It only takes two or three hours by car or train – or a few very enjoyable days cycling along the Elbe from Dresden – to reach the park from Berlin, although it is also easily accessible from the south and from the Czech side. because it straddles the border. There is no official entry point: you can simply walk to one of the pretty sleepy towns at the foot of the park – Rathen, Königstein, Bad Schandau, Pirna – and find yourself directly stuck in one of the some 800 miles of hiking trails, from easy walks to multi-day hikes, crisscross the park’s official 36 square mile terrain.
Although the park was not officially established until 1990, its name dates back to the 18th century when a couple of Swiss artist-travelers explored – and painted – the mountains, which reminded them of their home. The slender sandstone formations that give the region its distinctive character, in the form of idiosyncratic formations, table mountains, valleys, gorges and cliffs, were once the bed of a Cretaceous sea, ago about a hundred million years ago.
The more you push in the park, the more you discover. My favorite route, the Malerwag or Chemin des Peintres, also bears the name of the two Swiss painters, as well as a reference to successive artists who were also inspired by the region. It officially takes eight days, in 10 to 15 km stages (about 6 to 9 miles), although I did it in several stages of one to two days, including doing two stages.