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Weisser Hirsch & Elbe River Valley, Dresden

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Dresden's natural setting is a series of gently rolling hills around the Elbe river valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vistas that inspired generations of painters are easily accessible by car or, even simpler, via tram #11, which leaves the Neustadt's Albertplatz and is up in the hills in ten minutes. By car or foot, just take Bautzner Strasse from Albertplatz and keep going east and uphill. After a series of dilapidated Renaissance villas, you climb past various castles perched on the riverbank to your right. At the top of the hill is the Weisser Hirsch, or White Stag, neighborhood, an elegant 19th-century planned suburb and formerly one of the most expensive places to live in Europe. There are two cable cars that take you down the hill to the riverbank, where you can cross the Elbe on the Blue Wonder Bridge to the similarly posh neighborhood of Loschwitz, full of art galleries, coffee shops, and boutiques. Another worthy day-trip option is to take one of the many steamships that line up at the Brühl terrace in the Altstadt. Their two- and three-hour trips up the Elbe reveal the farther reaches of the valley, with dramatic cliffs, ruined castles, and lush vegetation as you approach the Czech border (49-351-86-6090;

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