Hallstatt – where beauty meets adventure

On a cloudy Easter Sunday morning, we began our short drive to Hallstatt. As we drove out of Salzburg, we were met with pouring rain. The snow-speckled alpine mountains surrounding Salzburg were completely hidden from view and dark clouds hung low. Several minutes into our drive, we move off the expressway and pass thru pretty little villages nestled at the foot of lush green hills. We drive past these villages and on to windy roads with the hills on one side and the gushing stream on the other. The rain had slowed down to a drizzle, the clouds were receding and finally, some spring sunshine filters thru the sky as we arrive in Hallstatt.

Our first stop in Hallstatt was the Dachstein Ice Caves and 5 Fingers Lookout. Unfortunately, this was still closed due to the cold weather (Austria was still getting its last snowfall in April!) We were a bit disappointed as the views from the 5 Fingers looked stunning and the ice caves looked simply fascinating from the pictures we’d seen. But, we knew we were not going to be able to explore some of the sights as we were still traveling during the winter period and most of the attractions would reopen only around the end of April. We didn’t despair though as we had quite an exciting adventure waiting for us!

We pulled into the parking area at the Salzwelten Hallstatt and made our way to the funicular that would take us up to the Salzberg (Salt Mountain). It’s a short scenic ride offering beautiful views of the Hallstatt lake and the Alps.

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Once you are off the funicular, you have a few things to do on the Salzberg – head up to the Skywalk or World Heritage View – it’s a viewing platform 350 metres above the Hallstatt village. Take the lookout bridge towards the Rudolf Tower to get to the Skywalk. The views from here are just jaw-dropping. You can see the Hallstatt village right below you and the nearby Obertraun village as well. The Hallstattersee looks quite magnificient from this height. Although we visited on a cloudy day and the alps were mostly hidden from view, the moody clouds added a certain charm to the views.

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And the main attraction on this Salt Mountain is the Salt Mine of course. If you’re feeling peckish before you head on over to the Salt Mine, you can grab a bite at the restaurant in the Rudolf Tower. They have a lovely patio which is right above the Skywalk deck so you can grab a pint and a bite while enjoying the beautiful views. Make sure you head on over to the salt mine in time for your tour. The walk to the Salt Mine is short but beautiful.

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Look back and you can see the Rudolf Tower in the distance..

The Salt Mine tour was the highlight of our Hallstatt trip. This is hands down one of our best tours and most fascinating experiences ever. Not only was it well-organized with informative and friendly guides but it was filled with a lot of high-tech entertainment and adventure! Before we set off on our tour through the oldest salt mine in the world, we had to don a miner’s suit which was just the beginning of making this a very real experience. We then walked thru long tunnels that had been dug up by miners a few thousands of years ago to get to the salt mine.

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And, then, it was time to take a mindblowing ride down a very long, ancient wooden miner’s slide to go further down into the mine. As you can tell from the picture, I was a bit nervous as is usually the case with rides but Steve just loves them! You could take the flight of stairs next to the slide if you don’t feel up to it. But, you really should do the slide – it’s a lot of fun! It’s quite safe for the young and old (just don’t put your arms out and follow the directions given).

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They also capture your embarassing but fun moment to take back as a prized souvenir

Once you’re further down in the mine, you’ll find lots of rock salt – on the ceiling, on the walls, everywhere… you can just pinch some off for a taste – it’s delicious!

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The tour guides are great – they give you excellent background on the salt mine and its significance. Here are some tidbits that we remember – Apparently, 250 million years ago, the entire salt mine area was covered by the ocean. The village of Hallstatt came into existence when the salt mine was discovered during the pre-historic times. And today, the Hallstatt salt mine produces 750,000 tonnes of salt per year. It is one of the first known salt mines in the world that helped uncover valuable information on the pre-historic era.

