SPECTACULAR LAKES & MOUNTAINS OF SALZKAMMERGUT

 

A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase.  Includes Places to Stay in proximity.

ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:

The area close to Salzburg is called Salzkammergut, meaning “Land of the Salt Mines,” a rather bland title for one of the most beautiful sections of Austria. Salt, a precious commodity, was responsible for Salzburg’s early prominence and wealth, a wealth still visible in splendid palaces, stunning cathedrals, and magnificent castles. But none of these can compete with the splendor of nature-meadows of wildflowers painting pockets of vibrant color between dark-green forests, splendid lakes reflecting snowy mountain peaks in the early morning sunlight, small hamlets hiding behind swells of rolling hills, villages snuggled in little coves of gray-green lakes, gigantic mountains pushing their jagged, rocky peaks into the sky. This itinerary can be used as a reference for planning day trips from Salzburg. Another option would be to study this itinerary, choose one of the towns that sounds most intriguing, and use it as a base. However, each destination suggested has its own special personality, so try to budget your time to linger in each area. Explore the ice caves, journey down into the salt mines, discover your own little lake, hike up into the mountains, and circle the lakes by ferry. Relax and soak in the spellbinding beauty of Austria.

 

ORIGINATING CITY                      SALZBURG

This itinerary begins in Salzburg, a small city that is almost too perfect. It is like a stage setting with its maze of narrow streets, colorful medieval buildings, small squares, large plazas, and dramatic churches. The Old Town is squeezed in between the River Salzach and a rocky mountain on which there sits an enormous castle, once the residence of the powerful prince-archbishops of Salzburg. For sightseeing suggestions refer to the itinerary Highlights of Austria by Train & Boat-or Car.

 

DESTINATION I                    GRÜNAU IM ALMTAL

Get an early start this morning so you can enjoy the scenery en route to your first destination. Leaving Salzburg, drive east for about 15 kilometers on the Al-E55 and watch for signs for the Mondsee exit. Just a few minutes south of the autobahn, the Mondsee is the first of the lakes you explore on this itinerary. At the north tip of the lake is the town of Mondsee. Very picturesque with its l7th-century church facing the village square and a main street lined with colorful buildings that descends down to a park along the water’s edge. It is also of romantic note, that the beautiful baroque church with its twin steeples, each decorated with a matching clock, was used for the wedding scene in The Sound of Music. Drive up the road just behind the church and in a few minutes you will see signs for the outdoor museum Mondseer Rauchhaus (Smoking House), located on a small hill behind the church. Here you will find several old, very simple farmhouses that show the early Austrian way of life. The main building is reminiscent of early American frontier log cabins. The rooms are furnished with country antiques including a lovely cradle, interesting wooden hand-carved chairs, wonderful old beds, and wooden tables. The smoke that rose from the open fireplace into the attic loft was used for smoking meats. While in Mondsee sample their delicious Mondsee cheese, named for the lake and the town.

After brief sightseeing in the town of Mondsee, follow the road that hugs the west shore of the lake along Highway 154 (the signs will read “Saint Gilgen” and “Bad Ischl”). Continue south along the lake and in a few minutes the road splits. Follow the signs heading east to the Attersee, a few minutes’ drive away. Upon reaching the lake follow the south shoreline for about 7 kilometers to Weissenbach and then continue north along the east rim of the lake toward Steinbach where a small sign directs you east to Altmünster. As the road climbs the hill, look back to see a gem of a small, onion-domed chapel which completes a “postcard-pretty” picture with the lake as a background. A 20-minute drive first climbs up through lush forest and then drops down the other side of the
pass through small farms and meadows to the Traunsee.

When you reach the Traunsee, turn north, tracing the lake. In a few minutes you arrive at the old town of Gmunden. Visit the Schloss Ort, a tiny castle on a miniature island in the lake. Cross the bridge onto the island and wander around the picturesque castle whose courtyard is surrounded by arcaded balconies. One side of the courtyard leads to a pretty little chapel.

Gmunden makes a nice luncheon stop since there are many restaurants in the town. Before dining, check the ferry schedule at the pier so that you can linger over your lunch, leaving just enough time to board the wonderful old-fashioned ferry that circles the lake. (Usually there is a boat leaving about 1 pm for a three-hour trip.) If the day is nice, the boat ride is highly recommended since the Traunsee is an especially lovely lake-particularly the southern section where the heavily forested hills rise like walls of green from the water’s edge.

After lunch and your “cruise,” leave Gmunden following the small Highway l20 east for about 15 kilometers to Scharnstein where you turn south for about 7 kilometers to Grunau im Almtal. There is a delightful road south from Grünau im Almtal leading through a splendid forest: the prize at the end of the road is a small jewel of a lake, the Almsee. Have lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake and afterwards if time allows follow some tempting paths through the meadows that circle the lake.

