Set aside from the grandeur and the classic Viennese coffee and Sachertorte of the Austrian capital, nestled within the Salzkammergut mountains is the early Iron Age town of Hallstatt. This lakeside market town is home to one of the world’s oldest salt mines, and the Hallstattersee lake itself is the starting point for the world’s oldest industrial pipeline, which is operational to this date. Sounds like a very mundane run-of-the-mill industrial town, but do not let the initial description of the place deceive you. Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and having now become one of the most visited destinations, was recently popularised as the most Instagrammable town in the world.
Eager to see what the hype is all about, we boarded a train to Hallstatt from Vienna early in the morning. A late January winter’s day saw our view from the train transition from lush green meadows to an endless white carpet of fresh snow from last night as we entered the Salzkammergut mountainous region. We passed through the lake connected to the Hallstattersee, known as Ebensee, which was picturesque in itself, and got us even more excited for what was to come ahead. Cutting straight ahead to a moment further in the day, we were on a ferry on the lake heading towards this much-acclaimed town, and soon we were at the very spot known for arguably the most famous picture in the world. Apart from the lovely view of the town and the lake, Hallstatt have also organised tours of the old Salt Mines, and erected a viewing platform at the top of the mountain called Five Fingers for a panoramic view of the lake and beyond. We could not do either of those things because of the snowy season and erratic winds at the top of the mountain, but experiencing Hallstatt in the snow was something else in its own right, which is why the place is so versatile and can be visited in any season for a myriad of views.
Weather cut our time short in Hallstatt, but to make the most of our day, we travelled further south to a place that is less frequented by international tourists, but remains a popular skiing destination for the locals. The same train that brought us from Vienna to Hallstatt took us further down the route to the town of Attnang-Puchheim, where we changed to a much smaller train towards the ski-town of Schladming. A former mining town, Schladming has hosted multiple World Ski Championships and is a popular winter destination, and having spoken to several Europeans, I was shocked to see the amount of people that actively pursue skiing as a hobby. This Slav-Germanic town hosts the ropeway to our destination, Ramsau am Dachstein, a point atop the Dachstein Glacier. Ramsau am Dachstein is also a popular hiking destination during non-winter months, for all you trekking enthusiasts out there. At the top, it was quite crowded, due to the fact that people are crazy about skiing and the weather was perfect for it. We headed straight for the best attraction, the ‘Treppe ins Nichts’, which translates to Stairway to Nothingness, a viewpoint designed to give a 360 degree view of the entire Dachstein mountain range and beyond from over nine thousand feet above sea level. Surrounded by a sea of white with skiers looking like ants from above, you’ll lose yourself in the view so much so that it’ll make you forget that you’re freezing in negative temperatures. It made our long journey from the North-West of Austria into the Central parts of the country absolutely worthwhile. Following this, we visited the other attraction atop the glacier, the Dachstein Ice Caves. Present here are various sculptures of ancient and modern marvels made purely of ice, a nice place to visit. But before heading back down, we could not help ourselves but go back to the Stiarway for some more pictures and just to take in the scintillating spectacle that beheld us.
Austria is a very diverse country. The same places have different things to offer depending on the season you visit, and it cannot be experienced fully in just one trip, and I hope to revisit the country soon!