Hallstatt & Lake Hallstätter See – The picturesque village of Hallstatt has an important history which spans 4500 years. The area around the Hallstätter See, surrounded by the peaks of the Dachstein mountain range, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, because of both its historical importance and outstanding natural beauty. From Hallstatt, it is possible to take a cable car to the Salzbergwerk, the world’s oldest salt works. In the town itself, a covered flight of steps leads up to the Pfarrkirche Mariä Himmelfahrt, the parish church of the Assumption, with its remarkable 16th-century altarpiece. There is a pleasant ramble to be enjoyed, the Ostuferwanderweg, which follows the eastern shores of Hallstätter See. A further 5km (3.1mi) along the lake will lead you to Obertraun, which is the nearest settlement to the Dachstein Ice Caves.

Dachstein Caves – Millions of years old, the underground wonders of the three Dachstein Caves are one of the Alps’ most fascinating attractions. The giant cave is, as the name suggests, enormous and stretches out up to 80km (50mi) in places. It is naturally cold here, so do wrap up warm. The extensive Mammuthöhle, or Mammoth Cave, is less icy, but equally fascinating, and the Koppenbrüller Cave lies in the valley, with a number of streams running through it. http://www.dachstein-salzkammergut.com/en/

Bad Ischl – This spa resort has an interesting history. Believing they were infertile, Archduke Franz Karl (who died in 1878) and Sophie of Bavaria drank the salt waters of Bad Ischl and their supposed sterility was cured. Their offsprings, who became known as the “salt children”, included Emperor Franz Josef I (1830-1916), the first born son. He in turn had an ongoing love affair with this resort. It was here that he met his beloved wife Elisabeth (Sissi) and the family spent their summers living in a holiday home here from 1854 to 1914. The ‘Kaiservilla’ can be visited by guided tour. The area is also remarkable for being the place where Franz Josef signed the 1914 declaration of war against Serbia, which eventually led to World War I. The desk and pen used to seal this fateful deal are still on display today.

Bad Ischl used to be recognised as the “secret capital” of the powerful Austria-Hungarian Empire. The atmosphere here is still somewhat refined and old-fashioned. It’s a pleasant place to wander around, admiring the many Biedermeier-style buildings; a stroll along the Esplanade will take you to the city museum, which can tell you all about the local history and culture. For longer walks, the council provides a helpful ‘walks and rambles’ leaflet, which is available from the tourist office. There are also a number of guided walks on offer.

Another of the resort’s fans was Franz Lehár (1870-1948), the celebrated composer of light operas. Memorabilia of his stay here and his work are found in his former home, which is now a museum and open to the public.

Lake Mondsee – The warm waters of this stunning lake and its proximity to Salzburg (30km/19 mi away) make it a popular beauty spot with both daytrippers and watersports enthusiasts. The water temperature here often reaches a balmy 28°C, making it one of the warmest in the Salzkammergut.

There is an interesting story behind the naming of this lake, and the convent which sits on its shores. According to legend, the Bavarian Duke Odilo was out on a night-time hunting trip and, momentarily trapped by darkness, it was only the sudden appearance of the full moon that saved him from falling into a lake. Paying homage to his narrow escape, he built a convent in the year 748, and both, the village with the convent and also the lake, were named ‘Mondsee’, which translates as ‘lake of the moon’.

Up on the northern tip of the lake, the church of the oldest Benedictine house in Upper Austria is also one of Mondsee’s biggest attractions.

Lake Mondsee is surrounded by alpine scenery, including the bare rock of the “Drachenwand” (“dragon wall cliffs”; 1,176m/3,858ft). There are many scenic walking trails to explore, as well as the ‘Drachenwand Klettersteig’ (via ferrata route; graded medium).

The Pilgrim’s Way Walk – This historic path follows the western shore of Lake Wolfgangsee, connecting the villages of St. Gilgen and St. Wolfgang. In days gone by, pilgrims used this path to pay homage to St. Wolfgang, the bishop who, according to legend, founded the village church by throwing his axe from the nearby Falkenstein hill into the valley below and choosing to build on the place where it landed.

You need to allow half a day for this walk. Route maps are available from the tourist offices in both St. Wolfgang and St. Gilgen.

The path begins at Furberg, near St. Gilgen, rising into the Falkenstein (795m/2,608ft) before continuing through the village of Reid to St. Wolfgang.  The walk is fairly easy (besides one steep climb to the top – but remember, many pilgrims completed it with iron rings around their neck for penance!). There are many points of interest on the route, including a stone that many believe bears the marks of the St. Wolfgang’s buttocks. It was said to have been softened in a miracle by God, so that the saint could rest his aching limbs.

History & Culture

Celtic Occupation & Salt Mining – The village of Hallstatt takes its name from hall, the Celtic word for salt, or “white gold” as it is sometimes referred to. The Celts were the first to discover the prosperous industry of salt mining, in around 4,500 BC.

High above the village of Hallstatt lies the world’s oldest known salt mine. Archaeological artifacts which were found in the area date back to 5,000 BC.

Around 1840, a large prehistoric burial site was also unearthed close to the cave entrance, containing more than 1,000 graves. There were indications, in this discovery, that when people died in this era, they were buried alongside a range of pottery, bronze, iron weaponry and food items. Archaeologists have also deduced that the salt miners of the period were using iron picks. Other burial grounds were subsequently discovered throughout Austria, the Rhine Valley, France and northern Spain, suggesting that an iron-bearing Celtic culture was widespread throughout Europe between 5 and 7 BC.

