Hallstatt travel guide
Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria, is an extremely picturesque village hewn into a tree-clad hillside on the shores of the pellucid waters of Halstatter See Lake. Sandwiched between the lake and the Dachstein Alps, this small town is one of Austria’s true gems as our Halstatt travel guide will reveal. It was claimed as a UNESCO cultural world heritage site in 1996 and takes its name from the Celtic word for salt (hall) because of the rich salt mines in the area. Thanks to these, Hallstatt is one of the earliest known places of human settlement.
It was once only accessible by water as the town, crammed into every available nook and cranny, did not allow for the luxury of roads and local residents had to reach each other’s houses via narrow passageways weaving in and out of the dwellings and the side of the mountain. It is exactly this, of course, which adds to the town’s great charm and thriving tourism industry.
Lack of land made burial grounds a problem as you will discover when you visit the rather beautiful Catholic church high on the hillside above the town. Originally built in 1320, this was replaced in the 15th century by the current gothic style building. Next to this is a tiny cemetery, far too small for the community it serves, so it does not long remain the resting place for its inhabitants. The bodies are exhumed to make way for new ones and the skulls are cleaned, decorated in floral motifs, named and dated and then placed in the charnel house next door. Curious and slightly macabre, this is nonetheless fascinating to see.
The famous salzwelten, or salt mine, is another place that should not be neglected, not least because it is one of the world’s oldest. It can be accessed by funicular railway (or on foot for the truly hardy) and apart from the spectacular views the vantage point provides, the mine itself is an unforgettable experience. The mine goes 200 metres into the mountain, partly down a 64 foot wooden slide down which you can descend at speeds up to 30 mph. It was in these mines that a perfectly preserved body of a prehistoric minor was discovered in the 18th century and it was this find which gave the place its popular nickname.
There is also the spectacular ice cave at nearby Obertraun which is well worth the effort of a cable car ride and hike to reach. At first you pass calcite formations and then as you go deeper you enter a wonderland of ice and all totally natural. Be warned, however, appropriate clothing must be worn as the root is often slippery and the temperatures dip well below freezing.
There are museums, beautiful walks, water sports and of course the truly delightful old town with its colourful houses sparkling in the clear, crisp air all waiting to be explored in Hallstatt. You will not need to spend long there to understand why it is a prized World Heritage Site.