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In the salt mine, you’ll go thru several diferent sections – some like the one above where you’ll find salt blocks and some others where they display valuable finds from the pre-historic times. There’s also a little cinema room – appearing very rustic but built with advanced technology. The tour also includes a few short, interesting videos that take you deeper into the history of the salt mine and the remarkable discoveries that were made including the oldest wooden staircase in Europe and the Man in Salt (the body of a former miner was discovered in an astonishingly well-preserved condition due to all the salt he was buried under!)

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No, this isn’t him – this is just Sepp, a miner who tells the story of the Man in Salt

At the last level in the mine, you are 400 metres underground and there is a mysterious little lake that reflects an amazing light show – spectacular effects and very nicely done! The light show depicts pre-historic times and a day in the life of the miners.

And, finally, it’s time for the last ride through the mine… We hop on a miner’s railway and take another exhilirating ride thru the narrow tunnels of the mine.

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The Hallstatt Salt Mine is a sensational experience – filled with non-stop adventure from start to finish. We highy recommend a visit to the Salzberg / Salt Mountain – it takes about 3 hours to do the salt mine tour and the skywalk. If there’s only one thing you have time for in Hallstatt, do this. It’s an unforgettable, thrilling adventure! If you have more time to spare and love a hike, Salzberg offers a couple of lovely hiking options as well.

We had just a couple more hours to spare in Hallstatt and decided to ride the funicular back down and check out the little village.

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We took a stroll thru the village market place. (See how deserted it is? Definitely one of the greatest advantages of traveling off-season is to be able to explore a place without bumping shoulder to shoulder. It is just the kind of holiday we like.)

The Hallstatt village center is filled with colorful little buildings and the Evangelical Church dominates most of this little center.

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It has an impressive spire
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This other church you see perched on the hill is Hallstatt’s catholic church – St. Michael’s Chapel

This 12th century church is most popular for its Charnel House (or Bone House). The Ossuary boasts a collection of over 600 skulls, all adorned with artistic designs. Unfortunately, we got there only to find that we’d arrived a few minutes too late. The place had just been closed!

We took a walk around the lovely little cemetery at the back of the church. Much like the rest of Austria, the graves are beautifully decorated with personal effects adorning the graves. The view from the top of the church is lovely.

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We then walked up to the classic village viewpoint at the Gosaumühlstraße. This is where you can get the famous postcard view of Hallstatt.

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Although it was about 7 PM, there was still plenty of daylight and we headed down to the lake for a stroll. The views of the Hallstätter See are just delightful. We grabbed a coupla beers, plonked down on one of the benches by the lake, and sat admiring the alpine wonder that surrounds this little Austrian village.

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Of course you could do a boat tour as well and get up close to these gorgeous mountains
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It was nearing sundown and we were just content to sit there and watch the swans swim by..

There’s unbelievable beauty everywhere in this little village!

Although it can get quite crowded, just take a walk thru the village and its surounding area and you can find a cosy quiet little spot to admire the beauty that this small place packs in.

We spent a short day in Hallstatt. If you do choose to stay overnight, you could stay at the nearby, less touristy Gosau or Obertraun. They are just 10 minutes away from Hallstatt. We spent a short while in Obertraun – it’s a tiny village on the other side of this bridge.

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With it being Easter sunday, the locals were nowhere to be seen and the tourists were thronging little Hallstatt. We seemed to be the only souls in this sleepy village and it was lovely to walk through the quiet little lanes and sit by the lake.

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The beauty of Austria is in its little alpine villages – each one as breathtaking as the next. We had visited St. Gilgen and Mondsee the previous day and continued to be amazed by this incredibly beautiful country. The Salzkammergut region where all these little villages are has some of Austria’s prettiest lakes and most charming villages, all surrounded by the majestic Alps.

We plan on going back to Austria again, maybe in winter – we’d love to try some skiing and snowboarding!

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While we dream of that day and hope it comes sooner than later, here’s the ‘Salt Man’ wishing you Glück Auf or Good Luck for your Hallstatt trip!

