Sächsische Schweiz
Dresden and the Sächsische Schweiz

This trip is an relaxing combination of wonderful countryside, low-key sight-seeing and chilled nightlife. Dresden is just a couple of hours away by train or road. Formerly known as Florence on the Elbe, the Baroque skyline as seen on approach is quaint if not still a little sooty. What you espy across the Elbe are the domes of the Zwinger and the Semperoper, located in the Altstadt. These are two of the chief sights that hordes of waddling tourists come to see and guarantee a veritable architectural feast.

Art-lovers will enjoy the collection in the Galerie Neue Meister, which houses among others a great Blaue Reiter section and some memorable Caspar David Friedrich and Rodin sculptures. The Grune Gewölbe offers a rather more sumptuous collection of royal treasures and trinkets.

The re-building of the Frauenkirche, one of the more salient testimonies of the firebombing at the end of the war, is a project of which Dresdners are proud, even if it appears to be an insurmountable task.There are enough sights and museums to fill a weekend alone in the old town, which may be rounded off by a romantic boat trip along the Elbe to Schloss Pillsen.

However, the Altstadt, perhaps due to the rubble and soot, lacks a sense of reality. A foray into an antique shop for coffee and cakes placed us among the exhibits to partake of our excellent Saxon cheesecake and milky coffee that could never compete with the wondrous froth on offer in Berlin. Although the waitress exhibited typical Saxon warmth, most of the elderly customers here were straight from the tour bus.

To experience genuine Dresden charm in a more authentic environment, venture across the Margaritenbrücke into the Neustadt. You will be confronted by the inevitable socialist realist style square, with its range of very new-East shops and cafes. A meander along the baroque Königsbrückerstraße will bring Michelin guide adherents to Dresden's gourmet eatery, the Bülowresidenz, which will part you from your cash accordingly and deliciously. Head to the Albertsplatz for the cooler end of town. Alaunstraße and the surrounding streets are home to a handful of superb record shops and Dresden's nightlife.

For hearty Indian food served with lashings of local beer, independent films and a club all under one (mistletoe-bedecked) roof, try the Scheune. Both staff and the young clientele are affable and welcoming. Berlin beer-ordering etiquette is best left behind - in Saxony people mind their ps, qs and 'have a nice day's as a matter of course. The folk here are renowned for their friendliness, which offers a refreshing break from Berlin's brashness.

A cosy and affordable range of restaurants are scattered throughout these streets - best explored at random, including Turkish, Greek, Pakistani and Italian cuisine. Bars range from the large and teeming to the tiny and idiosyncratic and may well tempt you to drink there with names like Planwirtschaft, Madness and Hieronymus.

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