The Austrian and German Alps (Part 01): Salzburg and the Salzkammergut
Our New Year’s 2016 long weekend to Salzburg infected us with an Alpine strain of wanderlust. It only took until September for us to scratch the Alpine itch, when we boarded a flight from London to Munich for a week in the mountains. From Munich we drove a couple of hours to Salzburg, where we spent four nights, before venturing deeper into the Alps (Zell am See) for two nights and crossing the border (but just barely) to Mittenwald in Germany for our last two nights. Salzburg was such a magical place in winter (we even witnessed snow!) and we wondered if we would still feel the same in the summer…
We stayed in the same hotel as we did in January (Altstadthotel Kasererbraeu), but this time we got a free upgrade to a suite! Our trip was starting off right. Since we already did a lot of the obvious things in our previous trip, we had the freedom to explore different corners of the city this time around. Just walking around the Old Town is a pleasure, especially when away from the crowds along the main drag near Mozart’s birth house. The river is especially calming in the summer. We walked up to Monchsberg for views of the city at sunset, and they are stunning (especially since, unlike the views from the castle, these views have the castle in them!). The city is indeed as magical in the summer as it is in winter, especially when bathed in the golden light of a late summer’s evening.
Petersfriedhof, the cemetery at St. Peter’s, is another sight we missed last time, but it’s easily one of the most calming places in the city. We left the Old Town for the Mirabell Palace Gardens one of the mornings, and though it was beautiful, I can only imagine how vibrant it in the spring. Look for the view down one of the major pathways directly to the cathedral and castle (47.805742, 13.041166).
Hallstatt is the gem of the Salzkammergut and Rico has wanted to take Brittany here since he visited with his family in 2011. The town had been talked up for its surreal setting and calming pace of life for so many years that we weren’t sure if it could ever meet the expectations we had set for it. But, even with sky-high expectation, it blew us away. Hallstatt is not a secret—immense crowds of people flock here and overflow the small village, so it’s best to get here early in the morning. Our first order of business was to rent a little electric boat and take it for a spin around Hallstatter See. Renting boats on lakes became a staple of this trip—it’s such a fun way to see a place from a different perspective.
Once back in town, we wandered to Marktplatz, the fairytale center, before poking our heads in the Lutheran church right on the water. Lesser visited but very much worth is Maria am Berg, the Catholic church up in the hills. The visit up is worth it not only for the church, but also for the captivatingly beautiful cemetery and the views of the town and lake.
Not far from Salzburg is the mountain peak of Dachstein, accessible via a two-stage cable car ride. Though the ride is expensive, it’s worth it. There are a variety of viewing platforms at the top and a little hiking loop with views of a glacier on one side and of Hallstatter See and the mountains around it on the other. You can even lay down in one of the many funky chairs to relax and appreciate the views!
Traunsee is another one of the lakes in this district. We had originally planned to visit the town of Ebensee, but it didn’t look worthy of a stop, so we just winged it. While we were aimlessly driving up the western shore of the lake, we could see a majestic castle seemingly floating on the water in the distance. Intrigued, we continued on. Schloss Ort is indeed something out a fairy tale. The castle, first built in the 11th century and passed around the hands of royalty and emperors ever since, is set on a small island connected to the shore with an attractive wooden pedestrian bridge.
Britt spotted Traunkirchen on our drive to Schloss Ort and we decided to head back in that direction. It started to drizzle at this point, but we couldn’t be deterred! The town is a tiny one, but it has a jagged hill or rock upon which sits a little church. We climbed up the hill to the church and sheltered ourselves from the rain while we waited for it to subside. Once it cleared up a bit, we walked back down the other side and walked through the church and cemetery at Maria Kronung.
We made a quick stop at Fuschlsee in search of a classic wooden-pier-disappearing-into-beautiful-lake photo we had seen many times. We don’t think we found exactly what we were looking for, but we found a fine substitute at the Schloss Fusch resort.
Wolfgangsee was our final lake. We stopped in St. Wolfgang, primarily for its cog railway train ride up to the top of Schafberg. We did take the ride, but on this cloudy day the visibility at the top was virtually zero. Oh well! Back at sea level, we did enjoy checking out Pfarrkirche St. Wolfgang and walking around the center of the town. We drove around the lake to St. Gilgen, which didn’t have nearly as much to do or see, but was still a worthwhile stop. Noteworthy sights were the church and cemetery at Heiliger Agidius and the unbelievably cute rathaus (town hall).
As far as food is concerned, we were set. Rico admittedly had too many Wiener schnitzels (is there such a thing?) and fell in love with the local drink Spezi (half Coke and half orange soda—enchantingly delicious!). We made it a habit, just as we did in January, to start each day Cafe Tomaselli (sausage and eggs and kipferl brioche). Dinner in Salzburg was had at Gasthof Goldgasse (best-ever Wiener schnitzel, fried chicken, potato hash), Trattoria Domani (spicy salami pizza), and Zirkelwirt (Wiener schnitzel and spatzle with onions). We also made time for dessert at St. Peter Stiftskeller (lavender crème brulee and cheese strudel), Cafe Tomaselli (cream and cranberry cake; hazelnut, almond and cinnamon cake; cheesecake; and tiramisu), and Gasthof Goldgasse (the local speciality, Salzburger Nockerl—don’t attempt to eat this thing on your own!). Offset the sweetness of dessert with pretzels from one of the many bakeries around. Other noteworthy meals included lake-side lunch at Seehotel Gruner Baum in Hallstatt (Wiener schnitzel and tomato and basil pasta) and lunch at quirky Kaffeewerkstatt in St. Wolfgang (Nutella and banana waffles for Rico and raspberry and ice cream waffles for Britt).
We packed a lot into our four days of the trip but still had so much left to do and see! Stay tuned for adventures and explorations from the glitzy Austrian town of Zell am See.