Ramsau (Berchtesgaden)

An enchanting little village where we wish we’d spent more time…

We visited Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden on a rainy evening. We’d just spent the day at nearby Königssee and wanted to visit Ramsau before heading back to Salzburg, which was our base for our week-long German Austrian road trip.

It was early spring and the clouds were lurking around and we knew it was going to pour. Through the entire day at Königssee, we fortunately escaped the rain. But, as we parked our car at Ramsau, it started raining and didn’t stop for the entire hour we were there. It was just relentless!

That didn’t stop us from getting out and exploring though. We got out our umbrellas, put on our hoodies, huddled closer and walked to the bridge near the Ramsau church where thousands of photographers have tried to capture the famous postcard view of this idyllic little village.

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Ramsau is surrounded by incredible beauty. It is set amidst the Alps and on a clear day, you can see the massive Alps right behind the little church making the view even more remarkable. Despite the heavy downpour, you can still get a small peek at a snow-covered mountain in the pic above.

With the stream by its side, the Alps behind it, and green hills with flocks of sheep surrounding it, this is the most picturesque church we’ve ever seen!

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The church is also adorned by the prettiest cemetery we’d ever seen. It was a wonderful sight of love and peace.

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Cemeteries like these around the local church appeared to be customary in this region. Many of them have intricate and unique gravestones that are surrounded by figurines and photos. These evoke a feeling of comfort and peace rather than the usual melancholy associated with cemeteries.

The interior of the Ramsau church is quite simple but lovingly decorated.

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Although we spent less than an hour in this little German village and had barely seen all that it had to offer, we left Ramsau with lovely memories knowing we’ll be back soon.

Berchtesgaden and its surrounding area is extraordinarily beautiful. It should top your list of places to see in Germany. It is our most loved place in all of Germany and we cannot wait to head back there someday soon.

St. Gilgen and the Wolfgangsee – pure wonder

Surrounded by beautiful blue lakes and stunning alpine panorama, this picturesque Austrian village will steal your heart.

We made our way to St. Gilgen on the second day of our German-Austrian alpine road trip. Situated on the northern shore of the Wolfgangsee, St. Gilgen is one of the most scenic little towns in the popular Salzkammergut region in Austria.

We had a late start to St. Gilgen after our delightful visit to Lake Chiemsee the previous day. But, located just 25 kilometers away from Salzburg, we were in this charming little town in less than 30 minutes.

We headed straight to the Zwölferhorn Cable Car station. Zwölferhorn is part of the Salzkammergut mountain range of the Eastern Alps. The eastern part of the Alps, although not as high as the western range, is blessed with plenty of lakes, most of which are in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. This is quite evident when you stand atop the Zwölferhorn. You are surrounded by numerous deep blue lakes including the Wolfgangsee, Mondsee, Fuschlsee and Attersee. It’s a pretty spectacular view!

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Wolfgangsee, the big lake at the front and Mondsee, at the back

The Zwölferhorn cable car is said to have begun operations over 65 years ago. It’s a short 15-minute breathtaking ride to the top.

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View of the magnificent Austrian Alps as we make our ascent to Zwölferhorn

Once you get to the top, there are a whole bunch of viewpoints you can walk up to, in just about 10 minutes. You get strikingly different views from each side.

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Despite a cloudy day, the beautiful mountains and valleys of Salzkammergut make for a great view
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Wolfgangsee narrows down as it flows towards the southern side

The top of Zwolferhorn is simply a little paradise. The views are insanely good. We grabbed one of these benches and just sat there, hand in hand, admiring the beauty of Austria.

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We were missing something though…

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Brew with a view

A delicious pint of one of Austria’s fine beers completes the delightful experience! Stiegl is one of Austria’s most popular, revered beers. Unfortunately, they just brew a lager style offering no ales. But, the beer is worth trying. It’s quite a refreshing easy-drinking not-too-hoppy lager. (More on our beer travels in Austria coming soon in a separate post!)

