Cycling often takes on different meanings through the seasons. While most of us think of summer being the prime cycling season, as we load up our bidons and slip on our lightweight jerseys, autumn is probably my most favourite time of the year in the saddle.
Bohemian Switzerland and Saxon Switzerland are regions that sit by the northern border of the Czech Republic and the South East border of Germany. Picturesque national parks on both sides protect the spectacular countryside with it’s abundance of sandstone rock formations.
However confusing the names are, the areas bare no relation to Switzerland. The naming was inspired by a pair of Swiss artists that were simply reminded of their home country while living and teaching in nearby Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in the eighteenth century.
The weekend of riding saw our group weaving across the border, through isolated valleys and along the ridges of tabletop mountains. Sometimes we would fight through tourists on our way up Děčínský Sněžník (the highest point in Bohemian Switzerland with outstanding views), most other times we were alone; riding the deserted fire roads through ancient forests. That was except for the spectre like figures hiding in the undergrowth.
But, these waren’t ghouls; these were the armies of mushroom pickers that descend on the forests in search of the best fungi on offer. This is something of a sacred pursuit among Slavic, Baltic and Nordic countries during autumn; hours spent carefully mining for these natural little wonders, ready to be cooked up in a soup pot and served to the family.
This is just one example of the interesting cultural differences that makes riding in new places so fascinating. I have spent quite a few years visiting places that most cyclists wouldn’t think to visit and each one turns out to be a hidden gem. Bohemian Switzerland is definitely one of those!
But what makes this place special in autumn? Choosing the best autumn cycling is not quite as easy as heading to the nearest forest when the leaves start turning golden, there are a few factors that make a location truly great.
First of all, indeed there needs to be a forest. But not just any forest. A forest that is nestled within sandstone rock formations that creates a silvery backdrop to the tree’s foliage. A forest with a wide range of tree species, each with their own hue.
A landscape that sometimes breaks away to reveal views across the valleys with their rolling hills and mountaintops. A place where one hour you might be in the lowest darkest parts of the woods, and the next you might be high up on a hill looking down.