It’s a place known for its beauty and not by its name. A village in the cliffs whose steepled silhouette is perfectly composed between forested mountains and a shimmering lake. This is Hallstatt, where we headed for a weekend getaway to celebrate our one-year anniversary.
I can’t help but sound like a dreamy romantic when I recount my first impressions. The crisp air filling my lungs, the stillness of the Alpine waters, the majesty of the mountains. It probably looked like this hundreds of years ago. I just love when a place leaves you feeling like a blip in time and space, full of wonder and at a loss for words.
Located in the Salzkammergut region in Upper Austria, Hallstatt on the Hallstättersee makes for a worthwhile side trip from either Salzburg or Vienna, or as an accompaniment to a sporting vacation in the Dachstein mountains. The village has existed as a salt mining settlement since the Iron Age; you can visit the salt mine, ice caves, and the heritage museum to learn about its rich past. When paired with a scenic hike or boat ride, an overnight stay offers history, culture, and nature at a relaxing pace.
We stayed across the lake, 10 km away in the village of Obertraun. Rather than take the bus into Hallstatt, we opted to walk the paved way that curves around Lake Hallstatt directly into the village. Upon our arrival, we learned that November is still considered the off-season and that most things were closed: the funicular up the Salzberg mountain, the salt mine, the Bone House, and several shops and restaurants. Oops, we didn’t do our research. Rookie mistake.
Not that it mattered. Feeling liberated from our list of “things to do,” we were happy to experience Hallstatt in its essence, a bit sleepy but nonetheless charming. In fact, I spotted a cringeworthy sign advertising dirndl rentals (Take a photo wearing a traditional Austrian dress!) and was very grateful that we had dodged the December flock of tourists. We spent our time walking around, savoring the views and architecture without missing any of the distractions.
The highlight of our visit was hiking 855 meters up the Salzberg mountain, accessible from a trail directly behind the main square. From a lookout point at the Rudolf’s Tower, we were treated with a spectacular panorama, the delicious reward for an hour’s ascent and our tired legs.