This sample chapter from my new guidebook Daytrips Austria covers Hallstatt, which has always been one of my favorite little adventures because of the range of activities it offers and the sheer scenic beauty of its location. This is a great treat for me, partly because of my Austrian heritage and because I once wrote the Fodor's Guide to Eastern Austria. Enjoy.
A Daytrip from Salzburg
You've probably seen pictures of Hallstatt, that tiny village clinging to a miniscule patch of Earth between a mountain and a lake, whose image graces many a poster and guidebook cover. Easily one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe, Hallstatt is also one of the oldest settlements in this part of the Continent. Hall is an ancient Celtic word for salt, for the early Celts were mining the white gold here as far back as 1000 BC, long before they migrated west to France and Britain. The late Bronze and early Iron ages (900-500 BC) are in fact known as the Hallstatt Era after the advanced civilization that once flourished here. Numerous artifacts from that epoch have been unearthed and are displayed in the local museum, while what may be the world's oldest salt mine is still in operation and may easily be visited.
With all it has to offer, Hallstatt has become a very popular weekend destination among the Austrians themselves. Besides sheer beauty and historical significance, it offers boating possibilities on a lovely lake, short hikes in the surrounding hills, a tour of the salt mines, an interesting Gothic church with a bizarre charnel house, and a full range of tourist amenities.
Trains (marked for Vienna) depart Salzburg almost hourly for Attnang-Puchheim, where you change to another train for Hallstatt, going by way of Bad Ischl. The total journey is about 2½ hours, with returns usually running until mid-evening. CLICK HERE to check schedules online. Combination tickets including train, ferry, museum, cable car and salt mines are available at Salzburg and other stations. The Hallstatt station is across the lake from the village, connected by a ferry that meets each train. For your return, check the time of the last ferry so you don't get stuck.
Buses leave from the square in front of Salzburg's train station for Bad Ischl, where you change to another bus for Hallstatt. The total journey takes about 3½ hours and runs several times in the morning.
By Car, leave Salzburg on the B-158, heading southeast to Bad Ischl, then take the B-145 and local roads south to Hallstatt. The total distance is 77 km (48 miles). A tunnel under the village connects with the parking lot. Don't even think of driving in town.
Avoid making this trip between late October and late April, when nearly everything is closed. Be sure to bring along a light sweater or jacket for the salt mines. The Tourist Information Office, T: (06134) 8208, is at Seestrasse 169, south of Marktplatz. You might also check the regional website.
FOOD AND DRINK:
There are many places to eat, all geared to the tourist trade. Some good choices are:
Seewirt (Zauner) (Marktplatz 51) Specializing in grilled meats and fish dishes. T: (06134) 8246. €€
Bräu Gasthof (Seestrasse 120) Austrian cuisine, indoors or overlooking the lake. T: (06134) 200-12. X: late Oct.-late April. €€
Gästehaus zum Weissen Lamm (Dr.-Morton-Weg 166, nar the Marktplatz) Austrian cooking, the best choice in its category. T: (06134) 8311. X: Tues. in off-season. €
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
CLICK ON MAP FOR LARGE PRINTABLE IMAGE
The Hallstatt Train Station (1), really just a rustic halt, lies across the dark, brooding, fjord-like Hallstätter See from the village. Wedged between the steep mountains of the southern Salzkammergut region, this lovely but somewhat mysterious lake sets just the right mood for the strange sights to come. Get an outside seat on the small ferry that carries you in 10 minutes to the Boat Landing (2) at *Hallstatt Markt, the historic center of the ancient village. While at the pier you might ask about sightseeing boat trips (Rundfahrten). Rentals of electric, pedal, or row boats are available nearby.
Those coming by car or bus should begin by walking downhill from the parking lot to the Marktplatz.
