Following in the footsteps of that most famous of German romantics, Goethe, we went north into Saxony to climb above the Elbe at the rock formations of Bastei.
Towering 194 meters above the river level and 305 meters above sea level the jagged rocks were formed more than one million years ago by water erosion.
“Here, from where you see right down the Elbe from the most rugged rocks, where a short distance away the crags of the Lillenstein, Königstein and Pffafenstein stand scenically together and the eye takes in a sweeping view that can never be described in words”, wrote Goethe. Helpfully so, as it is truly difficult to express the enormity and majesty of the sandstone mountains looming like sentinels above the winding course of the river far below.
Travellers have been scaling the forested sides of the Bastei for more than 200 years and in 1824 a wooden bridge was built to link several of the rocks at its pinnacle.
In 1851 the bridge was replaced with a sandstone version of seven arches, which blend harmoniously amongst the sandstone boulders. It was a humbling experience to stand awhile against its walls looking over the ravine below and across to the gigantic rock faces of the steep mountains, worn rugged with age and weather.
The Bastei is part of the Saxony Switzerland park, which stretches south into the Czech Republic’s own Bohemian Switzerland park.
Apparently early travellers commented on its likeness to the Swiss mountains and so the name stuck. It’s a shame as the landscape sells itself, without pertaining to be elsewhere, and the reward of the spectacular views having hiked up the 200 or so meters through woodlands is thoroughly worth the physical effort. (Although we did notice that the flip flops and heeled shoes sported by most visitors meant that they were driven up to the summit hotel’s car park!)
Descending was also a challenge. The ‘Schwedenlöcher’ or Swedish Holes is the prosaically named steep and narrow gorge that drops down the Amselgrund to end prettily at the green waters of the Amelsee lake.
The path today has 777 steps and 20 bridges so the going is made easier than an attempt to otherwise follow the rocky course that falling water has carved through the mountainside.
In 1639 during the Thirty Years war after the Swedish Army had attacked nearby villages, peasants fled into the gorge with their scant possessions for safety. It’s hard to imagine how they may have lived out many days there perched on, or tucked within, the mossy green boulders.
It’s easy to see that it provided a place of natural refuge. Indeed, it was called to do so in many later wars including in last days of World War II.
To reach the park we cycled along the Elbe from our hillside campsite at Struppen. Puffing the steep way back to the hillside village in the late afternoon sun we had a rewarding view of Königstein, the tremendous fortress built 400 years ago on a rocky bluff.
For centuries, it was used as a state prison, but seen from amongst golden harvested fields with swifts wheeling overhead, it was almost hopelessly romantic and a wonderful image on which to end a full day exploring the local landscape and history.