Germany Austria May 2018: The fairytale town of Hallstatt

“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.

DSC_3277

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.

DSC_3271

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.

2018-05-04 11.41.14

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

20180525_184445

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

DSC_3272

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!

DSC_3273

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.

2018-05-04 11.29.02

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.

DSC_3259

DSC_3512

Spring had certainly arrived in Hallstatt!

DSC_3287

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.

DSC_3269

DSC_3261

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

DSC_3270

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.

2018-05-04 11.40.32

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

DSC_3289

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

DSC_3290

“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.

2018-05-04 11.44.25

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?

DSC_3302

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.

DSC_3303

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

DSC_3301

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.

DSC_3306

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

20180525_185643

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.

DSC_3295

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.

DSC_3310

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

DSC_3307

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.

DSC_3314

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

DSC_3321

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.

DSC_3322

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.

DSC_3323

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.

DSC_3371

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.

DSC_3333

DSC_3325

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.

DSC_3342

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.

DSC_3346

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.

DSC_3349

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.

DSC_3359

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.

DSC_3363

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.”

DSC_3355

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.

DSC_3368

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

DSC_3362

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

DSC_3370

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

DSC_3350

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.

DSC_3373

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.

DSC_3375

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

DSC_3376

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.

DSC_3378

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

DSC_3380

Classy vase!

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

2018-05-04 12.48.53

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

DSC_3381

DSC_3382

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

DSC_3384

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.

DSC_3385

And views like this.

DSC_3390

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.

DSC_3403

DSC_3399

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. 

DSC_3404

DSC_3405

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.

DSC_3391

DSC_3393

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

DSC_3407

DSC_3408

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.

DSC_3511

DSC_3513

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.

20180525_185137

Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar, on a cloudier but stiller evening

20180525_183837

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.

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018: Fairytale Hallstatt from above and Hallstatt salt mines

After an exhilarating drive on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, we retired early in preparation for another day of “heavy sightseeing”, for we were to leave Zell am see and drive to Salzburg via Hallstatt, the beautiful lakeside town. Thanks to some poor planning, we couldn’t stay the night in Hallstatt, which turned out to be a really bad move, because a day trip just doesn’t cover the place well enough.

DSC_3187

We left Zell am see on a very cloudy morning after a hearty breakfast. The drive through Austria was scenic as could be, with lush green meadows and beautiful mountains around us and with clouds as our constant companions.

DSC_3190

The train tracks and a small river ran parallel to us as we drove. I could imagine my friends Neha and Yogesh enjoying the same scenery in their train to Salzburg.

DSC_3200

Our spirits were high, we sang along as we drove through the lovely countryside. For a while, we drove on the autobahn, the best bit for the hubby, wherein we came upon the famous Hohenwerfen castle, picturized in the Bond film “Where eagles dare.”

DSC_3211

It was a beautiful castle, perched high up, but sadly we didn’t have time for it.

DSC_3216

Our drive on the highway was for a short while only, and soon we turned off onto smaller (read: more picturesque) roads. A while later, Google Maps took us off the main road on to a very small and narrow road amidst the forests.

DSC_3229

It was very narrow and I was worried about how we’d manage if another car came from the opposite side, but no one came. The road seemed to exist for us alone. Deeper into the forest we drove, surrounded by the tall conifers. A small stream bubbled besides us and every now and then, we crossed over small wooden bridges over it. A few scattered wooden houses dotted the area, pretty as could be.

DSC_3232

DSC_3236

“What a fabulous place to stay!” I exclaimed, picturing myself resting on a hammock with a book. “It’s scary mum, there’s no one around,” said the kid. She was correct. There were areas with just one house and nothing else for the next 5 kilometers. “The solitude would still be worth it,” I thought. Just before we joined the main road, we passed by a series of houses so beautiful that the hubby and I would happily have given up our jobs and migrated there.

DSC_3235

As we drove into Austria’s famed lake district, the Salzkammergut with 76 Alpine lakes, tall mountains, hiking trails and tiny villages, the views got better and better. We drove up and down small hills with trees all around.

DSC_3239

The entire Salzkammergut is stunning as we discovered over the next 3 days. But today was set aside for the “Pearl of the Salzkammergut”, Hallstatt. This tiny village is probably the most photographed place in all of Austria. It’s an old settlement, more than 1000 years old, thanks to the salt found deep in the mountains around it. “Salt? In a land-locked country? Where did the sea reach there?” asked the smart hubby. “For that, we have to visit the salt mines,” I answered.

