“The loveliest lake village in the world is Hallstatt,” 

Alexander Humbolt, 18th century explorer

My agreement with Mr Humbolt resulted in 2 blog posts about “the loveliest”. I think this little town of 1000-strong local population, 2 main streets and walkable from end to end in half hour took up THE maximum camera space, on my camera and the hubby’s phone. And that’s saying something.

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We had parked in the parking lot at one end of the town and walked down to the lake to see the most stunning spectacle. The tiny town sandwiched between the lake and the mountains just took our breath away and we were speechless for a while.

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On this cloudy day, the beautiful blue of the lake contrasted sharply with the dark green trees and the wooden roofs of the houses. Part of the town jutted out into the lake, while the bulk of the town rose upwards along the mountain’s edge.

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Plaque describing doctor and travel writer Franz Satori’s impression of Hallstatt. The town is named after the Celtic word for salt, ‘hal’

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Swans gently swam along the edge, hoping maybe for a crumb of food or just enjoying their time in the water.

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The kid was enthralled by this swan and made all sorts of clicking noises to entice it to come our way. Swans are not native to Hallstattersee, they were brought in to satisfy the whim of Empress Sisi in the late 19th century. The next one to be enamored by these unfriendly birds was my daughter!

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The gentle breeze and the overcast sky and the huge expanse of water ahead of us created the most tranquil surroundings. The only noise at this far end of town was the gentle lapping of water against the shore. This made me regret terribly that I hadn’t stayed at Hallstatt, because this was the last moment of peace we had.

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After taking a gazillion pictures, and then just leaning against the railing and taking in the atmosphere, we were finally ready to enter the fairy land of the actual town. We walked past beautiful houses with stunning flowerbeds in their balconies.

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Spring had certainly arrived in Hallstatt!

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I had been hoping to see studded windowsills throughout Bavaria, but hadn’t seen too many, and so, was naturally thrilled in Hallstatt. The kid was thrilled too and we had a good many fights over the camera, which I’m happy to say that I frequently lost.

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We passed by some random sculptures and I had to grab the camera back.

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However, the minute we walked through the bars marking the pedestrian-only zone, we were shocked. The sheer numbers of people were more than we saw anywhere on this trip. There flew away the peace and tranquility, and we needed to escape the yakking tourists. So, we walked in the lane just behind the promenade and came upon a huge row of wooden houses. The first souvenir shop we saw got us all going trigger-crazy.

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The kid went crazy too. She wanted to buy everything in the shop. Not like I didn’t!

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“Can we have a bicycle Mommy? Or a ducky, an owl?” she pleaded.

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“We’ll look ahead,” I told her, as we turned towards the lake and she promptly rushed down to a pier to be closer to the waters.

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The most charming way to see Hallstatt is by boat, but the only ones we could find were one hour ferries and we just didn’t have the time. Next trip maybe?

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Swanspired paddle boats

Walking along the lake promenade instantly transported us to another world. It was like touching a portkey and reaching a fairytale land at the top of the magic faraway tree. Lining the promenade were quaint wooden houses.

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Souvenir shops with charms, wooden toys and dolls, stuffed toys and other wooden handicrafts studded the road.

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Restaurants extended over the lake, providing traditional Austrian fare (including fish from the same lake) with a great view. This restaurant dates back to 1472, where it was a salt manufacturing center apart from being a guesthouse.

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When we visited in early May, the flowers were just blooming. just a fortnight later, they were in full bloom.

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar, 15 days after my trip

Just then, we heard a loud flapping sound and turned swiftly to see a pair of swans taking off powerfully from their gliding spot on the lake. I’d never seen swans fly before and was quite amazed that these large birds could fly so well.

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We reached another pier from where we could see a large group of people sitting down at the same Gastof Brauhas we’d clicked minutes ago and the ascending town of Hallstatt.

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Hungry people reminded us of our own hunger and a dessert shop advertising fresh crepes and scones was very tempting indeed.

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Before we could choose anything, the kid saw something and ran off. Frightened of losing her amidst the crowds, we rushed after her, only to see her calling out to her new bff, a swan, posing merrily for the onlookers.

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We dragged her off with difficulty, and then we saw a narrow alleyway with colourful buildings. It was irresistible to dive right in.

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Suddenly, we came upon the charming central market square of Hallstatt. The square was really important in the 14th century when Hallstatt was granted market rights.

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It was too charming for words and surprisingly, very empty, which added to the charm for me for sure. Buildings of different colors surrounded the large open space, at the center of which was a decorative statue of the Holy Trinity.

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This square had been destroyed in a fire in 1750, after which the buildings were built using colored stone instead of wood, which is why it looks so different from the rest of the town.

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We rested there for a while, just soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the relative peace. The kid loved this square and once she was done running about, she wanted the camera to take her set of pictures.