The attractive Marktplatz (Market Square) (3) is lined with flower-bedecked inns, shops, and cafés; a great place to stop for a bit of refreshment. In its center is a fountain along with another one of those ubiquitous Trinity columns. At the bottom of the square, facing the lake, stands the Protestant Church, which dates only from the 19th century but whose organ is from 1790. This region of Austria was once a Protestant stronghold. Continue down Seestrasse to the:
*MUSEUM-HALLSTATT (4), T: (06134) 828-015. Open Jan.-March, Wed.-Sun. 11-3; April, daily 10-4; May-Sept., daily 10-6; Oct., daily 10-4; Nov.-Dec., Wed.-Sun. 11-3. €€.
Covering some 7,000 years of local history, some of the displays here were taken from local excavation sites and will give you a better understanding of the salt mines and how they worked in ancient times. The prosperity created by trading in "white gold" is evident from the rich foreign ornamentations that were apparently common among the miners of 2,500 years ago. The museum also covers local life in more recent centuries.
Seestrasse now follows the edge of the lake, where you can rent small boats by the hour. You will soon come to the settlement of Lahn and the lower station of the funicular (5) that quickly carries you up the Salzberg mountain. Buy a one-way ticket if you intend to walk down via the scenic Salzberweg trail (the truly energetic might walk both ways and save a few euros). Operates May-Oct., daily 9-6. One way €, round trip €€.
Close to the upper station is the Rudolfsturm (6), a medieval fortification built in 1284 by Duke Albrecht I and named after his father, Rudolf I, who founded the Hapsburg dynasty in 1273. This once defended the salt mines against invasion by the prince-bishops of Salzburg. For many centuries the tower was the residence of the mine managers, and is now a restaurant and outdoor café. With its superb views, this is a good place to stop for refreshments before or after the mine tour. Scattered around the area are the scanty remains of an Iron Age Burial Ground (Gräberfeld), where some 2,000 prehistoric graves have been excavated since 1846.
Follow the path to the:
*SALZWELTEN HALLSTATT (Salt Mines) (7), T: (06134) 200-2400. Open late April to late Sept., daily 9:30-4:30; late Sept. through Oct., 9:30-3. Adults €€€, seniors and children €€.
Enter and join a group for a subterranean tour through the oldest still-operating salt mine in the world. You will be issued protective clothes to put on over your own, including a rather silly cap. A guide leads you along a narrow tunnel to a cavern, from which you descend deep into the earth on a polished wooden slide. The workings of a salt mine are explained around what amounts to an underground lake, where chambers are flooded with water to produce brine. This then flows through pipelines called Soleleitungen for about 25 miles to an evaporation plant at Ebensee, a process that has been used since 1607. Priot to that the salt was just hacked out. Climbing to an upper level, you board a little miners' train for a ride back into sunlight.
Return to the upper station of the funicular. You can either ride back on this or walk down the Salzbergweg, a delightful trail following a small stream with waterfalls. Whichever route you take, return to the Marktplatz and follow the map to the beautifully sited Catholic *Pfarrkirche (Parish Church) (8), with its tiny cemetery and charnel house. The church was built in the 15th century and is noted for its *winged altarpiece from 1515, its late-Gothic frescoes, and its unusual tower with a pagoda-style roof. The adjacent cemetery seems much too small for the village, but overcrowding is avoided by a unique, if somewhat macabre, solution in use since 1600. After being buried for 10 years or so, the bodies are dug up to make room for more. Their skulls are then bleached, and often decorated with pictures of and the names of their former owners. Thousands of these are stored in the Charnel House (Beinhaus) beneath the Chapel of St. Michael next to the graveyard. Open daily, May and Oct. 10-4; June-Sept. 10-6. €.
A stepped path leads down to the main street. By walking away from the village you will soon come to a spot (9) where the most impressive puictures of Hallstatt are taken. Snap away, then return to the boat landing or parking lot.
Copyright © 2008 Earl Steinbicker
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? Why, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.
CHECK OUT Daytrips Austria by clicking on its name in the box below, or on the Buy button to purchase: