Lake Geneva – a French perspective

Last year, incidentally around this time, we were touring across Germany and Switzerland. We wrapped up our 2-week long holiday in Lake Geneva, one of the largest lakes in Europe.

When we booked our AirBNB accomodation, we didn’t realise that the place we’d booked was actually on the French side of Lake Geneva. And, that’s how we ended up in France for the first time!

We hopped on a train from Grindelwald, where we’d spent 3 incredibly wonderful days hiking the Swiss Alps. We got off the train at Lausanne, one of the biggest cities on Lake Geneva. After a rushed unfinished lunch at a lovely restaurant by the lake, we ran all the way to the port with our bags trailing hard and just about made it in time for our short boat ride to Thonon les Bains.

It was a scenic ride with gorgeous views of Lake Geneva and the little towns on its shore.

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It was almost sundown by the time we reached Thonon

Thonon les Bains is just across the lake, on the French side. It is one of the bigger towns on the lake and seems to be fairly popular with tourists looking to spend a relaxed holiday in Lake Geneva or Lac Léman, as known in French.

We stayed in a little French village called Anthy-sur-Léman, about 10 minutes away from Thonon. Anthy is also by the lake and is a quiet place to stay at if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular towns on the lake. After a 10-day hop across South Germany and Switzerland, all we wanted to do was kick back and relax and this idyllic little village was perfect. The AirBNB we stayed at was just a few minutes away from the lake and had a lovely vegetable garden and chicken farm that my nephew was completely fascinated with.

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Wish we’d taken better pictures of the garden – the veggies and fruits looked great!

We spent the first day just unwinding over a few beers and taking a stroll around the garden. Later that evening, we headed to a lovely restaurant by the lake – Les Pieds Dans L’Eau. It was our first time eating French food and my first time eating fish! We were absolutely delighted with the food at this place.

The next day, we headed back to Thonon for some sight-seeing. Thonon-les-Bains has a stunning port and is a very popular fishing village on Lake Geneva. It also seems to be well-known for water sports and the large number of yachts docked at the harbor surely was proof of the enthusiasm the locals had for sailing.

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It was great weather that day and we took a walk along the promenade admiring the gorgeous blue waters of Lake Geneva and the Jura mountain range just across the lake in Switzerland.

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The port or Port de Rives as it’s properly known, is lined with a good bunch of restaurants and cafes. It also has a great play area overlooking the lake.

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He couldn’t get enough! He loved the play area.

The Thonon city centre sits high above Lake Geneva and we made our way up there on the Funiculaire de Thonon-les-Bains. Dating back to late 19th century, this little funicular is a fun ride offering splendid lake views as you ascend to the Les Belvederes, a large garden area that also acts as a viewing platform for the lake.

The views from up here are incredibly beautiful. And, on a sunny day with blue skies, you’re bound to fall in love with the shimmering blue lake.

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Yeah, he was spellbound as well! Just for a few minutes though…
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He chased me all over the park! Got my much-needed exercise.

It’s always such a fun-filled day with this little guy! We spent the next hour or so lazing on the grass and taking in the views of the spectacular lake.

Although we didn’t do a whole lot in Lake Geneva, we had a wonderful coupla days in the scenic little French villages by the lake. It was the perfect laid-back finish to an amazing holiday!

(P.S.: Watch out for more posts from the holiday!)

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!

Mondsee – a charming little place

Tucked away in the scenic Salzkammergut region, Mondsee is another one of Austria’s lesser known wonders.

After a wonderful day at St. Gilgen and the Wolfgangsee, we decided to do a quick stop at nearby Mondsee before heading back to Salzburg which was our base for our German Austrian alpine trip.

Mondsee is another little Austrian village in the Salzkammergut region that will have you fascinated by its beauty and idyllic charm in no time.

On a cloudy evening, we arrived in Mondsee. We parked in the main square of the village. It’s a small square, lined with colorful townhouses, mostly restaurants and stores selling handcrafted wares.

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Just opposite this main square is the Collegiate Church of St. Michael, which used to be the monastery church of Mondsee Abbey. The Mondsee Abbey was founded in 748 and there’s some interesting folklore around why the abbey was founded and how the name Mondsee, meaning moon lake, came about.

The church is possibly most famous for being the venue for the wedding of Maria and Captain von Trapp in the famous musical ‘Sound of Music‘. The church is quite the sought-after church for weddings in the area ever since the film was released.  Also known as the Basilica St. Michael, the church is one of the primary reasons tourists flock this little village. Even if you are not a huge Sound of Music fan, this little village will still leave a lasting impression.

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The Basilica of St. Michael
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The interiors of the church are quite impressive
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Especially impressive is its baroque style altar

Right outside the church is the city tram stop. Now, this is a tram ride we highly recommend you make part of your Mondsee itinerary. The tram ride is just lovely – the driver gives you a very informative tour (even if you are the only soul on the tram!) and takes you thru the smallest of Mondsee streets. The best part of the ride is when the tram arrives at the Mondsee promenade and takes you right in front of the Mondsee – and you are mere inches away from the lake! That was a fantastic and unique experience.

