After getting off the night train from Krakow, I spent most of the morning crowd-dodging in Prague. I couldn’t really deal with the number of people (it was Easter Saturday after all) and wasn’t really in the mood for sightseeing, so I gave myself a day off and took it easy, lazing at the hostel and taking a stroll through the park on Petřín hill.
I mentioned in a previous post that I was determined to get my hiking fix, and I had a plan. I decided to take a gamble and head out to the town of Déčín in North Bohemia. Despite knowing nothing about the town beforehand, it turned out to be a great place for wandering, especially around the imposing castle mounted atop a rock in the centre. Although practically no English was spoken here, the area is very close to the German border, and German was widely spoken. This was handy as my pidgin German is considerably better than my non-existant Czech.
My real reason for stopping here, of course, was to placate my crippling wanderlust for the outdoors. After being defeated by the weather in the Polish Tatras, I was determined to get back out into a rural setting. A short bus ride from Děčín lies the national park České Švýcarsko (Bohemian Switzerland). The gateway to the park for me was Hřensko, which looks pretty but is full of souvenir stands and overpriced restaurants. Once you’ve worked your way through Tourist Central, however, you are out in the open countryside, appreciating the beauty of rural Bohemia!
Miraculously, the weather defied the forecast and provided clear sunshine all day. I felt anticipation as I walked down the road alongside the river. Once off road I followed the hiking trail into tantalising forested hillsides. Before long weathered sandstone formations appeared over the treetops, and after making my way up the meandering path, I reached Pravčická brána, the largest natural rock bridge in Cental Europe.
A steep track led to the top, which featured an information centre, restaurant and outdoor seating area. I had to pay to get into the site, which was a little off-putting, but the breathtaking vistas from the many viewpoints at the top more than made up for this.
After getting my fill of the view, I made my way back down and continued along the track. Eventually I reached the village of Mezní Louka. I could have made the decision to catch the bus from here, or walk an equal distance along the river back to Hřensko. Naturally, I chose to walk.
The river turned out to be more like a ravine, with steep rocky crags on either side and a track that wound its way around boulders and even through caves.
Because of time I spent at the rock bridge, and lingering taking photos on the way, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get back, and was a little concerned about catching the bus. I was making good progress, expecting to be able to hike all the way, but then I hit a dead end.
Fortunately, safe passage was assured by a friendly boatman who punted me and several other hikers down the gorge while chatting to us in German. I gathered from the few words I picked up that he was talking about the geology of the area. The other passengers seemed to be entertained, I think he was a bit of a joker.
After making it to the other side, I walked the remainder of the riverside track and made it back to Tourist Central with plenty of time to catch the bus back to Déčín. I decided to stay there the night rather than get back to Prague late with no reservation.
I’m glad I went with my gut and made the trip out here, the scenery was beautiful and it’s certainly scratched the hiking itch (for now)!