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Finally, we got up and went out towards the lake, intending to climb on towards the other end of Hallstatt town to reach the classic viewpoint. But every footstep showed us beautiful scenery.

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I looked longingly at the ferry, wanting to take time out for a boat ride. I love being out on the lake and Hallstatt is supposed to be even more scenic from the lake, but that will have to wait another day.

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We had to walk on a path above that of the lake now to reach the famous viewing point. The kid and hubby were getting frustrated with me and my list of viewing points of Hallstatt.

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But no one complained when we reached a spot with loads of “selfie-obsessed people” and turned around to look at the lake and gasped.

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The classic “stock photo” of Hallstatt was certainly worth the long walk up the slope (note how far the ferry is). So were the reflections on the lake.

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I think we’d have stood here forever, staring at the view, but we were rudely elbowed out by the rudest community of tourists on the planet. Honestly, they beat the Gujjus hands down, make them look like cute, fluffy bunnies. The nonstop chatter irritated the kid so much that she went and stood against a sign labelled “Point of Silence.”

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I do feel the kid missed the point too. You can’t have silence amidst groups, whatever community they be from. This is probably the most important reason to stay over in Hallstatt, to roam the town without the day-tripping crowds.

We walked back to the market square because we wanted to walk to a waterfall that the hubby had seen as soon as we entered Hallstatt. Yet, we took ages because the camera couldn’t control itself.

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The view of the lake between the houses was too beautiful for words.

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Some of the houses were too pretty not to photograph and I murmured an apology for invasion of their privacy.

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This sign leads up to a small pedestrian staircase to the higher level of Hallstatt.

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We wanted to see Hallstatt’s pretty roofs so we climbed up some steps, and then lots and lots of steps. I concluded that no one in Hallstatt could ever get osteoarthritis of the knees.

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It was just as picturesque as the lower level, maybe more, as it was less crowded. Narrow cobblestoned streets were lined by wooden houses with a characteristic triangular roof. All were decorated with charms, lovely knockers, vines and flowers.

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I loved the houses with the vines and trees as their façade

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Just outside a pizzeria

All along the climb, we could hear the rushing gurgling of water and kept wondering if we were near the waterfall. Then we found the source of the noise, a small mountain stream was rushing along with great force towards the lake, possibly arising from the waterfall.

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We climbed more and more steps, falling behind in our quest for pictures. But honestly, there was too much quaintness on display.

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Classy vase!

We were plodding along when the hubby called out to us, “Hurry up, the view is gorgeous!”

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So we rushed up to a platform with this view of the outstanding Hallstattersee.

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The sun was out, pushing away the clouds and we could see the snow-capped Dachstein mountains. And of course, the much desired waterfall.

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It was very picturesque but hunger beckoned strongly, so we rushed down towards the lake for lunch. Not really rushed, we couldn’t run about in Hallstatt even if we wanted, we had to stop and stare at houses this charming.

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And views like this.

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Back at the lake, the hubby was very tempted to try the local fish, but there were very poor vegetarian options at those restaurants. Despite my telling him that we’d quickly finish a pizza at the nearby store, and then join him,  he wouldn’t hear of it and so we settled down at the lake side with pizza, ice cream and nutella waffle, and watched the world walk past.

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Shortly, a gentle drizzle fell over the lake. Safe under the cover of the awning of the store, we watched people scurry about and umbrellas go up. The gentle drops on the lake, creating small ripples, the swans ruffling their feathers, the sudden emptying of the promenade and the lovely view of Hallstatt made me love Hallstatt even more. 

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A pair of swans enjoying the gentle rainfall

Done with our meal, we rose to walk back through the town, passing by salt souvenir shops with my favorite flowers.

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The souvenir shop displays caught my eyes, in particular, this pair of dolls, but I didn’t have time to stop and buy them.

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I know I should have gotten them. Some things should’t be put off till later.We never saw anything like them again. So the photographs are now the biggest souvenir. We walked out of the pedestrian zone and were once more bowled over by the beautiful spring flowers.

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Hallstatt enamored us so much that when we returned, we urged my brother-in-law to stay at Hallstatt, unlike us. He had already paid at his apartments and couldn’t change either, but he agreed whole-heartedly with us once he was back.

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar, on a cloudier but stiller evening

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar

I reluctantly left Hallstatt that day. I honestly wished I could have stayed the night there and seen more of this picture-perfect town, especially when the lights went down at night. Yet, it was such a perfect day that I left with very happy memories and gorgeous pictures.

I will surely be back to visit Hallstatt. Maybe in the fall, maybe in the winter, but I’ll be back.

PS: My apologies for such a photo-heavy post. I found it very difficult not to put up each photo that we’ve clicked.

 

 

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