 

DESTINATION II                            HALLSTATT

When it is time to leave Grünau im Almtal, retrace your steps to Gmunden, and from there follow the road south along the west bank of the Traunsee for the short drive to Traunkirchen, situated on a small peninsula that gracefully extends into the lake. Then drive on to the south tip of the Traunsee where you leave the lake and continue south following the signs for Bad Ischl, a spa town made famous by Franz-Josef who spent holidays here with his family. The setting of the town is splendid. The Ischl and Traun rivers join in Bad Ischl, creating a loop of water around the town, which is still a popular health resort.

Stop to visit Franz-Josef’s hunting lodge, Kaiservilla, located on the north bank of the Ischl (watch for the signs as you drive into town). Park your car and walk across a bridge to visit the lodge, which is filled with hunting trophies. The house is not elaborate in design or decor, but the gardens are splendid. Continue south from Bad Ischl through the smaller spa town of Bad Goisern and a few minutes later arrive at Steeg, the first town on the north end of the Hallstätter See.

Follow the road as it winds around the west side of the lake and continue a short distance on to Hallstatt.

Of all the scenic places in Austria, none can outshine the amazingly picturesque small village of Hallstatt, whose quaint houses cling to the hillside as it rises steeply from the blue lake. Narrow, alley-wide streets twist their way up the hillside. A small church was built strategically near the edge of the lake, making a gorgeous picture as its pointed steeple reflects in the deep-blue waters. When the weather is calm, the mountains encircling the dark, still waters give a fjord-like beauty to this idyllic scene.

Hallstatt has a population of only about 500, but in spite of its size, there are many things to see. The stellar attraction is the setting itself-the town is built upon a shelf of land that drops down to the lake. The main square is at lake level, but the rest of the town climbs the hill with the houses built along streets that are staircases.

Hallstatt is Austria’s oldest town: excavations show settlement here as far back as 400 B.C. There are two museums in town, and one entry ticket is valid for both. The museums contain natural history exhibits and artifacts from the early salt-mining days. In addition to the museums there are two churches. A lovely one sits on the main square, but the more dramatic is the Roman Catholic Church, reached by a winding staircase from the center of town. Be sure to go inside to see the beautiful altarpiece painted in the l6th century and given to the church by a wealthy wine merchant.

Hallstatt is not only a very picturesque small lakeside town, it is also a wonderful base for interesting side trips. The obvious one is the ferry that departs from the pier to some of the other towns on the lake. This is fun to do, although the lake trips are short. Another trip, just a few kilometers from Hallstatt, is a must-the Salt Mines . For this excursion drive to the nearby town of Lahn where you will see signs to the funicular.

Park your car and take the funicular up the steep incline, where you find at the top a restaurant with a spectacular panorama of the lake and mountains. After a cup of coffee or some lunch, follow the signs to the salt mines. The path leads across a meadow and up a hill-about a ten-minute walk-to the main lounge where you buy a ticket and wait until your tour number is called. Then follow the guide into what looks like a locker room where pajama-like outfits are hanging according to sizes-small, medium, and large. Here you put on loose scrub-suit-like pants and tops over your clothing. After a few laughs you continue with your guide into the tunnel. The guide will probably not speak English, but if you have visited the mining museum in Hallstatt, you will certainly get the general idea of what is being said as you tag along with the group along a route that descends deeper and deeper into the earth.

You will not need an interpreter when you arrive at the gigantic wooden slide worn smooth as velvet over the years, one of those placed at strategic points to speed the miners’ journey underground. Those still young at heart will love the ride, but for the less adventurous, a staircase parallels the slide to the bottom where you again follow the leader as you weave through a labyrinth of tunnels. (You will quickly see why you need your guide.) Before your adventure is over, you will have conquered another slide, seen an underground lake, had an audio-visual lecture on the caves (you probably will not understand a word), and walked for an hour. The tour ends dramatically. The group climbs up on a small train which consists of bench-like cars; then, once all are aboard, the brake is released and the train zips down the incline for about a kilometer and out again into the open air. A true adventure.

Another “must” from Hallstatt is a visit to the Ice Caves, or Dachsteineishöhle. To reach the caves, follow the road around the south end of the lake towards the town of Obertraun. As you near the town, watch for the sign for the road that branches to the right to the Dachsteineishöhle. The name says it all-Dachstein Mountains ice hole. But it is much more: even if caverns are not your “thing,” give these a try-it is a real adventure.

Park in the designated car park by the gondola building, then buy a ticket and wait your turn. There are several choices for ticket purchase since the gondola climbs to various stages of the mountains for the convenience of skiers and hikers. You want the Eishöhle, which will be well marked. When you reach the top, there is about a 20-minute hike up a trail to the ice caves. The walk is a bit strenuous but the path is well maintained and the views as you stop to catch your breath are glorious-you have a bird’s-eye view of the Hallstätter See. When you reach the entrance to the caves, you must wait until the guide arrives-usually a handsome, athletic “outdoorsy” type. When the group is ready, you follow the leader into the cavern. At first it does not seem anything special, just another enormous cave. Be patient though, because as the trail winds deeper into the earth, the walls of rock gradually become walls of ice. You enter a magic kingdom where you are surrounded by translucent, ever-changing, mysterious forms of ice. To enhance the scene, at the most spectacular displays the guide turns on colored lights that fade, then brighten, then shade into rainbow colors.

