We drove part of the way to Hallstatt from Budapest after the race, stopping in the small village of Gmunden to stay in an Airbnb room for the night. Gmunden turned out to be very pretty itself, so we spent part of the morning walking around town and having breakfast at a little place with a view of the lake. On the way out of town we pulled over alongside the lake to see the swans & stick our feet in the water. Gmunden and Hallstatt are in the Salzkammergut lake region of Austria, which is one of the most beautiful areas in Austria (though from what we have seen the entire country is gorgeous). It is one of the oldest villages in Austria (thanks to the salt mined from deep within the mountains) and is arguably the most photographed… which is totally understandable when you see this perfect village squeezed in between the lake and the mountains. Actually, there was a Hallstatt before there was even a Rome. How much before Rome you may ask? The first recorded settlement in Hallstatt is from 5000BC!
Once we found a parking spot (which can be tricky since this is a VERY popular little village to visit) we started a free walking tour I’d found online. The village has less than 1000 inhabitants and on the day we were there I would guess there were about double that in tourists. First we took the funicular up 855 meters to the world heritage view point where you can see several villages around the lake, a castle across the way, and of course the mountains you are surrounded by. Sadly we only have one day in Hallstatt so we didn’t have an extra 4 hours (or the proper winter weather clothes) needed to tour the salt mine, but it is supposed to be really interesting. After taking in the view we took the funicular back down and started our stroll through town. The tightly stacked timber homes have beautiful carvings and many are perched right over the lake which provided the residents with direct lake access.
We didn’t make it far before we were ready for some lunch – so we squeezed in with another couple who had a table right next to the lake. Not a bad view to have while eating your schnitzel and kartoffeln! As we walked through town we went through the Marktplatz and checked out several shops specializing in everything made from salt. After a quick walk through of the protestant church we headed to the dock to wait for our ferry. We were just taking it for a ride around the lake and back to our starting point – but it was so worth it to get the view of town from the water. The locals say that an hour on the lake adds a year to your life.. so we have an extra 9 months!
Next we headed up the winding path to the Pfarrkirche (the Catholic Church in town). It is built up on the mountain side providing its small cemetery with a beautiful view of the lake. There is only room 100 graves (they are almost on top of each over), but each one is decorated with its own little flower garden. Due to the lack of land and the Church’s stance on cremation (up until recently) over the years 1200 bodies have been exhumed (10 to 15 years after they died) and moved to the Bone house in Michael’s Chapel. In 1720 the tradition started of decorating the skulls with panted flowers and ivy and later expanded to their names, the dates they lived, etc. Overall it was kind of creepy in there! We finished we walked back down to street level and the last 300 meters out the classic village view point. Most people have probably seen pictures or paintings of this view and just don’t realize it is Hallstatt; even our favorite sushi place back home in Greenville has a painting of this view hanging on its walls. Looking back Hallstatt is one of my favorite places we have visited so far! When we finished up in Hallstatt we drove on to Salzburg which was about an hour away.
A side note about the swans: The swans were imported here during the 1860’s when Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Sisi started to visit on annual retreats. Sisi, like her cousin Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, had a borderline obsession with swans.