Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut

Itinerary: 

Dates: September 18-October 5, 2015

Our Odyssey: 

After Tracy’s wedding we headed back into Austria, to the
small salt mining town of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut, or Lake District.
Hallstatt is nestled on a ledge between a lake and a mountain, and is tiny
enough to walk through in fewer than 15 minutes. We didn’t stay in the town
itself, but rather in a quite guest house a 10 minutes’ drive away in Gosau.
Our room was completely delightful, with a balcony facing the mountains– and we
had a kitchen which meant home cooked meals!

Charming Hallstatt and its swans.

When we got into town, we started with a self-guided walking
tour through Hallstatt. The town has two churches – one Protestant and one
Catholic. The Catholic church sits higher up on the hillside, overlooking the
town, and has a 12th century bone chapel in a separate building next
door. Much like the bone chapel we visited last year in Kutna Hora, this
bone chapel contains hundreds of bones, including 600 plus skulls. Each skull
has been carefully hand-painted with flowers and garlands, as well as each
person’s name and date of death. While the chapel in Kutna Hora had more ornate
décor crafted from bones (the chandelier, the shield), the skulls in this small
bone chapel created a far more personal picture of death.

Skulls inside the bone chapel.

Aside from the Catholic church and bone chapel, another
interesting spot was the Dachstein Sport Shop. On first glance, this is your
typical knickknack and outdoors shop. What is unique about it is that it sits
on top Roman ruins. The owners of the shop have supported the excavation of the
area and opened it up to visitors to explore within their shop. All you have to
do is descend a few stair steps and you go from an aisle of puffy jackets down
to an old Roman bath.

Exhausted from the day of travel and touring, we opted to
get dinner at a local restaurant a near our hotel. While the service was
painfully slow, the food was completely delicious.

The next day, we toured Hallstatt’s unique ice caves. Tim
and I have toured cave systems previously (including Cave of the Mounds just
outside of Madison), but neither of us had ever visited an ice cave. Just to
even get to the caves we had to ride a gondola up a mountain and then hike
another 15 minutes to the cave’s entrance.

From the top of the mountain, waiting for our tour of the ice caves to start, we watched this helicopter make multiple round trips toting something (see the small pale dangling below it) from the top of the mountain down to the bottom.

View of the region from the entrance to the ice caves.

 

From there, we had a guided group
tour of the caves. Walking through the dark rooms of the caves was fascinating –
the ice inside reminded me of the massive ice bergs we’ve seen in the Arctic
and Antarctic, but instead of floating in the ocean, they are locked to the
stone walls of the cave, where they have been for nearly 500 years (which is
actually pretty young in ice cave terms).

After the ice cave tour we ventured back into Hallstatt. Along the way we drove past the most adorable baby sheep. We pulled over to watch them for a few moments, and I don’t think there is anything cuter than the baa-ing of baby sheep.

Back in town we hiked up to the waterfall that cuts through the town. From here we had
beautiful views of the lake. I remember how it glimmered in the sun as if
someone were actually sprinkling glitter onto the gentle waves from above.

 

Tim during our hike.

 

View from our hike.

After our hike we started the drive back to our guesthouse. Along the way, we pulled over to explore an area where we had seen a little footbridge crossing a stream. We walked along the stream for a bit, just exploring.

The stream we meandered by. 

Me on the footbridge crossing the stream. 

That night we made use of our kitchen with a simple but
delicious pasta meal, watched Netflix and slept a ton, ready to continue our
road trip west to Innsbruck!

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