Over Labor Day weekend, Brandon and I finally visited Hallstatt, Austria. We had originally planned to take this trip over the 4th of July, but changed our plans at the last minute so we could make arrangements to attend my grandmother’s funeral back in the States. I am so glad that we ended up eventually visiting this beautiful place!
2 SEP 2011
Only 3.5 hours from Hohenfels, we easily drove to Hallstatt on Friday afternoon. The weather was miserable in Germany and we were a little concerned about the forecast for the weekend, but we’ve learned you just go when you can. Thankfully, the weather cleared up as we drove and we ended up having great weather over the weekend.
The drive was uneventful until we actually arrived in Hallstatt. Cars are generally not allowed to drive in town between the hours of 8am and 5pm. Since we were arriving around 5:30pm, we planned to drive straight to our hotel; however, the gate was not open on the north end of town. We drove through the tunnel above the town and found the south gate open. Now, Brandon has become quite used to driving on narrow roads, but even he thought the main road through Hallstatt was a bit too tight! It didn’t help that you also have to avoid the people that are oblivious to cars as they walk in the streets. Eventually we found our hotel and just stopped in the Market Square to go and check in. It seems like the Europeans don’t worry about finding proper parking spots, so why should we? After we checked in, we moved our car to the guest lot outside of town and had the shuttle take us back to the hotel.
We booked the Junior Suite at the Seehotel Grüner Baum because that was the only room left with a view of the lake. It was a bit of a splurge for us, but the room and balcony were absolutely beautiful. I could get used to staying in rooms like this one all the time!
After we got settled in the room, we decided to take Rick Steves’ self-guided walk before dinner since it didn’t seem like it would take that long. We started at the boat landing right next to our hotel where the Catholic Church towers above the town…
…then we went into the Protestant Church built in 1863…
…past the Protestant Church was Marktplatz (where we had parked our car before)…
…we walked down a tiny lane called Am Hof before getting to Museum Square. The final part of the walk was Dr.-Morton-Weg where one house had old tools hanging outside and a piece of the 25-mile wooden pipeline built in 1595 that carried salt brine from Hallstatt to Ebensee before it was replaced by plastic piping.
After our walk, we returned to the hotel where we ate a delicious dinner with a delightful bottle of Grüner Veltliner wine before retiring to our exquisite room.
3 SEP 2011
After eating Fruhstück at the hotel, we headed to the dock to catch the boat to Obertraun to visit the Dachstein Salzkammergut. The first boat left at 11am and the ride was beautiful and relaxing!
Rick Steves had warned us that we would have a 30-minute hike from the boat dock in Obertraun to the Dachstein lift station. Normally, we find his estimates to be on the conservative side, but this one was a bit optimistic! It took more like 45 minutes and the last part was pretty steep. Our main purpose for visiting Dachstein Salzkammergut was to go in the Riesen-Eishöhle (Giant Ice Caves) and the 5fingers viewing platform. The tricky part was accomplishing this and making it back to the boat dock for the last boat back to Hallstatt at 15:30. Needless to say, it was not a relaxing visit and we rushed through most of it. However, the Ice Cave tour was very interesting and we were still able to get some beautiful pictures from the viewing platform.
We would have been doing OK on time if we had caught one cable car earlier to descend from Krippenstein, where the 5fingers viewing platform is located. But when we got to the station, a car had just departed so we had to wait about 15 minutes for the next one. Then at the Schönbergalm station, where the caves were located, we had to wait another 15 minutes to get down to the very bottom. This extra time gave us a chance to buy a couple postcards, but we really could have used the time to walk back to the boat dock! Instead we ran/walked to the dock and made the 45 minute walk in about 25 minutes. We made the boat (which ended up leaving a bit late), but it was not pleasant in the hot sun and without lunch.
Back in Hallstatt, we grabbed some ice cream before heading up to our hotel room to recover! After a nap and a shower, we attempted to find some dinner. The restaurants were busier on Saturday than they had been on Friday, but we ended up right next door to our hotel at Gasthof Simony. Their restaurant had a lakefront garden and we were lucky to get a table outside. Dinner was good, especially the garlic soup that I ordered! We took our unfinished bottle of wine back to our room and enjoyed the rest on the balcony before crashing for the night.
4 SEP 2011
Today we vowed to take it easy! This turned out to be a simple vow to keep since our legs were still sore from all the hiking and running the day before. We also only had a few things left on our list to see in Hallstatt. After breakfast, we decided to start with the Salt-Mine Tour. Brandon and I had toured a salt mine before when we were in Berchtesgaden, Germany back in 2008; however, we failed to tell our tour guide that we spoke English so the entire tour was done in German! Needless to say, we didn’t get much out of it. Luckily, the guide spoke English on this tour so we might have actually learned something! The highlight of the salt mine tours is sliding down the miner’s slides between levels. I am happy to report that Brandon and I had the fastest times in our group although we didn’t splurge on the pricey pictures to prove it.
Again, learning from the day before, we made sure to stop for lunch! It worked out perfectly to stop at the Rudolfsturm-Restaurant by the salt mine after the tour. We were able to get a table right against the railing and the views were breathtaking. Of course, this meant that the food wasn’t the greatest. It even took so long to be served that I had to use my favorite German phrase, “Haben Sie mein Essen vergessen?”
After lunch, we visited the Catholic Church and Bone Chapel (or Charnel House). The 12th-century Chapel of St. Michael contains more than 600 painted skulls. Rick Steves explains:
Space was so limited in this cemetery that bones had only 12 peaceful, buried years here before making way for the freshly dead. Many of the dug-up bones and skulls ended up in this chapel. They stopped this practice in the 1960s, about the same time the Catholic Church began permitting cremation. But one woman (who died in 1983) managed to sneak her skull in later (dated 1995, under the cross, with the gold tooth).
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing some souvenir shopping, eating ice cream, and simply relaxing on our balcony. We did run into a film crew making a music video in the Marktplatz. Does anyone know who this Austrian singer is?? She must be somewhat famous because people were taking lots of pictures of her and even asking for her autograph.
We ate dinner at Restaurant Bräugasthof along the lakeside. Unfortunately, it sprinkled some while we were eating, but not enough that we needed to move inside.
5 SEP 2011
The next morning the weather had changed drastically. However, it was check-out day, so we simply ate breakfast and then caught the shuttle to the parking lot in order to drive home.
Overall, we had a lovely weekend in Hallstatt, and we would return in a heartbeat. Hallstatt has definitely been added to our list of favorite places!