Germany's most scenic region by steam
Boasting winding valleys and rugged mountain ranges, Saxony is among Germany's most scenic regions. We discover its prettiest towns and its beautiful scenery on excursions by historic narrow-gauge railway.
We travel by Eurostar to Brussels from our dedicated St Pancras Departure Office. Here, we join the high-speed service via Frankfurt, to Nuremberg where we stay overnight.
Today, we enjoy a guided tour of Nuremberg before boarding the rail service to Dresden. Nuremberg has always been an important city in Bavaria and indeed, in the whole of Germany, mostly thanks to its key position on a variety of trade routes. Much of the wealth that came with traders went into the city itself, and as a consequence, Nuremberg's streets are filled with impressive townhouses, grand castles and reverent religious buildings.
The indisputable highlight of this city is the imperious Nuremberg Castle which sits high over the city. What impresses about this fortress is its sheer scale and impregnability. It is considered by many to be one of Europe's most indomitable fortresses and with its enormous tower, and immense fortifications, this comes as no surprise. Having been originally built by the Holy Roman Emperors and improved by consequent rulers, today's castle is a true delight for those with a keen interest in history.
Today we embark on a guided tour of Dresden, visiting its many famous sights before an afternoon at leisure to explore at your own pace. Characterised by stunning cityscapes, Dresden is a beautiful homage to German civilisation. The city is formed by predominantly Baroque architectural styles, though not exclusively. Mansions, town houses, palaces and churches built with impeccable taste and sophisticated touches each offer something different, but it is the sheer grandeur of these royal and imperial streets which make wondering the streets an experience awash with elegance and luxury.
The Royal Buildings are always highly regarded by visitors. Submerged in Baroque charm, the Zwinger Palace is a wonderful edifice with gracefully manicured gardens and babbling fountains acting as the introduction to a marvellous royal building of arches, windows and balconies.
Dresden has been painstakingly rebuilt after it was almost completely destroyed by allied bombing raids towards the end of the Second World War. Dresden was an important military asset for the Nazi war machine, with many workshops, factories and barracks maintained here. This made the city a target for both the British and American air force, and sadly, along with the tragic deaths of many civilians, much of the beautiful old buildings which lent Dresden its glittering charm were destroyed by incendiary bombs.
This morning, we travel to Freital, where we board the scenic Weisseritz Valley Railway and climb up into the mountains, travelling 16km through the wild Rabenauer Grund Valley to the town of Dippoldiswalde. The scenery here is impressive, and as you snake through the deep greens of the forest and alongside the meandering river, it is not hard to imagine how this landscape inspired the Brothers Grimm and their tome of dark fairytales and nursery rhymes. The colours here are simply fantastic, with the bright sun just about penetrating the forest, lighting up the trees with a golden glow.
Thought to be the oldest narrow gauge railway in Germany still in public use, the Weisseritz Valley Railway is fantastic for experiencing the romantic charm of this part of Germany. We cross 34 bridges and pass the valley of the River Weisseritz on this historic line, which fi rst opened in 1882.
We take a historic paddle steamer along the Elbe today. This is an exceptional way to experience both the river and the small towns which sit on the riverbanks. Sit back and enjoy the tranquillity of a river cruise, accompanied by the gentle thump of a genuine paddle steamer's wheels. These are real paddle steamers, and this provides a truly fascinating way to experience the gentle Elbe and the people who call this place home.
The boat passes the beautiful city of Dresden, and continues into the picturesque Elbe Valley. A former UNESCO World Heritage site, the Elbe Valley is a pretty and serene part of Germany, with surrounding flat meadows contrasting with forested foothills. The fields are often prone to flooding here and this makes the Elbe Valley a haven for all manner of wildlife including white storks and even the enormous, majestic sea eagle can be found in these parts. Travelling by boat down this river means that we are in a perfect position to try and see these birds and more in the water and on the banks.
We travel past treelined hilltops on our way to Meissen. Notably famous for its own ceramic styles, Meissen is a fairytale city, capped and crowned by the superb Albrechtsburg Castle. Built in the late-gothic style in charming orange and white stone, this castle was constructed back in 1471 and was, and still is, intended as a residence rather than a military fortification. During our excursion, we visit the famous Porcelain Manufacturer for a guided tour, with time to explore the idyllic Old Town at Meissen's heart.
Porcelain and Meissen has been an association which goes back centuries. There is a specific kind of porcelain known as Meissen porcelain which is renowned as the first European hard-paste china, a kind of porcelain which was first created in early Chinese history. The pioneer of this kind of ceramic was Johann Friedrich Böttger, who was commanded by the king of Poland to produce the porcelain from the Albrechtsburg Castle. So as to identify genuine Meissen products, Böttger and his workers used what is widely regarded as one of the first trademarks in existence; each product had a pair of crossed swords painted or fired on, and these would consequently fetch much higher prices when sold.
Please Note: For departure SDS1801 your paddle steamer excursion will be from Dresden to Pillnitz instead of Dresden to Meissen.
Today's excursion takes us by rail to the medieval town of Zittau. A town with a truly European feel to it, Zittau is characterised by charming cobbled squares, townhouses of various German architectural styles and its noble religious buildings. Traditionally a trading town, specialising and occasionally producing beer and textiles, Zittau is now a popular place for students with two educational institutes, one being the University of Zittau.
Here we enjoy a journey on the steam-hauled Zittau Railway through the pretty wooded hillsides and dramatic rock structures of the Zittau Mountains, as we head to Oybin. This is a nostalgic treat for anyone who enjoys the sights and sound of a steam engine as it pulls through exquisite Saxon countryside of fern-green forests and traditional villages. The train itself, a glorious old steam engine makes for a sight straight from past railways of history, with a proud black chimney and a dark green body, blending in with the trees behind it. The stations along this route are also worth mentioning, with many having stood for decades and others reconstructed in traditional railway station style. Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner back in Dresden.
Leaving Dresden by rail on Day 7, we head to Cologne via Frankfurt for an overnight stay. On Day 8 we take the train from Cologne to Brussels. Here we join the Eurostar service to St Pancras International.
Please note that while every departure of this tour will feature the same excursions, the order may differ from that shown above.
Provisional departure and return times, where available, can be found together with our dates and prices by clicking on the 'Prices & Availability' button. We write to all booked customers approximately 10 weeks prior to the start of their tour to advise the exact departure and return time for their particular group.
An escorted experience and all travel arrangements
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
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Germany's most scenic region by steam