Finding Narnia in Czech Bohemia
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

Just two hours north of Prague, the Bohemian Switzerland National Park offers quiet nature hikes and strange rock formations where parts of The Chronicles of Narnia were filmed.

Czech Bohemia travel

We climb the stairs from the parking lot, looking up at towering rock formations, then come to the spot where Edmund rolled out of the magical wardrobe in the 2005 movie adaptation, The Chronicles of Narnia. It's summer when we arrive here with Northern Hikes, not the eternal winter of Tilda Swinton's White Witch, but it's still a magical place. The Tisa Rocks Labyrinth is a series of rock towers caves, and winding paths created by millions of years of erosion. We walk through the bottom sections in the shadows of the formations, then climb to the top of them for views across the tops.

Watching over the village of Tisa, these rocks are on the edge of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, in the northern Czech Republic. The park got its name after the area was immortalized in paintings from two Swiss artists of the early 1800s. It was the counterpart of Saxon Switzerland on the other side of the Elba River. Protected since 1972, it became a national park (officially Národní Park České Švýcarsko) in the year 2000. Along with protecting the land from further development, this move also allowed wildlife protection and reintroduction efforts. Near-extinct falcons, black storks, and wolves are now spotted regularly again.

Tisa Rocks Labyrinth Bohemia

We check into our base in Krasna Lipa for a few days, a hotel that's on the second floor of a microbrewery: Falkenstejn Pivovar. It seems like a fitting choice in a country that supposedly consumes more beer per capita than any other. I wander around town a bit, checking out the historic houses and the obligatory onion-domed steeple, then venture into the tourism office for the region. I find the usual maps and books, but one thing I can't recall ever seeing in a government tourist office: beer for sale to go.

We eat an early dinner at the brewery, hurriedly sampling their delicious beers made on site and their take on traditional Czech food. We've got a date with sunset to get to. We ride to a lookout point for sunset and it's just us and the tour company owner's dog. We can see into Germany across Table Mountain. The area's famous arch is up on a mountainside to our right, but we would need a telescope to make it out in the fading light.

Up to a Giant Sandstone Arch

Rock formation at Pravcicka Gate area of Bohemian National Park Czech Republic

Pravcicka Gate, spelled locally as Pravčická Brána, is the biggest draw of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. At some points the park is only 10 miles from Germany, so besides the day trippers from Prague, lots of Germans can make an easy drive over to see the biggest sandstone arch in Europe. We start the trek up Gabriela's trail, which requires an uphill hike for several kilometers. Our guide Vojta takes frequent water breaks but isn't putting up with any whining. "We had one woman from China who was 89 years old make it up to the arch," he says, "and her friends with her were only a couple years younger."

The soaring arch is an impressive site, even with the crowds, and it feels faintly familiar in a deja vu sort of way. "At one a time you could walk across the arch," our guide tells us, "but it has been forbidden since 1982. This sandstone is very soft and you can see on some of the paths how the foot traffic has worn it down by inches." I understand where I've seen this arch before though when he says this. "The children walked across it in the snow in The Chronicles of Narnia movie," he says, "but that was a Hollywood digital effects job. Even for a major film, going on top the arch is forbidden."

This being the Czech Republic, you can buy and drink beer right under the arch though, where tables are laid out. The sign says Budweiser, but this is a Bud line actually worth waiting in. The stand is serving the original Czech beer of that name, not the watery yellow fizz that the world's biggest brewer produces on the cheap.

After a pause for refreshment, we set out on a long descending hike through the forest in a different direction, leaving almost all the crowds behind. We walk past sheer rock faces and spires poking out of the hills, the products of millions of years of erosion. After 10 miles of walking in total, we're starving. Thankfully the end of the hike is marked by Forta Restaurant, which has a table waiting for us outside and microbrew beer on tap. Forta serves traditional Czech food, from bear goulash to pork with dumplings and potatoes, but I take a break from meat and order the grilled goat cheese with a few greens, fresh bread, and three potato halves. "That's a nice light lunch," Vojta says, without a trace of humor.

Kamenice River Gorge

We head to the Gorges of Kamenice River and walk along its banks until the trail ends. Geologists estimate that this canyon was formed more than 100 million years ago and it has a lost-in-time, Middle Earth kind of feel with its green on green rocky banks covered with moss and ferns. There's a human-powered boat ride at the end, a man poling us along in the slow current as birds and butterflies flit by.

We hit another lookout point for more sunset photos, then collapse into bed upon returning to Krasna Lipa.

Finding Bohemian Paradise off the Beaten Path

Northern Hikes has only done day trips up here from Prague in the past, but it's not just Prague that's overcrowded. "This is a vast park system," says Vitek, the founder of the company. "Almost everyone goes to the same spots though," he explains. "We're trying to get visitors to come up here for longer or at least on different tours so we can show them locations off the beaten path and provide a richer experience." So now they're turning to longer, more sustainable tours that go to secret spots not so over loved by the day trippers.

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