Hallstatt is hemmed in by the tall Dachstein mountains and the area has enough to offer for at least 3 days worth of sightseeing. Since we had 8 hours, we had to pick and choose. We saw just the town of Hallstatt and the salt mines, whilst my brother-in-law chose to take the cable car up the Dachstein mountains to see the aerial view of Hallstatt.

20180525_151915

Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar: View from the five fingers lookout at Dachstein (2108m), see the tiny town of Hallstat projecting into the lake

He also visited the ice caves that we didn’t see as we’d already seen the stunning karst caves of Slovenia (Postojna Caves, Slovenia), but he really enjoyed the trip and it will be on my radar for the future.

20180525_135517

Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar: Dachstein ice caves

As we approached the town, we first caught a glimmer of Lake Hallstatt through the trees. The lake is huge (as seen in the aerial picture) and we drove parallel to it for quite a distance before reaching the town.

DSC_3521

The main town area is pedestrian only (thankfully) and there are 3 huge parking lots for vehicles. We parked in one near the salt mines, after driving through the tunnel that runs through the Hallstatt mountain.

As soon as we walked outside the parking lot, the magic of Hallstatt seemed to descend. It was a cool and cloudy day, very very pleasant indeed. Beautiful flowers and trees filled the roadside and we didn’t know where to look.

DSC_3258

Beautiful gastehaus (guesthouses) lined the roads. Typically made of dark wood with coloured window shutters and flowers at their window sills, I couldn’t stop taking pictures till the hubby gently nudged me and said, “Leave some camera space for the actual town.”

DSC_3412

DSC_3514

We crossed over a tiny stream, wondering where it came from, wishing we had time to follow it upstream.

DSC_3509

We saw that it bubbled away into the lake.

DSC_3266

“Gasp, ooh, ahh!” was our state in Hallstatt from the time we got out of the parking lot, to the time we returned. Hallstatt was such a fairytale town that it just belonged within the pages of an Enid Blyton storybook. But first, we had to figure out how salt was mined in Hallstatt.

2018-05-04 11.17.10

The salt mines are at an elevation from the town so they can be reached by a steep walk through the forest or a quick funicular. No prizes for guessing what we did.

DSC_3507

The funicular was so well designed that we didn’t realise how steep the slope was. And I am so glad that we didn’t walk up or down till the mines as it would have been a crazy long walk, and there was lots more walking up ahead!

2018-05-04 14.07.26

The best part about the mines was the view from the top. Looking down to the newer part of Hallstatt, near the mines and the parking lots and trying to identify our car kept us totally busy.

DSC_3499

The most amazing view was once we got off at the top and looked out from where we stood. It was so beautiful that we couldn’t tear ourselves away and missed most of the people who were on the funicular with us.

DSC_3418

The actual mines were located at a 20 minute walk from the funicular, but we first walked over to the viewing platform “World Heritage View” for the stunning views over the Hallstatt-Dachstein region by crossing over the pretty panorama bridge.

DSC_3486

It led us to Rudolfstrum, a restaurant housed in a defense tower built in ancient times to protect the mines, with the Hallstatt skywalk jutting out below it.

DSC_3442

The steel platform projects out from the cliff 360 meters above sea level, to provide a vantage viewing point over Hallstatt town, the lake and the mountains.

2018-05-04 14.19.11

Unfortunately, it was packed with tourists (as was all of Hallstatt) of a community that believes in clicking 100 selfies at every viewpoint without much concern for others. After waiting patiently in a line with no order and movement, I gave up and walked along the edges of the platform for the same stunning view.

DSC_3427

The sunlight seemed to filter through the clouds on to the small town of Obertraun directly opposite Hallstatt, the access point for the cable car to the Dachstein ice caves and the five fingers look out.

2018-05-04 14.24.06The best view however, was that of the main town of Hallstatt from high above.DSC_3432

 

While I stood there mesmerized, the hubby urged me on, knowing that the entire salt mines tour would take another 3 hours to complete and we needed to reach Salzburg before night. Reluctantly, I left the pretty view for the 20 minute steady uphill climb to the entrance to the mines.

DSC_3426

The long walk to the actual mines, as seen from the panorama bridge

To make the long walk more interesting, there were several boards along the way about the history of the mines and even the body of a mummy preserved in salt. We were mean enough to leave the kid in that scary room and run off, but she’s become smarter now and was expecting it.

