Stefan here, I’m one half of Berkeley Square Barbarian. I grew up in Bavaria in a small town located at a river. On the other side of the river is Austria. Like everyone in my town I had been to pretty much every Austrian village or town within a hundred mile radius by the time I was twelve. Sometimes we went skiing or hiking for several weekends in a row, never less than a dozen times a year, usually on the Austrian side (even though the Bavarian Alps are magnificent, there’s just more of the Alps on the Austrian side, that’s all), and I thought I had seen it all.
It took my wife, who had only been to Austria for a day or two on a bus tour years before, to draw my attention to this little gem: Hallstatt, less than two and a half hours by train or an hour by car from Salzburg, towards the south east. It was around X-mas 2010/11.
Most locals like myself usually prefer to go to places with higher mountains, better skiing or hiking opportunities, but lesson learned.
The train ride there is already worth the trip. The train moves very slowly through valleys, along beautiful Traun Lake and quaint little hamlets. Luckily, when you arrive at the train station right next to Hallstatt Lake, surrounded by 2,000m high craggy mountains, your despair that the train ride is over is immediately remediated by the breath-taking views.
We had to wait for about ten minutes, then the tiny boat with a capacity of about ten passengers took us on the 5 minute ride across the lake. Don’t forget to take photos of the town now, this is the best view onto the town you’ll have until you leave.
The village has under 1,000 permanent residents, but constantly a multiple of tourists throughout the year. Hall is an ancient German word for salt, and it was the world’s oldest salt mine just above the market square that made Hallstatt prosperous. (You’ll find many names in the region that contain the word Hall, such as Hallein or Bad Reichenhall.)
Until just a bit over a hundred years ago, Hallstatt could only be reached by boat and narrow mountain trails, now it is also connected by roads.
It is shameful to admit it, but, considering we were only there for two days, we completely forgot to do a proper hiking tour and focused on short walks in the area, sightseeing, and, not least, the delicious local cuisine.
We liked the food so much, that we had lunch and two dinners (one early one and one light late one) on both days, it was just too good to miss out on.
Most of the restaurants we tried are a bit pricey for a small village in the middle of nowhere, considering that Austria generally is normally a lot better value than London, but we never felt that we were taken advantage of and enjoyed every bite of the very hearty rustic dishes that paraded in front of us (until their demise). The locals, including waiters and hotel staff, are quite rightly very proud of their town and always cheerful, helpful and friendly.
One thing you’ll notice is that there are busloads of over-excited Koreans on every corner (which we didn’t mind at all, just thought it was funny), which is due to the fact that Hallstatt featured prominently in one of the top Korean soap operas. (If you search “asian tourists taking photos winter” in Google Images Search a photo of Hallstatt, not the one featured here, was among the top ten when I tried it a few minutes ago, THAT’s how crazy it is.)
We left town with a heavy heart to spend a few more days in Salzburg and to visit my family. We’ll most definitely be back soon, can’t believe it’s been more than five years!