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With a length from source to sea of over 1,000 kilometers, the Elbe is one of Europe’s great rivers. And in Dresden and Hamburg, the River Elbe boasts two showcase cities that are in the premier league of destinations for travelers to Europe.
Smaller is Better
Yet to really catch the flavor of Elbe landscapes and communities, it’s good to head for some of the lesser riverside towns. Along the Czech portion of the river, our two favorites are the winemaking center of Melník and lovely Litomerice, which boasts a remarkable main square.
North of Litomerice, the river cuts through a spectacular gorge to gain German territory, where several small and mid-sized riverside towns are all first rate. Our travels this year have already taken us to Bad Schandau, Meissen, Lutherstadt Wittenberg and Tangermünde—all places calculated to soothe the jaded traveler’s soul.
Porcelain and more
Meissen pulled the crowds back in the days of the German Democratic Republic, the chief draw being its world-famous porcelain factory. The town has smartened itself up over the last twenty years and, with its showpiece city center and modest Gothic cathedral, Meissen appeals even to those who have no interest in the celebrated local tableware. Those pricey plates are still produced here by a factory that offers a great selection of tours and workshops both for the cognoscenti and for those who just want to try and understand what makes Meissen porcelain so special.
Meissen enjoys a gorgeous location on a low hill overlooking the confluence of the Elbe and Triebisch rivers, at the heart of one of Germany’s most distinguished winegrowing regions. There are boat trips aplenty on the Elbe. The heart of Meissen’s Old Town is a gem, nicely clustered around the cathedral on the Albrechtsburg.
The sedate and slow route to Meissen is surely the boat. It is a two-hour cruise on a paddle steamer down the Elbe from Dresden. Sächsische Dampfschiffahrthave a daily departure (until late October) from Dresden Terrassenufer at 9.45 am.
Those pressed for time can always take the train. Half-hourly local services on VVO Route S1 from Dresde Hauptbahnhof take 35 minutes for the journey.
Meissen is also a superb day out from Berlin. One-way tickets start at €19, but to get that fare you do need to book well in advance. Most folk coming to Meissen from Berlin take the regular EuroCity service from Berlin to Dresden, changing there onto the S1 train for the short hop on to Meissen. But there is an alternative route from Berlin via Leipzig, then continuing east on a rural rail line that meanders through the valleys of western Saxony to reach the Triebisch Valley and Meissen. The latter service runs only once every two hours, but it is a journey well worth making.
Head first for the small tourist office on the main market square, which has the usual range of free maps and leaflets. Aim high, and be prepared to walk, for the nicest parts of Meissen are all at higher elevations. The Hotel Burgkeller, at the top of the town, offers a dose of luxury with prices to match. Rooms start at €69. For a light lunch with a superb panorama over Meissen’s choppy roofscape to the Elbe beyond, head for the Café am Dom where the Müller family serve up soups and salads with an excellent range of local wines available by the glass. Don’t miss their classic Saxon potato soup.