Hiking in the Fairy-Tale ‘Narnia’ Hills of the Czech Republic
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It won’t take you long to see why this spot was chosen for the Narnia films.
Stepping out above the treeline to the eagle’s nest lookout behind Pravčická brána, the sweeping, 360-degree views include the soaring Elbe Sandstone Mountains that make up the border between the Czech Republic and the German state of Saxony. Its crowning jewel is the Pravčická brána rock bridge, the largest in Europe and one of the Czech Republic’s most impressive, and yet lesser-known, natural attractions.
This is the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, almost 30 square miles of hills and enchanted forests where the Narnia movies were fittingly filmed. And while an estimated 250,000 people (mostly Czechs and Germans) visit Pravčická brána each year, few venture beyond the site and delve into the dense network of hiking trails that traverse the protected landscape. Which, especially in the early autumn, when the leaves start to turn and the holidaymakers have headed home, is a place that is both wild and peaceful, whimsical and stunning by turn.
It could easily take a week or more to fully explore the area, but the 12-mile loop starting in Mezní Louka takes in some of the best that the Czech region has to offer. “Few nature destinations in the world carry such a strong and mystical atmosphere as Bohemian Switzerland,” says Michal Tyl, founder and CEO at OutdoorVisit, an outdoor adventures booking service. “The national park is simply packed with natural wonders, and its endless hiking trails make it a real hikers’ paradise.”
Two of the gorges are impassable by foot, and pole-punted boats ferry passengers through to the connecting yellow trail.
Most people access Pravčická brána from the busy tourist village of Hřensko, but Mezní Louka, the next hamlet over, is thankfully little more than a bus stop next to a handful of modest pensions and wooden cabins. Several trails intersect here, and the red trail heads toward Pravčická brána. This 4-mile stretch of densely forested switchbacks is increasingly sandy underfoot — thanks to its origins millions of years ago as the Cretaceous Sea — and shaded by the towering sandstone cliff faces, which provide ample natural seating for a picnic. The rock formations were sculpted from the former seabed by volcanoes during the Tertiary period, and this trail was first waymarked in 1870.
Aim to be first in the gate, so to speak, at Pravčická brána (Pravčice Gate). Access to the park opens at 10 am and lookouts No. 2 and 3, in particular, are worth it for those bird’s-eye views. The children’s author Hans Christian Andersen came here twice in the mid-1800s, no doubt drawing inspiration from the whimsical landscape.
Once it’s time to descend, it’s a steep mile down along the red trail to the road, which leads west to the edge of Hřensko before ducking back into the woods along the Kamenice Canyon. Long referred to as “the end of the world” by locals before a path was forged through it in the 1890s, it’s a dark sluice of river hushed between the rocks with an otherworldly, moss-covered beauty. Two of the gorges are impassable by foot, and pole-punted boats ferry passengers through to the connecting yellow trail, which emerges from the gorges to meet the eastbound blue trail for 1.5 miles to the village of Vysoká Lípa.
The trail then climbs upward again, following the yellow until forking off on the red toward the series of ladders and iron walkways teetering across the ruins of Šaunštejn Castle, a 14th-century fortification built into the rocks that became a popular hideout for bandits and adventurers. The vertical drops make for a good defense, with rewarding king-of-the-castle views over the surrounding countryside.
It’s then a short hop to the “Little Pravčická brána,” which also features a lookout, and then 2 miles along the rambling red back through the woods to Mezní Louka, where several shady beer gardens offer cold, sweet refreshment.
Go There: Bohemian Switzerland National Park
- How to get there: Take the train from Prague to Děčín, and then the bus to Mezní louka (approx. 2 1/2 hours).
- Cost to enter the park: 75 CZK (about $3.25). Opening time: 10 am.
- What to bring: Offline maps, insect repellent, walking shoes or boots for sandy paths and steep, rocky climbs.