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At the promenade, you can get off the tram and enjoy a nice stroll along the lake. Take a walk around the promenade park as well… you’ll find gorgeous little streams and bridges that make you feel like you’re in a land of fairies.4836534628017574288-account_id=2 (2)

 

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The beautiful Countess Michelin Gräfin von Almeida

 

Just a few metres away is the Mondsee Pier where you can get the best views of the beautiful Salzkammergut region.

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It was just us and these ducks braving the cold, rainy evening…

We stood at the pier for a long time, just basking in the silence around us.. watching the tranquil waters of Mondsee make little magical ripples.

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We wish we’d had more time to explore this beautiful alpine village of Austria. We hope to go back to Austria someday soon during summer. Mondsee is quite popular for water sports – it is the warmest lake in the Salzkammergut region and folks from nearby towns flock this little village during the summer months.

If you are visiting the Salzkammergut region of Austria, be sure to make little Mondsee part of your Austria holiday – it is a special place!

We fell in love with Mondsee and the other little villages in the Salzkammergut region – they are filled with such incredible beauty that you’ll always want to go back for more. 

Füssen and Schwangau – a little piece of heaven

Two little picturesque German towns surrounded by the mighty, stunning Alps.

There’s nothing like the Alps to fill you with child-like glee and make you squeal with delight at every little sight of them. We just cannot seem to get enough of them and have been very fortunate to see the extensive, breath-taking range of the German, Austrian and Swiss Alps.

Füssen and Schwangau are located in the midst of the Allgäu Alps – which extend across Bavaria in south Germany and Tyrol & Vorarlberg in Austria. The little town is about an hour from where we live (in Ulm). After an exhilarating drive, we arrived at our Scottish/Irish themed hotel where we had a fabulous night of whisky tasting. It had been so long since we had drunk good whiskies in this beer-famed land. We lost count of how many whiskies we’d had – each one better than the last. They had SUCH an amazing collection of whiskies from all around the world! This was our primary motivation to book this hotel of course. The hotel itself was quite nice – friendly staff and located very close to the Hopfen am see, one of the many lakes in the region.

The lake was frozen of course, considering the sub-zero temperatures we’d been having through January. And, in just a minute we were away from the hotel and on the lake, taking a walk on the ice sheets. We were just blown away by the beauty that surrounds this small town.

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Hopfen am See, Füssen

It was our first time walking on a frozen lake and we weren’t sure how far out we should venture especially considering there were some sizable cracks across the lake and we were the only souls on the lake!

We then headed over to the Tegelberg mountain in Schwangau. This was just a few kilometers out from Füssen. Tegelberg is known for its winter sports and you can find a whole bunch of people skiing including teeny kids. They all row up in their groups, all padded up and carrying their ski gear, looking super excited with no trace of fear – ah, they were such fun to watch!

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Foothills of Tegelberg, Schwangau

We took the Tegelbergbahn or cable car up the mountain. It was a beautiful but somewhat suffocating a ride. The little cable car fills up nearly 45 people standing shoulder to shoulder with their noses almost touching the glass door! It was such a surreal experience compared to our cable car rides in Switzerland. But when we got out of the car, the views took over everything else. The Alps oh, the gorgeous alps .. they were everywhere.

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Meet the Allgäu Alps

We decide to hike up the snow-covered Telgelberg mountain to get to a higher point. It was a steep, slippery climb but with the prettiest views all along the way.

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All we could feel was a deep sense of bliss and contentment

We make way for skiers, young and old.. we also make way for a dog, a cute labrador that climbed up the hill so effortlessly wagging its tail ever so cutely.

Huffing and puffing, we make it up to the top, and are rewarded with breath-taking views. And, excited to take a peek down the big mountain, I take a few steps dangerously close to the edge.. and I am washed over with the sweetest rush of fear and joy.

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We could have stood here forever…

We just stand there in amazement with all the other guys that made the climb.. just soaking in all this wondrous beauty. After a bit, we make the descent. Going downhill is always tricky and going down a snow-trodden mountain is even more tricky.. keeping our balance and taking small careful steps, we make it down to the restaurant. We get some grub and beer and sit down to have our lunch by this gorgeous view.

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Brew with a view

Reluctantly, we make our way back to the cable car and down to Schwangau. We then drive over to Füssen.

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Hello beautiful

Füssen is such a pretty little town. It is known for the Neuschwanstein castle which technically is actually in Schwangau.. People stay at Füssen when visiting the castle and are just rushing through to their next destination and barely explore this gem of a little city. Not only is it picturesque with the lovely Lech river flowing through and with the Alps in the background, it is rooted deep in history and tradition and was luckily untouched by the world war destruction.

