When Bee and I were talking about going to Austria, she was far less keen than I was. I know what she was thinking- a place filled with overpriced goods and hordes of tourists doing a “Sound of Music” tour. I, however, had no interest in having the cliched pictures taken of me in front of the Danube River with Vienna in the background. I wanted to see the Austria I saw in movies and experience the Austria I read about in books.
But Austria is super expensive plus we had a limited time and budget so, with this in mind, we set aside one day to explore one town in Austria fully. Never mind that day happened to be the day I landed in Europe after a 10 hour overnight flight… we were encouraged by my dream of seeing the houses and landscapes that, until now, had only existed in my mind.
Bee fetched me from Munich airport and off we drove on the spacious, modern and altogether impressive highways. Green, green and more green was what my eyes feasted on. Farms and forests with the quaintest timber architecture were my view as we drove out of Germany. With the air smelling crisp and fresh, there was not a flower out of place in every German home we passed.
So this is how the first world lives.
After a mere two hours in the car, we were suddenly in Austria. I wasn’t even aware until Bee pointed it out. No border patrol, no passport checks. Wow.
Amidst much heated discussion in the car, we decided to stop for a little while in Salzburg.
We had no plan in mind or any itinerary planned. This was the first time in my life that I was totally underprepared for a trip and it made me feel both uncomfortable but also… liberated!
Salzburg was crazy… everywhere we turned was a tour group following their overzealous guide. People were putting their locks of love on the bridge, bashing people with selfie sticks outside Mozart’s museum and buying a million of these Mozart chocolates (they were very good by the way!).
Don’t get me wrong, Salzburg is beautiful. Many tourists go to Salzburg with “Do-Re-Mi” and Julie Andrews as a pretense, but the truth is that Salzburg is actually alive with the sound of elderly tourists and souvenir shops selling Mozart fridge magnets. If you’re passing through in search of charming old buildings and museums, the Salzburg town does deliver. However, I had no special interest in being swept away by a flood of tour groups so after an hour of walking around and exploring, we headed back in the car.
When I first started researching our Europe trip I only had one goal- to visit a tiny mountain town on the edge of a lake. After extensive search, I finally read about Hallstatt, Austria. After an ancient salt mine dating back to at least the first millennium BC was discovered in the hills above the town, UNESCO awarded Hallstatt World Heritage status, which only served to improve the pretty town’s popularity.
I just hoped it would be less crowded than Salzburg.
Yes, Hallstatt is located pretty far away from any relatively big city in Austria, and it takes 3.5 hours to get there from Vienna or 1.5 hours from Salzburg (by car- I think its a crazy maze of public transportation). And still, plenty of people are rushing to visit it (half of the adverts are written in Chinese. Also, there is a copy of Hallstatt in China now).
The first thing we did (after parking the car in a teeny tiny parking lot- no vehicles allowed on the streets) was find the highest view of Hallstatt. We headed up the funicular, which took us up the mountain to a viewing platform at 360 meters. We paid 16 euros for this return journey but you can pay more if you want a guided tour of the salt mines. You can even hike up and down to this viewpoint, although it would take you some time. As well as the viewing platform this is the starting location for visiting the salt mines, and you will also find a restaurant with views over the lake.
To be honest, I consciously did nothing else in this town except to wander its streets and snap away. In a place as picturesque as this alpine town, doing nothing was surprisingly satisfying. That’s not to say that there is really nothing to do in Hallstatt. Those wishing to pack their itineraries with activities can opt to see the salt caves or ice caves and take a boat ride around the lake. But I preferred to take it easy, just like the village’s 800 other residents.
We headed for a late lunch and stumbled across one of five restaurants in the entire town and ate spätzle (prounounced shpaetzli), which is somewhere between a dumpling and a noodle, made of flour and eggs. Ours was topped with cheese. Dessert was a moist and warm apple strudel (of course). We sat by the lake as swans swam past us… so dreamy!!!
We ate; Bee sipped beer while I enjoyed the scene. What if Fox and I lived here? What if this was our home? Would we sing VonTrapp songs all day and lead lives of carefree ease? I think so.
So…. how did the petite brown girl from Africa end up in this fairytale?
This isn’t a guide to Austria or any must do’s in Hallstatt. This is just my post telling you to go. Skip the tourists and go to Hallstatt. Capture the delightful houses built into the mountain, the glass-like lake, and the amazing mountains in the background. Take a walk and discover landscapes that have attracted mountain climbers, explorers, romantic poets, and painters.
Have you been to Austria?
Where did you go and what did you like?
Let me know in the comments below!