2018-05-04 14.30.02

Gorgeous reflection of the panorama bridge and Rudolfstrum

All along were posters of the “miner man” pointing out the way. Finally the hubby grew tired of the man.

DSC_3424

When we reached the entrance to the caves, we had to deposit our belongings and wear very unflattering miner’s clothes to make us feel like miners and to protect us on the slides and then we reached the entrance to the mines.

DSC_3449

Right from the bright sunlight, we entered a dark and narrow tunnel, wide enough for maximum 2 people side by side, with the tracks of the mining wagons below us. The tunnels grew narrower and shorter as we went in deeper and we could only walk in a single file.

DSC_3452

As it grew narrower and darker, the kid grew more and more frightened and wanted to leave. But the only way was onwards, deeper into the mountains. There was no turning back. She was so scared that we had to put on the torch-light, but fortunately, the area widened a little ahead and she could relax and look around.

DSC_3456

We could see the old salt pipelines that carried the brine and the salt. Salt was considered white gold and it’s discovery led to the rise of Hallstatt as an important town. In fact the era 800 to 400 BC is referred to as the Hallstatt period. But that’s not what we were interested in. We were interested in sliding down the long wooden slides that miners used to enter the mines.

DSC_3474It’s really very simple, you sit on a small wooden area and put both your legs on the side, then gravity does the rest. Naturally everyone was apprehensive at the start. There were steps to climb down and I was thinking about taking them when a couple of brave people took the plunge and then, so did the hubby with the kid. He just grabbed her, plonked her in front of him and kicked off, despite her protests. And from the bottom came a very happy squeal, “Mummy it’s awesome!” So, I got on too and reached the bottom, flying down, screaming at the top of my lungs.DSC_3463

 

Now that people understood that no one was going to die, the “selfie community” picked up their guts and dashed down the slides, mobiles in hand. We moved on to see some salt crystals and the history of salt mining in Hallstatt.

DSC_3460

We reached a large area where they beamed a movie which explained how salt reached this town hundreds of miles away from any ocean or sea. Apparently, way back in the prehistoric age, when the continents were forming and the earth plates moving about, some portion of the sea got trapped below the mountain and then rose with the mountain shelf.  

DSC_3469

So apparently, salt was mined here as long back as 7000 years ago. Surprising! They showed us several videos about how they discovered the timeline of the mining and lots of ghastly stories about the loads of people who died, when we came upon the best part of the mines, the 64 meter long wooden slide. The hubby and kid, now seasoned, quickly hopped on and slid away.

DSC_3471

This surely looks steep and scary

There was nothing for it. I got on and slid down, so fast, that I started falling off and dumbly, put out my hand to correct my position (despite clear instructions from the guide NOT to do so) and got a wonderful friction burn.

 

Off the slide, we found ourselves at the edge of a small lake. A lake in the centre of the mountain, with salt at the bottom of it!

 

 

DSC_3477They even put up a show with brilliantly coloured images projected over the lake showing the discovery of salt and the start of the mining. DSC_3478

 

 

DSC_3479_01

This show and another where they projected the life and times of a typical miner family were the only two entertaining shows. The rest bored me terribly and I was itching to be out in the daylight in the pretty lanes of Hallstatt, instead of listening to this guy drone on.

DSC_3480

Yet, they took us deeper and deeper inside and showed us the discovery of the world’s oldest staircase, dated to 13th century BC, that is now kept in a museum at Vienna. It’s been perfectly preserved by the salt.

DSC_3482

Finally, the tour ended. I was worried about climbing up lots of stairs as we had descended quite a bit, but luckily, they bundled us onto a miner’s train and took us up and out through narrow tunnels.

2018-05-04 16.24.52_Moment6

Happy to be back out, we walked down a lot faster than on the way up, passing by these pretty rivulets.

DSC_3485

Riding the funicular down, I couldn’t help but take another picture of the beautiful town of Hallstatt from up above.

DSC_3416

The walk to the car was scenic, but I had to steal a quick look at the lake at the place with the most beautiful view of Hallstatt.

DSC_3277

“Wow,” is all I could think. I couldn’t even speak aloud at this moment because I was too spellbound and dumbstruck. But this view is only a teaser of things to come, both when you walk through Hallstatt and when you read the blog.