Hallstatt is a picturesque town nestled against a mountainside that slopes right down to the water’s edge of Hallstatter See (“see” means lake in German). Located in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, Hallstatt used to be reachable only by boat or trail. Even so, it was long inhabited since prehistoric times because of the region’s salt reserves, and the small, quaint city has been carefully preserved over time. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist attraction with its charming town, placid lake, majestic mountains and plentiful hiking trails.
J, R and I arrived in Hallstatt late the night before and took whatever hotel room we could find available. Because the narrow streets crowded with steep ledges were dark at night, and we could sense the mountains towering over us but couldn’t see their grandeur, we had no idea what awaited us in the morning.
RISE AND SHINE! Holy moly, the views from our hotel were incredible. The sun shone on our balcony, which directly overlooked the lake. Hotel Grablau is built on the water’s edge, and its outdoor restaurant and lounge area extend right out to the dock. The water was so clean—no boats traverse this lake but the ferry—that I could see to the bottom. I was tempted to jump in headfirst, but since this is a glacially fed lake, it was absolutely frigid! A formidable deterrent.
We walked around the town in the morning, which is so small it takes barely ten minutes to walk from one side to the other. There’s not all that much to see in the town itself, especially since it’s just the first melt now, and not many tourist establishments are open yet. But taking in the surroundings, the grandeur, the tranquility, the beauty of it all!—we took our sweet time, for sure.
Also, schmuck means jewelry in German, but we were still quite amused. :)
So picturesque! Exactly what you’d imagine a hidden-away mountain town to look like, no?
For a bit of background on the area, “Salzkammergut” means “Estate of the Salt Chamber,” referring to the salt mines that enriched the area, both in terms of resources and finance. The area once belonged to the Habsburgs; Franz Josef and Sissi came here to celebrate their engagement. (Seriously, must every Europe trip involve a reference to the Habsburgs?)
The Salzberg, or salt mines, are located in the Dachstein mountain range, which comes right up onto Hallstatt. It’s reachable by trail, so off we went into the woods and mountains!
Wildflowers along the path. Hallstatt is so picturesque that even its wildflowers spontaneously bloom in perfectly placed bouquets along the hiking trail. Really now.
After lots of switchbacks and stairs cut into the mountainside, the trail became a series of grated walkways and stairs. I don’t like walking on grates. Maybe it’s from living in NYC, but I avoid it whenever possible.
Um, also, there’s no trail here guys? The top of the mountain wasn’t that cold but it’s shaded from the sun, so the snow hadn’t melted yet. But we could see the Rudolfsturm, the castle (and restaurant in summertime) at the peak, from where we were. Nowhere to go but up, right? So we trekked along the snow-buried trail, weaving our way through felled trees that lay on the path.
The views, of course, were worth it! The bottom picture is of Hallstatt, looking rather like a toy town, and Obertraun in the distance.
The Muhlbach waterfall, once harnessed to power mills, runs down the mountainside, courses through the town and releases directly into the Hallstatter See.
After hiking in the morning and eating lunch by the lakeside, we were back on the road towards Vienna. We continued to take a scenic route through the Salzkammergut, passing by Traunsee, another lake, pictured above. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Wolfgangsee again either, but I think we had already passed by it the night before in the dark.
To give our guide some credit, a month prior he had told us that the thaw had just begun and things would look completely different in a month’s time. How right he was! Above, Wolfgangsee, exactly a month ago, covered in snow.
We stopped near Linz to fill up on gas and use some free Wifi at McDonald’s. I’m a little embarrassed to say that McDonald’s was rather a landmark of this trip (believe me, it’ll get more mentions in upcoming posts), but in our defense, McDonald’s in Austria is a pretty serious business. Each restaurant has a separate section called McCafe, where the chocolate and coffee drinks are legit, the desserts are serious and the decor is fancy. Plus, free Wifi!
In upcoming updates: more discussion of McCafe, Vienna again, then biking (and falling) along the Danube River!