Shaped over hundreds of millions of years, the strange vistas and "upside down" climate of Germany's Saxon Switzerland region are a haven for rare wildlife and plants.
With its striking eroded rock formations, deeply-carved valleys and lush flora and fauna, the fascinating landscape of the Saxon Switzerland National Park, in eastern Germany, is one of Europe's most beautiful areas.
Formed over more than 100 million years of being buffeted by wind and the waters of the Elbe River, the mountains, cliffs and gorges of this "city in stone" attract climbers and hikers from far and wide. The land now forming the park was a seafloor during the Cretaceous period, giving rise to the unusual sandstone formations.
The uniquely-stark topography of this 36-square-mile (93-square-kilometer) region near the Czech border – which includes flower-filled meadows and steep ravines – has created a mix of natural habitats with a rich diversity along with it.
The rugged terrain of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains provides a refuge from human intervention for many species no longer found in most of Germany. It's possible to glimpse rare species such as the otter and the fat dormouse, as well as horned owls and black storks circling overhead.
What also makes the Saxon Switzerland National Park so interesting is that its climate is "upside down" thanks to a natural phenomenon which means its mixed mountainous forest lies in the damp, cooler lower altitudes of its gorges. Thanks to this climactic inversion, two flowers – the yellow violet and the wild rosemary, normally found in tundra climates – have survived here since the last ice age.
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