About an hour from Salzburg by car or bus is the stunning Salzkammergut area. It is well worth making the effort to visit this area where a combination of lakes and mountains will take your breath away.
The main places to see are:-
- Wolfgangsee (St Gilgen, St Wolfgang and Strobl)
- Bad Ischl
- Hallstatt and the Five Fingers
- Traunsee and Gmunden
- Bad Aussee and Altausee
- The Dachstein
The Salzkammergut region stretches from Salzburg in the west along the edge of the Alps to Gmunden and south to the peaks of the Dachstein Mountains. It is characterised by its many lakes and pretty villages and stunning alpine scenery. It is a fantastic area for hiking, cycling or just relaxing and taking in the views around its many lakes.
The area gets its name from the fact that salt has been quarried here since the Bronze age and means “Salt Chamber Estate” which derives from the Imperial Salt Chamber, the authority charged with running the precious salt mines of the Habsburg Monarchy. Archaeological findings in the area however show that the Salzkammergut has been settled from about 3800 BC onwards . Numerous salt mines centered around the mining town of Hallstatt date from the Celtic period and these were continued by the Romans. Later, during the time of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Salzkammergut area was a hub of cultured life. The Emperor spent his summer holidays in Bad Ischl in the Kaiservilla, from which he governed his empire in the warmer months.
Fuschlsee is the first lake that you come to travelling from Salzburg. At its eastern end you will catch a glimpse of Schloss Fuschl on the shore of the lake, now a luxury hotel and spa. At its western end is Fuschl am See nestling at the foot of the mountains. The village is quite small, however there is a swimming pool with access to the lake. The sunsets can be spectacular from this vantage point as it sets over the lake and mountains.
The lake is about 4 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide and is so clean that it serves as a water reservoir for the province of Salzburg. It can be walked easily in about 4 hours.
On the opposite side of the main road atFuschl you will see the amazing headquarters of Red Bull with bronze bulls stampeding into the water that surrounds the buildings.
Wolfgangsee is one of the best known lakes in the Salzkammergut and can be reached from Salzburg in about an hour. Around its shores are the resort towns of St Gilgen, St Wolfgang and Strobl. A regular boat service in the summer connects these three towns and is an excellent way to see all three in one day.
St Gilgen is the first town you come to from Salzburg and is a good base to start your tour of Wolfgangsee. The boats call here and can take you on a round trip calling at both St Wolfgang and Strobl. St Gilgen also has a connection to Mozart as his grandfather worked in the town, his mother was born here and his sister Nannerl moved there after her marriage.
If you want a panoramic view of Wolfgansee you can take a cable car from St GIlgen to the top of the Zwolferhorn mountain. From here you can see the whole of the lake and its mountains as well as the mountains to the south of the region.
For information about the boat service on Wolfgansee go to www.wolfgangseeschifffahrt.at
St Wolfgang is the jewel of Wolfgansee sitting at the base of the Schaffberg mountain. It is famous for the “The White Horse Inn” (Hotel Weisses Rossl) the subject of many films based on the operetta. It is a picturesque town with an impressive pilgrimage church that shows just how rich the region became on the mining of salt.
On the outskirts of the town you will find the Schaffberg cog railway that will take you to the top of the Schaffberg mountain. It has been operating since 1893 and takes about 35 minutes to reach the summit. The views from the top are amazing and on a clear day will give you a 360 degree panorama of the Salzkammergut. The railway also featured briefly in the Sound of Music.
Summer operation is from 10 May to 30th September. Trains run from 09:20 to 15:30.
More Information: www.schafbergbahn.at
The quaint village of Strobl is a popular place in the summer as it has easy access to the shoreline and provides opportunities for boating and water skiing.
Mondsee is a pretty town and is easily reached by car from Salzburg. It has a scenic lakeside promenade on the shore of beautiful Lake Mondsee looking out over the Salzkammergut mountains and the stunning Drachenwand” (“dragon wall”) cliffs.
In the town itself you have a picturesque market square and the magnificent Abbey Church of St Michael. The church was part of one of the most significant monasteries in Austria and was founded in 748. It is famous for its ornate seven-part skeleton filled alter piece that includes the bones of Abbot Konrad who was killed in 1145 defending the monastery from noblemen who wished to repossess the land. His jewel-encrusted skeleton now sits with a golden halo a top the altar.
For Sound of Music fans, the church was used as the location for the wedding scene when Maria married Captain Von Trapp.
At the heart of the Salzkammergut is the spa town of Bad Ischl. A prosperous trading centre for salt for centuries, it became famous as a spa in the early 19th century when it was discovered that the saline from the nearby mines helped to treat rheumatic disorders.
Bad Ischl was a favourite of Emperor Fanz-Joseph 1 and it is here that he built the Kasiervilla where he spent the summer. A dubious claim to fame is that was in his office in the Kaiservilla that Franz-Joseph signed the declaration of war on Serbia in 1914 that escalated into World War One.
