Just a month back I had felt the warmest glow of the Sun, even as the speck-free glass played mediator between the summer winds and me. And just like that I felt myself reminiscing the freshly laid out carpet of snow, which made me crave for an Alpine tryst again. Hallstatt, you sang a song of stealth and I readily succumbed. And I am sure you will see me again in another season when the boats hit the lake and a patchwork of hues change the way you look.
HALLSTATT IS SURREAL IN DRAPES OF WHITE MUSLIN
The colors of this village jump at you, when you turn the pages in a storybook on Austria. But little do you know that winter will hand write a whole new tale. For me it really started with the journey from Salzburg and I would totally recommend you experience it by road and rail. Because from the moment the bus left the city, the textured and smoothly evened-out, open landscape with painted houses sprinkled around it, hand crafted my memories. The road took me through little towns that I knew I needed to sleepover in the next time. Fuschl, St. Gilgen, Strobl, Aigen with the resting waters of the Wolfgangsee as backdrop.
Alighting from the bus near Bad Ischl station meant I had just 10-15 minutes before the train left for the final stopover at Hallstatt. My mental notes just kept galloping, as I was overwhelmed by the way nature had created a little box of pictures simply to stun and awe me. I found one more pretty tiny stopover. Bad Aussee.
A few halts later I reached Hallstatt station, but the few steps to the ferry were filled with laughs and howls. The snow rather more ice was slippery and walking down while soaking in the first glimpse of Hallstatter See (Lake Hallstatter) got me looking silly (yes, I slipped and almost fell a couple of times).
MIST PLAYS TRUANT TO REVEAL A VILLAGE WITH 800 RESIDENTS
That’s it. Just a handful of people live in this compact village but if you have come this far spending 2 nights or even a week is a wildly good idea. The mesmerizing feeling though, starts as the boat that takes you across the Lake gets closer to the middle. You have to turn around in a childlike way to know what being in a dream world is like. You’ll feel it with the soft translucent misty gray creating a play to reveal and hide the mountains. You’ll feel it in the rested colors of winter and just that right nip in the air. I remember hugging my backpack with greater intensity as if it held the fuel of a warm embrace.
I don’t know if I can ever do justice to bringing the moment alive, but here are the earliest grabs from the exquisite thread of memories.
(This fairytale like structure is Schloss Grub and is very close to the Obertraun village. Once a castle and now privately owned as a house, I only saw it from a distance when on the boat between the station and the village. It’s beautiful isn’t it!!)
WHITE SALT, WHITE SNOW AND OTHER STORIES TO EXPERIENCE
Upper Austria carries in it tons of tiny tales like Hallstatt that have built the land. Salt seen as precious as gold was responsible for the region’s prosperity. The Celts & Romans who came later were all miners. Salzkammergut derives its name from this white gold and etched on the walls of Hallstatt is an ode to that.
Of course the snow and its stubborn presence restricts the width of all you can do as a traveler, but it gives a fresh take on a quaint village often shot in summer colors. Given the biting cold and possibility of snowfall, this December surprise left me with a series of shorter impressions and made me slow down so I could savor it.
WALK / TINY CLIMBS & DROPS
Whether you’re staying over or heading out with the last boat, this village is best when you suddenly see a done up window or a random street that is dotted with miniatures. As much as the vast landscape is mesmerizing the twists and uphill climbs give you the details of Hallstatt. Hidden as they are, it seems like they are drawing you to find your moment bit by bit. In one of these little turns I found a story celebrating women, in the role they played during the salt mining period of the land. It is a story of resolute drive and strength to ensure the family thrived as much because of their effort
(Dedicated to the salt women, called the Kerntragerweiber. They carried the rock salt down from the mountain to the valley. This plaque is for the women who risked their lives and played an important role in society then to supplement their husband’s income.
You can see it on the street, which has Dr. Friedrich Morton’s house earlier called Obere Weg or Upper Path. He founded the botanical and meteorological station way back in 1920s)
Don’t miss the way the houses are laid out almost in terraces or steps perhaps to ensure that they all can live by the water source.
SEE / HISTORY AS YOU TRACE ITS ROOTS
The churches are testimony to what shaped it eventually but there is the museum, a small one, to expand where it all started. In the winters it closes by 3.00 PM, so head there first before the other sights lock you in and you forget. One of the highlights of this beautiful, almost painted to life land is spending time just meandering. And while you are at it check out the stores with salt-based products. I had heard of exotic naturals, ocean inspired and even lavender infused, but salt was a new one.
(The museum had me at time travel. Here you will find the history of this land from the salt mining era that dates back several millennia, to the culture and even the geographical evolution)
(A Catholic Church, which houses a two-winged altar and even a Bone House with designs on skulls. This was used by both Catholic & Protestants during the reformation period but was in existence as a smaller structure since the 12th century)
(This famous landmark of Hallstatt is in fact a neo- Gothic Protestant church upgraded with a tower and bells in the 19th Century. In such a small village the story of the fight between Protestants & Catholics says much about the way religion has for years dominated our lives.
Hardworking Salt miners…all of them were divided by this when the movement began 400 years ago, till Emperor Franz Josef I decided to treat both paths as equal in the 1800s)
(City Centre or Market Square. It was the convergence point for all trade and even for me after all the climbing and walking this was the ‘feet up’ place. Restaurants and coffee shops will invite you to sit and stare. I was there in the Christmas month so while the colorful buildings bathed in snow was beautiful I missed the Holy Trinity fountain that was covered / protected.
Stone houses make up much of the square & it replaced the timber houses that existed before the fire in the city center in the mid-1700s)
As if the capture of the steep spires and its tumultuous stories aren’t enough, you can go up the funicular too and get a breath taking view of the region
ADMIRE / THE LAKE SIDE
Just pause to stare into the mountains and well in the summers watch the swans as they create a ripple. I walked to the restaurant right at the end of village to have lunch and finished with a winter drink Glühwein to keep me from freezing. The reflections and absolute stillness of the Hallstätter See is calming & romantic. Yet I felt the carpets of snow simply made every color in the village come so vibrantly alive. The starkness of the Dachstein mountain range against the silver gray waters at winter is in contrast to the summer energy. And they embrace the lake tightly, giving you a fjord like feeling. I had another of those experiences in the Istrian region of Croatia just a couple of months back.
PHOTO VANTAGE POINT
There are about 6 points I can tell you about that’ll give you amazing views
✪ Go up the funicular to the Rudolf Tower for a fab aerial capture of Hallstatt, the lake and the mountain range
✪ The boat ride from the station is the best if you ask me OR then if you rent a boat for a 1 hour lake tour, you’ll get the same feel
✪ Once you alight from the boat, walk straight ahead and up to the Catholic Church to get another view with the iconic steeple & colors of the Protestant worship place and the lake ofcourse
✪ From the boat drop off point a 10-15 mins. walk to the right, as well as the longish walk till the end on the left side, gets you some great views of the village.
✪ As also once you start climbing up the streets. Do make it point to glance over your shoulder. You’ll catch many picture perfect frames
I have scribbled in hiking trails for my next visit. I read that Echern Valley is where several Austrian artists found their inspiration. Not to forget the other paint book like villages and the Dachstein Ice cave.
I hope you enjoyed reading it, like I enjoyed re-living it. I am still a fan of the winters for the journey and the magnificence of the silver mountains. I have the fondest memories of Christmas love-infused warm glugs and apple strudel. But I hope someday soon I do a spring visit and share another shade of this unforgettable, pretty fairy tale village
(If you enjoyed the pictures here, drop by my Pebblewalks Instagram page and join me as I tell you many visual stories from my travels into small villages & towns)