Bohemian Switzerland: The Sandcastle of Czechia

A tourist paradise in the Elbe Canyon, home to sandstone formations of European importance and the scene of a recent catastrophe. Welcome to the Bohemian Switzerland National Park.

morning photo of tourists group on popular lookout tower
The popular Mariina Vyhlidka lookout tower, a popular tourist attraction in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, Czechia. Photo: iStock.com / rdonar

Bohemian Switzerland is the newest national park in the Czech Republic, proclaimed as such in 2000. It is a landscape of sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, breathtaking views, deep forests, and many places with an exciting history. The landscape has been shaped over millions of years by time, the Elbe River, and man’s hand.

Bohemian Switzerland’s Walls and Archways

The main objects of protection are the unique sandstone formations and the biotopes connected to them. The erosion of the Cretaceous period marine sediments created the mighty rock towers, gates, walls, gorges, and mazes. Many say that the Bohemian Switzerland National Park is the biggest sandcastle in the Czech Republic. And they are not wrong.

The most famous rock formation is the Pravčická Archway, which has become the park’s symbol. It has the status of a national natural monument, and with 16 meters in height and 27 meters in width, its the largest sandstone rock gate (archway) in Europe.

Pravčická Archway was included in the New 7 Wonders of the World poll for the new world’s seven natural wonders in 2009, among 71 semi-finalists. However, it did not make it to the narrower list of 28 finalists. On top of that, it was a location for many film shootings. For example, several scenes in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were filmed here.

Park of European importance

Bohemian Switzerland is the winner of the important European Destination of the Highest Quality Award for the Czech Republic in the Tourism and Protected Areas category. This title places it among the most important tourist regions of the “Old Continent.”

More than 95 % of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park area is covered by thick forests, deep ravines and gorges, clear streams, and the mentioned majestic sandstone towns with towers and rock walls. The whole area is sparsely inhabited. Even though the area’s settlement began in the Mesolithic period, the harsh nature of the area did not provide suitable conditions for permanent residence. We know this thanks to the evidence found by archeologists from the prehistoric people seeking refuge there.

And why Bohemian Switzerland, you ask? The legend is that two Swiss artists traveled through Europe in the 18th Century. When traveling through the area, it strongly reminded them of home, and they told everyone living in the area. Since then, the locals have always called the wilderness Bohemian Switzerland.

When tragedy hits

During the last heatwave that struck Czechia on July 22, 2022, a vast wildfire began in Bohemian Switzerland National Park. The fire gradually affected more than 1600 hectares of the park, and eight helicopters, five aircraft, and over 1000 people fought it. It was the largest forest fire in the modern history of Czechia. After a long battle, firefighters finally extinguished the fire on Friday, August 12, 2022. Since then, the affected part of the park has been slowly reopening to visitors. Once the authorities fully reopen the park, we highly encourage you to visit; we know it will be worth it. 

And with this recent disaster in mind, we must never forget that protecting our nature jewels should be the priority, no matter in what country they are located. As the saying goes: Save the environment in the present for a better life in the future.

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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