Close to Bad Ischl is the Katrin Cable Car that takes you to the summit of the Katrin mountain. From here you have panoramic views over Bad Ischl and the surrounding mountains. There are hiking trails from the summit of the cable car or if you prefer, take in the views from the sun terrace!
More Information: www.katrinseilbahn.com
Hallstatt is regarded as the prettiest village in the Salzkammergut and one of the oldest towns in Austria. It is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and is located in a stunning position squeezed between the steep forested mountains and the beautiful Hattersee lake.
Due to its position Hallstatt can be quite difficult to get to (the road only was opened in 1890) particularly in the summer when it is extremely busy. You should allow 1.5 hours from Salzburg by car. Alternatively, you can take the train from Salzburg to Hallstatt which takes just over 2 hours. As the station is on the opposite side of the lake to the village you will need to also take a ferry. However you get there it is well worth it.
Archaeological finds in the area suggest that people have settled in Hallstatt since 1200BC with salt mining from the 8th century BC. In the shop ** you can see the foundations of **. Also of interest is the 16th century “Beinhaus” or “bone house”. Due to the lack of space for an extensive cemetery, graves had to be recycled frequently and the bones exhumed and stored in the Beinhaus. You can see these in the Beinhaus which is open to visitors located next to the parish church.
In addition to the village itself there is a salt mine in the mountain above reached by a funicular railway. Even if you don’t want to go into the salt mine, the view from the viewing platform 350m above the village is amazing.
The mine is open daily from 3rd Feb 2018 to 31st December
More information: www.salzwelten.at/en/hallstatt
The Five Fingers
If you have a good head for heights and want to see stunning views over the Hallstattersee and the surrounding mountains then head for the Five Fingers. The five viewing platforms extend 4m from the Krippenstein mountain side with a 400m sheer drop to the valley floor below!
Some websites give the impression that the Five Fingers is in Hallstatt whereas it is about 5 miles away in Obertraun.
To get to the Five Fingers you need to take the Krippenstein cable car from the valley station in Obertraun. The cable car is in 2 sections and then it is about a 20 minute walk to the viewing platforms. This is a fairly easy hike and should be OK for most able people and children. Make sure that you allow enough time to get back to the cable car for the last descent of the day!
More information: www.dachstein-salzkammergut.com/
Traunsee and Gmunden
Gmunden is a pretty town at the top of Lake Traunsee and is famous for its ceramics that incorporate traditional designs. There has been a settlement here since the 6th century with the town receiving its charter in the 11th century. It has a military connection with the building of battleships in the 17th Century and has served as an important military base.
Although Gmunden is regarded as a tourist town it is also a summer health resort owing to its variety of brine and salt related treatments available.
Sights to see include the city hall (“Rathaus”) which has a Glockenspiel and nearby is Schloss Orth which is on an island connected by a bridge. The paddle steamer Gisela is based in the harbour and is one of the world’s oldest steamers, built in 1871 . Gisela is connected to royalty as it was used both by Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Franz Josef, who had his summer home in Bad Ischl.
Bad Aussee and Altaussee
The small town of Altaussee is situated by the Lake Altausseer See and is a popular spa town. The town dates from the 12th century but archaeological excavations have shown that the Romans were also here. As is usual for Salzkammergut towns it thrived in the middle ages with the salt mining industry.
Altaussee really became a tourist destination in the 19th century with wealthy aristocrats from Vienna flocked to the Salzkammergut for “Sommerfrische” vacations.
One of the main events in Altausee is the Narzissenfest, or Daffodil Festival, that attracts thousands of people every year. The festival lasts for four days and involves a “Daffodil Queen” and a parade with floats covered in daffodils and other flowers. This is a great opportunity to see the local people in their local Aussee Tracht ( traditional costumes).
Not far from Bad Aussee is another beautiful lake, Grundlsee. A lovely place to swim and enjoy the alpine scenery.
Gosau and Gosausee Lakes
The village of Gosau can be found south of Bad Ischl and is spread out along the valley following the course of the Gosaubach river. It is popular all year round both for hiking and skiing in the forested mountains of the Dachstein region. The main attraction however has to be the lakes above the village which are in the most spectacular setting flanked by the jagged peaks of the Gossau Dolomites and at the head of the lakes, the mighty Dachstein glacier.
There are actually two lakes here, the Vorderer (front) Gosausee and the Hinterer (back) Gosausee. The Vorderer Gosausee has very clear water and is a popular destination for divers. On a calm day it is a photographer’s paradise where you can capture the reflection of the glacier in the lake.
It is possible to walk around the lakes but for really impressive hikes take the cable car up into the hills with amazing views of the lakes and mountains.
The Dachstein is one of the highest mountains in the Salzkammergut at 2995 metres high and a very spectacular sight – especially if viewed from Lake Gosausee.
Approaching the mountain range from the north at Obertraun there are amazing ice caves, the Mammuthöhle (Mammoth Cave) and the Rieseneishöhle (Giant Ice Cave) and the Five Fingers viewing platform. From the south near to Ramsau, a cable car takes you to the plateau at the summit, with a viewing platform that give you one of Austria’s best panoramas.