Nestled between the Hallstatter See and some seriously tall mountains in upper Austria is the little hamlet of Hallstatt, which by the way doesn’t actually mean hell. Rather, it refers to a time in the early Iron Age. Quite contrary to what its name suggests, Hallstatt is postcard-picture perfect. In fact, the Austrian tourist board uses images of the village regularly on its promotional material.
The town’s history dates back some 4,500 years and it owes its existence to a salt mine high in the hills. It was, until the early 1920s, inaccessible via road and only reachable through a ferry crossing from the other side of the lake, which by the way is still in existence today.
You will be pleased to hear that Stephanie, the name of the vessel that dutifully ferries passengers across the lake, is in fact relatively new and certainly does not pre-date the 1920s. The ferry point today is reached by a railway service that runs from Attnung-Pucheim to Obertraun and we would recommend the trip to Hallstatt this way.
The alternative is via road and you actually have to park outside of the town and take a shuttle to the main bus point to join the day-trip masses… a special kind of ‘hell’.
Try to reach Hallstatt ferry point (it’s not part of your train ticket – €2,50 per adult per way) in the morning or as close to midday as possible. The sun shines on the whole village, if the weather is good, in the morning, ensuring some fantastic photography as you are cross the lake.
Hemmed in by a mountain and lake, Hallstatt is long and centered around an old market place. If you’ve visited Alpine ski resorts before, you’ll be reminded of their architecture and aspect.
The main road, that only a select few can use, runs along the lakefront and is the focal point for all the bars, cafes and shops. At one end is the ferry point, about 50m from the main market square, a great lunch venue, and from the other end, probably 2km away, is where the bus point is. There are attractions all along the lakefront. Just ensure you know where your overnight accommodation is and if you are not on the lake front, best ensure your luggage has wheels and you don’t suffer from any heart issues.
Pride of place on the market square is the Hotel See Gruner Baum. A grand old establishment that has kept up with the times and used to be a favourite of famed author Agatha Christie. Decked with images of yesteryear, the hotel is not the cheapest, but definitely one of the best in the village and the restaurant offers a top-drawer meal. Its lake-side verandah offers a relaxed setting with ladders that drop into the lake for swimming. Don’t forget to bring your swimming costume… the water is clean and clear, and would you believe warmer than you’d imagine (in summer).
Unless you’re up for the cable car ride to the old salt mine, and trips to the ice cave and museum, all of which are inferior to their bigger brothers in Salzburg, a one-night stay will certainly suffice.
We used the time to explore, eat, drink (there is a good local beer called Das Bier) and shop. Most trinkets you can purchase are centered around wood (inspired by the forest setting) and salt. If you stay overnight, the tourist busses will eventually leave and you can enjoy Hallstatt in peace and quiet.
We would definitely recommend a visit to this quaint village. If you have to do it as part of a day trip, so be it, but we will strongly recommend a one-night stay when commuting between Salzburg and Vienna. It will show you a different side of Austria.