Despite the somewhat warmer temperatures, there was still some snow around. But the weather was pleasant. And, the place wasn’t too packed with tourists – one of the biggest advantages of traveling during the off-season. We found a cozy little spot and sat sipping our beers and basking in the spring sunshine – the perfect recipe for a great day!

The Salzkammergut mountain range is quite impressive. Dachstein is one of the tallest and most popular mountains in Salzkammergut and is known for its fascinating ice caves and glaciers.

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Some of the mountains of Salzkammergut

We’d planned on visiting Dachstein as well on this trip but hit some bad weather and decided to save this for our next Austrian trip. The views of the Austrian Alps from Dachstein look mind-blowing and you should definitely make it part of your itinerary if you can!

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The large mountain you see is Schafberg

Schafberg is another popular mountain around the Wolfgangsee and at the foothills of this mountain is St. Wolfgang, another charming little village. Schafberg is well-known for its historic steam cog railway that has been offering rides up the steep mountain for over 120 years! [Fun fact: The train has also featured in the hugely famous movie ‘Sound of Music’. Most of the movie was actually filmed in and around the Salzkammergut area.] The Schafbergbahn was sadly not operational in early April and we missed this exciting ride.

There’s so much to do around the Wolfgangsee and so much beauty!

But, we first needed some food! We decided to head back down to St. Gilgen and grab a bite in one of those lovely lakeside restaurants.

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The Wolfgangsee Schiffahrt takes you on a beautiful ride across the lake, meandering through crystal clear blue waters. Apart from St. Gilgen and St. Wolfgang, there are a few other little villages by the Wolfgangsee you can visit if you’d like.

Having happily stuffed ourselves with some delicious food and ales at the Fischer Wirt restaurant, we decided to wander around little St. Gilgen.

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Hidden alleyways are the best place to start
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Just love how trees look in early spring – still blossoming with the littlest of green leaves

St. Gilgen is a small village with lovely little houses dotting the lakefront. It is also sometimes referred to as Abersee. But is popularly known as ‘Mozart village’. Although Mozart never visited the place, a few of his family members lived here and there’s a Mozarthaus to commemorate the great composer and his family.

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Not too far away from the Mozarthaus is a lovely statue of Mozart himself in front of the Rathaus (town hall).

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St. Gilgen Mozartplatz

It’s not just music but wonderful art as well that adorns this quaint little village.

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A fountain dedicated to Mozart’s mother who was born here

Our last stop was the parish church of Saint Aegidius, aka Saint Giles, after whom the village gets its name.

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It is a small church done up in baroque style. While the interior of the church was splendid, the little cemetery at the back of the church was heart-warmingly beautiful. It was so endearing to see the little notes on the tombstones, the fresh bouquets of flowers, the candles and the photographs on the graves.

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It got us thinking about our own loved ones we lost in this sometimes difficult journey that is life. Our spirits weren’t dampened though. If anything, this town filled us with an overwhelming sense of love and appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.

We simply fell in love with St. Gilgen. It is just a tiny place in the vast land of Austria but it is one of the prettiest places in this remarkable country. We made a silent promise to come back to this enchanting little village.

Prague – an old-world charm

Prague is this dreamy, old-ish, culturally-rich, architectural wonder of a city that you’d ache to go back to for more…

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We visited Prague during Easter and the city was beautifully decorated, especially the city centre or Old Town Square where they had the Easter markets. Majority of the stalls were filled with gorgeous Easter eggs (with unbelievably intricate designs) and other exceptionally handcrafted decorative items. Some stalls also sold some mouth-watering local delicacies. Traditional song and dance shows were also part of the festivities.

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Trdelnik – a local pastry – grilled and tossed in some cinnamon sugar
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The bustling Prague Old Town Square

The Old Town Square is the heart of Prague. The church you see in the background with its twin distinctive Gothic spires is the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. Prague is filled with churches and lovely, old buildings that are all adorned with some or the other piece of art.

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You’ll see horse-drawn carriages and vintage cars lined up to take you around the city.