Another suggested excursion from Hallstatt is a loop that takes you through some beautiful countryside south of town. To do this, drive north for a few minutes and then west for about 10 kilometers on 166 to the town of Gosau. Here a road branches to the south to the spectacularly lovely little lake, Gosausee. Although tiny, this lake is definitely worth a side trip. Rock walls rise straight up from the depths of the lake enclosing the dark-blue waters in a majestic embrace. The mighty peaks of the Dachstein Mountains form a backdrop for this beautiful stage setting. Try to arrive at the lake before 9 am for two reasons-in early morning on a clear day the surface of the lake is like a mirror reflecting the mountains in all their glory, and in early morning the busloads of tourists have not yet arrived. Take a walk around the lake: there is a magnificent trail that will take about one hour to complete.

After visiting the lake, return to Gosau and follow the main road west for about 14 kilometers, watching as the road heads south, still marked 166. The road is narrow but the views are splendid as it follows a beautiful gorge then travels over a low pass for about 24 kilometers to Niedernfritz and then east to Radstadt. Radstadt, built in the 13th century by the archbishops of Radstadt, still maintains its ancient town walls and moats.

From Radstadt continue east on the E-651 for about 20 kilometers to another medieval village, Schladming. During the Middle Ages silver and copper were both mined here.

The Dachstein Massif rises impressively to the north of Schladming. Here is one of Austria’s playgrounds for sports enthusiasts, both winter and summer. Lovely farms dot the lush green fields, mingling with newer chalets and hotels to cater to the skiers. If time allows, take a loop north of the highway to the high Ramsau am Dachstein plateau.

After your side excursion to Ramsau, return to Highway 320 and continue east for approximately 30 kilometers then turn northwest on 145 and then at Bad Aussee turn west on L-701 to complete your loop back to Hallstatt.

If you enjoy being out of doors, and if the weather is kind, there is another beautiful excursion from Hallstatt. From Hallstatt, follow the signs to Bad Aussee. About 5 kilometers east there is a string of lakes: a large lake, the Grundlsee, a medium-sized lake, the Toplitzsee, and a tiny lake, the Kammersee. All make wonderful targets for a long hike, with perhaps a picnic en route.

 

DESTINATION III         WOLFGANGSEE AND FUSCHLSEE

When it’s time to leave Hallstatt, head north to Bad Ischl, then turn west to Strobl. From Strobl it’s only a few kilometers farther to the Wolfgangsee and a few kilometers more to the town of Saint Wolfgang, located on the northern shore. Saint Wolfgang is well worth a visit although in season it is chock-full of tourists.

While in Saint Wolfgang, visit its tiny parish church, splendidly embellished with beautiful works of art. Next, you might want to enjoy lunch on the lakefront terrace of the White Horse Inn (of operatic fame). The ferryboat docks next to the hotel and after dining you can board one of the boats that make a circle trip of the romantic lake. Another option, if it is a sparkling day, take the Schafbergbahn to the summit of the Schafberg, from where you can see a spectacular view that captures thirteen lakes.

Continuing on from Saint Wolfgang, another charming town on the lake shore is the resort town of Saint Gilgen. However, once in Saint Wolfgang, it is important to note that the hills rise so steeply right from the water’s edge just to the north of town, that the road only continues a little further more along its northern shore and ends in the newer hamlet of Ried. Therefore, it is not possible to completely circle the lake by car. To continue on to St. Gilgen, for example, you must backtrack to the main highway and then continue along the south shore of the lake. If you decide to make Saint Wolfgang your base from which to explore this idyllic lake and neighboring towns, you might want to consider some other adventurous options. You can take a ferry from Saint Wolfgang to Saint Gilgen or if you enjoy walking, you can take the ferry or drive from Saint Wolfgang to Ried; hike over the Falkenstein Mountain to Saint Gilgen, and then return by ferry.

Just a half hour’s drive from Saint Wolfgang by car, Saint Gilgen is a beautiful village on the west shore of lake. The town has a delightful lakefront garden and also a picturesque medieval section encircling the main square dominated by a wonderful onion-domed church. Not only was Mozart’s mother born in Saint Gilgen, his sister Nannerl lived here after she was married, so mementos of the Mozart family are everywhere. While in St. Gilgen you might also want to take one of the colorful aerial trams to the top of the mountain for some incredible views and terrain.

Another very pretty lake, small and extremely picturesque, the Fuschlsee is located just beyond the Wolfgangsee as one continues on in the direction of Salzburg. A road only traces its southern shore and access is either from the town of Fuschl nestled on its eastern tip or at Hof  where you will see a wonderful old schloss, the Schloss Fuschl, now converted to a luxury hotel, perched on its eastern tip.

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