Many of the relics have been moved to the museums of Salzburg and Vienna, but the local archaeological museum is still well worth a visit.

1734 saw the discovery of a preserved salt miner’s corpse, in the salt deposits. Modern records cite that his body was ‘pressed flat and tightly grown into the rock. Clothing and tools were quite strange but well preserved’. This story of the presumed prehistoric ‘Man in Salt’ is told to all visitors taking a tour of the salt mines.

The salt mines at Hallstatt, Bad Ischl and Altaussee are still operational. Salt mining is a drawn-out process: it takes 10 to 15 years for the brine to be saturated enough to make extraction economical. Only 10% of the mined produce is turned into table salt; the vast majority is used for industrial purposes. Guided tours are available at all three mines.

Maria von Trapp
 
The hills are alive…Not many people know it, but Maria von Trapp, the main character in the world-famous musical, The Sound of Music, was based on a real character.

Maria Augusta Kutschera entered the world on 26 January, 1905 in dramatic fashion – on a train destined for Vienna. Maria’s mother passed away just two years later and her father abandoned her to the care of an elderly cousin. Maria grew up as an atheist and socialist who thought religion was nonsense. Yet one fateful day, when she accidentally stumbled upon a Palm Sunday service at the State Teachers’ College of Progressive Education and heard the words of the Jesuit priest, Father Kronseder, she was a convert.

After graduation, Maria joined the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg. At the convent she did struggle with the life of rules, regulations and discipline, but was nonetheless devoted and determined to make it as a nun.

However, it was not only her upbringing which made it hard for Maria to conform. Her health began to suffer as a result of the strict regime. Therefore, when she was approached by retired naval Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp to be a teacher for his sick daughter, she jumped at the opportunity. Maria struck up a bond with the Captain’s six other children. The Captain also ended up falling for her.

Maria’s love for von Trapp was not fully reciprocated when he proposed, but her attachment to his children swayed her decision.

Maria and Georg were wed on 26 November, 1927 and went on to have three children together, Rosmarie, Eleonore, and Johannes. During the 1930s the Great Depression hit, and Maria was forced to let go the housekeeping staff and rent out some of their rooms. She sought creative ideas for bringing in more cash and turned to her family’s talent for singing. The children could sing interchangeable parts: tenor, alto or soprano. However, her husband Georg felt protective of his brood and was not entirely comfortable with them performing on stage. In spite of his reluctance, they pushed ahead and even claimed first prize in the 1936 Salzburg Music Festival before embarking on a tour throughout Europe.

In 1938, Nazi occupation extended to Salzburg and Georg was approached about joining the Nazi regime, which he refused. Instead, he headed for Italy with his family, his musical conductor Reverend Franz Wasner and his secretary Martha Zochbauer, where the clan reformed as a singing group. Following stints in London and Scandinavia, the von Trapps spent several months in New York.

The family stayed in America and during the 1940s lived on a farm in Stowe, Vermont and ran a music camp, encouraging others to take up singing. They also applied for US citizenship. Georg passed away in 1947 and was buried on their farm. A year later, his children obtained their US citizenship. The family stopped touring in 1955 and Maria and some of the children took a missionary trip to New Guinea, before returning to their lodge in the US.

Maria was encouraged by a friend to write an autobiography and The Story of the Trapp Family Singers released in 1949. It wasn’t long before some German producers snapped up the rights to her life story and went on to produce Die Trapp-Familie (1956), and Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958).

The rights were then passed on to musical directors Rodgers and Hammerstein, who brought the book to life in a Broadway musical, which opened on 16 November, 1959 – the first of 1,443 performances. The von Trapp family received few royalties from the production.

The Movie
The film version of The Sound of Music, another Rodgers and Hammerstein production, was released in 1965, starring Julie Andrews as Maria. The real von Trapp family visited the set during filming and Maria and her daughter were persuaded to join one scene (where Julie sings ‘I have confidence’) as extras.

The Sound of Music became a huge hit both in the US and Europe, and it became the second highest grossing film in history, also winning several prestigious industry awards: Oscars, Golden Globes and Tonys. The family were not best pleased by the film’s interpretation of Georg von Trapp, who came across as rather cold and detached. In reality he was kind and supportive of his family’s pursuits.

Kidney failure claimed Maria’s life in 1987. She was buried alongside Georg and his daughter Martina, who had passed away in 1951.

Geography, Flora & Fauna

Hoher Dachstein is the highest peak in the Dachstein massif, standing proud at an altitude of 2,995 metres (9,826 feet). The mountain has long been a source of fascination, and locals will gladly tell you many a story and legend in connection to it.

This is a supremely beautiful area, where sharp cliffs alternate with gentle alpine pastures and glassy, blue lakes. Yet its attractions run deeper still. There’s the world’s oldest salt mine and a fascinating network of ice caves, to name but a few.

As a naturally diverse landscape, the Dachstein region provides a habitat for a wide range of plants and wildlife – including many species which are threatened with extinction.

The area’s rich history and distinct culture give the Salzkammergut a very unique and alluring character.