In these times of restricted travel many of us are resorting to virtual tourism. This is where we explore places from the comfort of our own homes, creating a wish list of places to visit in the future. Recently Saxony Tourism invited me on a virtual tour of their beautiful but under-rated region, a tour that made me long for the day when I can see it for myself. Now you too can take this tour, absolutely free (scroll to the end for links).
But first, why visit Saxony, and what is there to see and do?
Why Visit Saxony?
Saxony (not to be confused with Lower Saxony) is a state in the former East Germany, close to the borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. It is comparatively little known to international visitors, making it an attractive destination for anyone who wants to avoid the tourist hotspots.
Whatever your interests, Saxony has a lot to offer. It has cities bursting with culture, medieval towns, castles and mountainous countryside. It has a long and unique history. And then there is the food…
State Of The Arts: The Cultural Capital Of Germany
Saxony bills itself as State Of The Arts, the cultural capital of Germany. This is no mean boast: it is full of museums, art galleries and historic buildings. Dresden, the main city, has 14 state museums, with impressive collections of art and artefacts built up by Saxon rulers over many centuries. The many important buildings include Dresden Castle (an ornate Renaissance palace) and the Zwinger, a palace intended to rival Versailles.
Leipzig is the largest city in Saxony. Although very different from Dresden, it is equally important for culture-lovers. It is a centre of contemporary art, and hosts a major book fair every year. And there is the music: Wagner, Mendelssohn and J S Bach are all associated with Leipzig, and you can follow a Music Trail around the town. The city is also known for its grand arcades: the Mädler-Passage was modelled on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.
As you might expect in Germany, Saxony has lots of medieval towns. Görlitz, on the Polish border, is known as “Germany’s most beautiful town”. With 4,000 historic buildings, it has more Renaissance houses than anywhere else in the country. Not surprisingly, it is popular with film makers.
Meissen is the oldest town in Saxony, with a castle built in 929. You can wander the old streets, with their many historic houses and other buildings. This is also the home of the famous Meissen porcelain (also known as Dresden china): you can visit the porcelain factory and marvel at the painstaking production process.
Castles And Countryside
South east of Dresden is the area known as Saxon Switzerland. This is a national park with mountains, climbing peaks and impressive rock formations. The region has attracted artists since early times, and the name came from two Swiss artists who visited in the 19th century. Explore the area on foot or by bike, or take a boat or a train. And enjoy the region’s many vineyards.
Then there are the castles. Königstein is a massive hilltop fortress with more than fifty separate buildings. Visit for history, architecture and panoramic views. Or try Moritzburg Castle (you can get there by steam train). This was built as a hunting lodge in the 16th century, and was surrounded by artificial lakes and forests. The castle and grounds have inspired many artists.
Ore Mountains World Heritage Site
The Ore Mountains are an area of substantial mineral wealth, partly in Saxony and partly in the Czech Republic. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of the way that mining has shaped the landscape, architecture and people for more than 800 years. It is also on the UNESCO list of Intangible Heritage, because the miners’ traditions (particularly the miners’ parades) still continue today.
Tourists can visit old mines in the area, and there are special days such as Mining Experience Day and Traditional Handicraft Day. Even for those who are not interested in mining the area is worth visiting for its landscape and traditional villages with their distinctive architectural style.
Food And Drink In Saxony
Food is important in Saxony, and there are lots of regional specialities, including bread, cakes and desserts. The food tends to be hearty, with lots of meat, dumplings and cabbage. Vegetarians may consider the cuisine very meat-based. However, vegetables and cheeses are abundant, and the local Allerlei is a sort of vegetable stew. (Read about some more vegetarian German dishes.)
A particular local tradition is the Neunerlei. This is a Christmas Eve meal consisting of nine courses, each with a symbolic meaning. Although associated with Christmas it is so popular that one restaurant (the Zum Neinerlaa in Annaberg Buckholz) serves it every day of the year!
Saxony has some distinct wine varieties, including the unique Gold Riesling. And, of course, there are lots of local beers.
Take Your Own Virtual Tour
If you want to take your own virtual tour of Saxony have a look at these videos. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to plan a visit to Saxony in the future!