Select Page

Postcards from Hallstatt

Hallstatt- Austria’s most picturesque village

Hallstatt is as spectacular as it looks in all the photos. The village is precariously perched a rocky terrace between a mountain and the Hallstättersee.

Hallstatt’s narrow and steep lanes are filled with a kaleidoscope of coloured timbered houses which are tucked into staggered nooks, piled in tiers one above the other and appear to cling to the rock like swallow’s nests.   The village has so little space, that the train station is located on the opposite shore of Hallstättersee at Obertraun and travellers are ferried across to Hallstatt.

Hallstatt – The “cradle of civilization.”

 

Hallstatt, the 7,000 year old UNESCO World Heritage -listed village existed before Romulus and Remus founded Rome.  It sits perilously on the edge of the Hallstättersee (Lake Hallstatt), a narrow lake, surrounded by the steep slopes of the Dachstein Mountains.

19th-century German explorer Alexander von Humboldt declared Hallstatt “the loveliest lake village in the world”

Hallstatt is the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe, the site of an early Iron Age culture dating from 800 to 400 B.C.  The village gave its name to the “ Hallstatt Culture” – one of the most important eras of prehistory.   Many Iron Age relics have been unearthed and 2,000 graves of prehistoric people, have been excavated.

Hallstatt owes its existence to salt, that was mined from the Salzberg (the mountain not to be confused with the city Salzburg) which rises above the village.  “Hall” is the Celtic word for salt and as salt was a precious commodity; the region was historically very wealthy.    The mining of salt began in the middle of the Bronze Age and continued through Roman times. Hallstatt was revived in the 14th century as a market village by the Habsburg Monarchy.   Since 1595, the salt was transported from Hallstatt to Ebensee via a brine pipeline (the oldest pipeline in the world), constructed from 13,000 hollowed out trees.  Today, you can walk along the 40km Brine Pipeline Trail from Hallstatt to Ebensee.

Today, the population of Hallstatt is less than 1000 people. The main income is tourism and the village is visited by more than 1 million tourists visit every year!  In the summer the tourists easily outnumber the locals.

Everywhere you look, window boxes are spilling red geraniums.

The slender spire of the Protestant church jam-packed amongst the masses of wooden houses is perfectly mirrored in the tranquil lake.  The magic is only broken as a swan gracefully glides through the reflection in the glassy waters.

Everything is picture postcard perfect.  So perfect, that the village has been replicated right down to the clock tower and market square in the Chinese province of Guangdong.

Our shuttle driver patiently navigated along the narrow Seestraβe (Lake Road) to our hotel.  The street, crowded with meandering day-trippers, was barely wide enough for one car to pass between the buildings, making us thankful that we left the car behind at the Parking Garage.

We were staying the night at the historic, Seehotel Grüner Baum, once a favourite of Empress Elizabeth (Sissy).  Its yellow façade, a hue synonymous with Austria, glowed against the brilliant blue sky.  The hotel is located in the prime position facing the delightful village square on one side while the other side faces the lake and features a charming lakeside terrace.

The 200 year old rustically, elegant hotel was originally established in 1700s as a residence for the Imperial Salt Merchants.  The 4-star hotel has 23 rooms and 3 suites (with either views of the lake or Market Square), 2 restaurants and a lake terrace.

The hotel’s lakefront terrace provided the perfect resting place to enjoy a glass of wine and antipasti platter; while we watched the kids brave the cold depths of the lake.

The tranquillity of the dark blue lake was only intersected by the wakes of paddling swans and boats which leisurely shuttle back and forth.  The swans were originally imported to Hallstatt in the 1860s by the swan-obsessed Austrian Empress Sissy when she vacationed here.

Promenade through a storybook village

Hallstatt is very compact and you can easily walk from one end of the village to the other in less than 30 minutes. The village is perfect for wandering along the tiny cobbled streets.  A  lazy afternoon can be spent discovering the romantic alleyways, cosy cafes, inviting bars and the plethora of shops.  Although slightly disappointing, many shops seem to be making a rousing trade in imported run-of-the-mill trinkets and souvenirs.  However, there are quaint shops with locally handmade gifts, Celtic-inspired jewellery and woodworking shops. At ‘Keramik Hallstatt’, established in 1946, we found beautiful blue and white pottery and delicate decorations.  The shop ‘Salzkontor’ is exclusively devoted to salt products; bath salts, soaps, seasoned salts, salt grinders and salt scoops.

As you walk along the Seestraβe, you will come across the Janu Sports Shop.  The shop is unique, not for its sports gear but what you find when you descend down the wooden stairs.  During a renovation project in 1990,  a Celtic and ancient Roman settlement was discovered. The excavations which can be visited when the shop is open. The Museum Hallstatt, located a few minutes’ walk away, has an extensive collection of discoveries from the salt mines and cemeteries.
The heart of the village is the historic Marktplatz (Market Square). Its foundations date back to the 14th century, but most of the picturesque houses were built during the 16th century. In the centre of the square stands the Holy Trinity Column, erected in 1743.  In 1750, a fire nearly levelled the entire square, destroying 35 houses and killing 4 people.
As you meander through the village, you can hear the gushing of the Mühlback waterfall as it tumbles down the mountain.  The big, white houses perched above the Marktplatz were once mills powered by the mighty Mühlback waterfall.

Beyond the Market square, we ascended an old covered wooden flight of stairs to a terrace where the Pfarrkirche (Parish Church of Assumption) overlooks the village. The church was built in 1505, but the Romanesque tower was preserved from the old 12th century church.

A large lakeside fresco of St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers’ watches over the Hallstättersee.   Inside the church, there is an impressive three-winged altar which was completed in 1520 by Leonhard Aist.

As the graveyard is so small, since the 1100’s skeletons were unearthed ten years after burial, and moved to the Beinhaus (Bone House), located in the 12th  century St Michael’s chapel. Since the 16th century the skulls have been decorated with wreaths of ivy or garlands of roses, black crosses, and the owners’ names, professions, and death dates and neatly stacked in the Beinhaus.