to see why this place is one of the continent's most unique landscapes. The jagged rocks around here was unlike anything we had ever seen before and the panoramic views from the bridge were surreal.
Don't get hung up on Prague - it is just another city. Get outside for a few days and explore the real beauty this amazing country has to offer.
The Narnia Labyrinth on a snow day is going to be tricky BUT it is worth every slip. It is definitely one of the most amazing things you will see - magical winter wonderland in every sense of the word.
Note: In terms of difficulty level, I would say this a moderate hike with steady inclines with enough stops to catch your breath. On a summer day, it would be an easy hike. I recommend wearing sturdy winter trekking shoes and covering up in layers; it gets real windy up there.
The Saxon National park gives you a chance to marvel at nature's wilderness. Enjoy unique sandstone formations, breathtaking views and well-preserved nature in the National Park. If you are only planning on doing this national park, you don't need hiking boots - just sturdy walking shoes will do.
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