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Füssen has a little castle of its own – Hohes Schloss

We got to the Hohes Schloss / High Castle a little late and we couldn’t check out the inside but were able to walk around the inner courtyard and admire the unique art decor of the castle.

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Courtyard of the Hohes Schloss – this unique artwork is replicated all over the little town

On the way to the castle is the Basilika St. Mang – the interiors and ceiling art of this abbey church is simply beautiful. And, they have the most embellished church organ I have ever seen. And we were in love with their cherub pulpit – so intricate and unique! Simply loved the church. Germany has some of the most beautiful churches.

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Basilika St. Mang, Füssen

Not too far from the town is the Lech Falls. This is just the prettiest little falls ever in the midst of surreal alpine beauty. The gorgeous emerald waters of the Lech river fall down and flow around the city of Füssen.

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We just walked around the area of the Lech Falls taking in all the beauty.. Slowly, we make our way back to the town centre – Altstadt.

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Pretty little streets of Füssen lighting up as dusk approaches

We make a short stop to pick up some Schneeballs  a delicious local pastry that has been around for 300 years or so! It’s available in a multitude of flavors and being coffee lovers, we went for one in a cappuccino flavor.

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After a few more strolls around the little town and a couple of local beers, we arrive at the Schlossbrauhaus in Schwangau. The two little towns are just a few kilometers apart and we sure did some back and forth in this one day.

This seemed to be a popular brewery in this neck of the woods and they claimed to serve some craft beer as well. Now that definitely got our attention and we were excited to try out their beers. Unfortunately, we were quite disappointed in their so-called “craft beers” which were really just the traditional German Pils and Weizens. We don’t mind the traditional German beers especially the wheat beers but their beers were a disappointing version of the traditional beers even. That said, it wasn’t all wasted time as they served some finger-licking local food! And, they had some sort of a local event that day and there was a whole bunch of locals dressed as kings, queens, soldiers etc. and it was fun just watching these finely dressed people gather around a few beers. We were just minutes away from the famed Neuschwanstein castle and no wonder we had royalty flocking the bar.

If you’d like a good pint in the area, you should visit the Allgäuer Stüberl or Hotel Hirsch (both serve some delicious Bavarian brews and lip-smacking local food). Not being a huge fan of the Pils, we usually stick to the Weizens when it comes to traditional beer in Germany.

The next morning, we visited the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. So, to be honest, it was our last item on the things to do in Füssen. The Neuschwanstein is a pretty looking castle, inside out. But, the insane crowds that throng to it even during the coldest of winters and take a trip all the way here just to see the castle is beyond our understanding. Blame it on Walt Disney for making this “Sleeping Beauty” castle such an obsession with tourists visiting Germany. And no, this is not all that this beautiful country is about. Well, nevertheless, it is a beautiful castle with splendid architecture and is worth a visit if you’re in the area. And do take the short trek to the Marienbrücke, a little bridge not too far from the castle that offers a full view of the castle and some beautiful views of the surrounding area.

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View from the Marienbrücke

Note that visiting the castle has to be carefully planned. You simply cannot be late for your reserved time slot – if you do, you will not be allowed to enter at all. We reserved our tickets online (we took the king’s ticket) and skipped the long queues to purchase the tickets. We took an English guided tour; the guide was friendly and did a decent job of recounting the life of King Ludwig II (known as the mad king). King Ludwig led a fascinating although lonely life and died under mysterious circumstances. He was obsessed with castles and swans among other things. The Neuschwanstein (new swan stone) castle has lavish and beautiful interiors and the art that adorns the walls are spectacular. The castle tour itself felt way too short and rushed; well, it had to be this way so it could accommodate the crowds that visit the castle everyday.

Our guide for the Hohenschwangau castle was more impressive, giving us some interesting, humorous anecdotes of King Ludwig II and his family. The interiors of this castle is just as lovely, may not be as extravagant and rich in its decorations but quite exquisite nonetheless. The artwork and the Turkish inspired designs are admirable. The Hohenschwangau stands on the ruins of the old Schwanstein castle and the  Neuschwanstein stands on the ruins of the original Hohenschwangau. They sure mixed the heck out of these castle names!

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The new Hohenschwangau

The castles are close to the Alpsee which like the other lakes in the area was frozen. There were many more people out walking on this lake (some were even running and jumping) and this time around we ventured farther into the lake and had the most wonderful time.

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Headed to the Alps – one slow step at a time on the Alpsee

For us, the castles were definitely not the highlight of Füssen and Schwangau. They are worth a visit for sure but you’d be missing out on SO much if you do not check out the sights in and around Füssen.

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The dreamy Bavarian countryside where time stands still

Füssen and Schwangau are fairy tale towns even without the castles and we have some of our most cherished travel memories from these two little towns.