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The square is also filled with lovely restaurants serving local beer and food. Prague is known for its beer and you’ll find loads of good beer everywhere…

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Where are my hoppy ales!?

We craved for ales in a city known for its pils and lagers. But, like they say, ask and you shall receive.. we did some quick research and found a neat little place which was swarming with hopheads like us. The Prague Beer Museum has some really good ales and some very unique lagers. Prague made us very happy that evening. Through the Old Town, you will also find little cafes or bars playing live music – we especially enjoyed the blues scene the city had to offer. We visited Jazz Republic – a cosy live music club where the Alice Springs Blues Quartet was playing that evening. These guys put on a great show – this is one of our cherished moments from our trip.

The Square also features the renowned Astronomical Clock which is part of the Old Town Hall. Every hour, crowds gather to watch the clock in action. The four figures beside the clock represent Vanity (with the mirror), Greed (with his money bag), Death (the skeleton), and Pagan Invasion (represented by a Turk). On the hour, Death rings a bell and inverts his hourglass and the twelve apostles parade past the windows above the clock. It’s a pretty sight. Not as beautiful a parade put up by as the Munich Glockenspiel but still a good one to stop for.

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We spent a lot of the day just walking around the old town area exploring the hidden alleys which were filled with little treasures.

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In a store window

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Another hugely famous landmark in Prague is the Charles Bridge – definitely worth a visit despite the insane crowds.

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If you are determined to see the full bridge in its true splendor instead of a crammed bridge with hundreds of people, you should muster the will to stay up thru the night or rise and shine in the wee hours to catch the breath-taking view at dawn. Well, laziness and sleep got the better of us and we went to see the bridge at dusk. It was packed with hundreds of visitors and locals just using the bridge to cross over from the Old Town to the Mala Strana. It was a beautiful sight nonetheless.

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The bridge was filled with caricature artists and folks selling junk jewellery

The views from both sides of the bridge are absolutely gorgeous! You get a wonderful view of the Prague Castle and the St. Vitus’ Cathedral which is the most popular side of the bridge while the other side presents a pretty picture of the city in the backdrop of the Vltava river.

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View of the Prague castle district from the Charles Bridge

The best way to experience the beauty of this charming city is to do a boat tour sipping on some delicious chilled beer.

The next day, we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral . The cathedral is in the Prague Castle area (or Pražský Hrad). It is magnificent, both on the inside and outside. The stained glass windows have wonderfully depicted scenes with a beautiful fusion of colors. The walls on the inside of the Cathedral as well showcase intricate paintings from a bygone era.

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 The Prague Castle area also features the Golden Lane – a wonderful little street filled with modest, little houses that used to be inhabited by the workers at the castle – goldsmiths, blacksmiths etc. One of the houses has been converted into a little museum of sorts displaying ancient torture tools.

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The Rack – no escaping this mean machine
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If you can’t get them with a bullet, slice them.

One of the houses in the Golden Lane was briefly occupied by Franz Kafka, a well-known German writer born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague. The city views from all around the castle area are simply beautiful and it was a day well-spent and definitely worth the steep climb.

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At the Jewish Quarter

Our next stop was the Prague Jewish Town. A visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery leaves you feeling melancholic especially when you see the graves of the little ones.

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The cemetery is piled with 12000 tombstones, most buried on top of one another due to the lack of space.

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The Spanish Synagogue

The Prague Jewish Quarter also has a bunch of beautiful synagogues – the notable ones are the Spanish Synagogue with a remarkable interior design and the Pinkas Synagogue which was turned into a memorial to the ~80,000 victims of the Shoah (or Holocaust). The names of all these victims are inscribed on the walls of the synagogue. The synagogue also has a permanent exhibition of pictures drawn by the children in the concentration camp. Some of these pictures will make you smile but some of these will also make you cry thinking of the shattered dreams and tortured lives of these young children.

Prague is an amazing city that is wondrously rich with history and culture – you simply cannot stop exploring all that the city has to offer. We left knowing that we will surely go back someday to soak in more of this incredible place.