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Saturday, 31 August 2019

Austria: A Land of Scenic Beauty and Historic, Medieval Towns - Page 4

Written by Roger Marks
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The next day we drove through the Lake District of Austria, first stopping at St. Gilgen. This charming village with its painted houses is located on the shores of Lake Wolfgang and was used as the backdrop for a number of outdoor scenes in The Sound of Music. In front of the town hall, we saw a couple of families preparing for a christening ceremony dressed in traditional clothing. The men and boys were in lederhosen (knee-length trousers made of leather) and the women and girls wore colorful skirts down to their ankles. We saw many waitresses at various restaurants where we dined also wearing the traditional outfits. We then drove to St. Wolfgang and took the Schafberg Cog Railway, a steam train operating since 1893, to the 5,800 foot summit. At the summit were magnificent 360 degree views of snow-capped mountains that surrounded the many lakes in all directions. After the train excursion, we walked around the charming town oozing with traditional Austrian architecture, and visited the Pilgrimage Church built in the 1400s.

 

We then drove to Hallstatt, perhaps the most scenic village in all of Austria, where we overnighted. Hallstatt is considered by many as the most beautiful village in Europe—so beautiful that there is an exact replica of the town in Southern China. The town is on a lake encapsulated by mountains and is believed to be the oldest community in Austria dating back more than 7,000 years. More than 1,000 graves of prehistoric man have been found here. No cars are permitted in the village so we had to park in a lot outside the village from where a bus transports tourists (and luggage) to their respective hotels. We had one of our best meals of the trip at an outstanding traditional upscale restaurant, Seewirt Zauner, located in the main square with colorful houses and boutique stores surrounding the square. We had a local fish from the lake (reinanke) which is a mild white fish.

We stayed at The Heritage Hotel, requesting a room on a high floor from where we had great views of Hallstatt from our terrace. It has operated as a hotel since the 1800s but for a long time in previous centuries it was the leading hospitality establishment in the town. The following day we explored the town on foot and took an elevator up to a skywalk looming high above it. From there, one can walk to the salt mines for a tour, which we skipped due to lack of time. We visited the two main churches in the central part of town, one of which was built in 1320. Because there was little space to bury the dead over the centuries, a custom developed there of digging up the bodies after 12 or 15 years, piling the bones in the sun and painting the skulls, with the names, dates and often the cause of death marked on the skull. The myriad of bones and skulls are now on view in the “Beinhaus” (bone house). There are 1,200 skulls. There was also a very colorful cemetery as part of the church grounds.

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In the afternoon we left Hallstatt and drove to the Hohenwerfen Castle, dating back to 1077. We took a tram up to the hill-top fortress hewn out of the rock on which it stands. It harbors Austria’s first museum of falconry and has special shows with rigorously trained falcons. We then drove on to our hotel destination, Grand Hotel Zell am See where we had a deluxe suite with the top floor serving as a living room with fireplace and terrace and a lower level bedroom. The hotel was very opulent with superb service. We had a picture postcard view outside our terrace of the lake below and white-capped mountains surrounding much of the lake against a backdrop of blue sky. We sat on the terrace and enjoyed the view as there was no site in the town that could be as mesmerizing as this view. The dinner buffet, which was part of the hotel package, was excellent as was the lavish breakfast buffet with many food stations.

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The next day we did the Grossglockner drive, a famous 30-mile drive where one views the highest mountain in Austria which stands at 11,500 feet. We made many stops along the road to take pictures of the mountains which were almost eye-level as we ascended higher and higher up to 7,500 feet with sharp hair pin turns throughout the drive. The surface of the road was excellent. We stopped in the village of Heiligenblut just after leaving this drive to visit a church built in 1271 and took pictures of its steeple with a gorgeous mountain backdrop. We were fortunate that the weather cooperated and clouds didn’t move in to cover the mountain peaks. The drive itself was three hours. Continuing on the road before heading north to our next stop, we reached the town of Lienz (one hour from the Italian border) where we had magnificent views of the Dolomite Mountains with their jagged edge peaks.

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We drove on to the famous ski town of Kitzbuhel where we took two cable cars to reach a lovely garden (6,500 feet) where we saw hundreds of varieties of Alpine flowers. From the garden there were also magnificent views of the white capped Alps in the distance. After descending through the garden and then a walk down a gentle slope, we reached another cable car station that ultimately returned us to the entrance. Despite our altitude, the weather was quite mild and we were able to hike around the garden with just a light jacket on. The garden winds up and down the mountainside and contains an enormous range of plant species. We then walked into town to view two major churches built in the fourteenth century. Kitzbuhel is a quintessential Alpine village with a colorful old town with cobbled streets. There are many ski lifts and trails up the mountains surrounding the town.

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After our visit to Kitzbuhel, we drove on to Innsbruck, a one & a half hour drive. We stayed at the Golden Adler Hotel with its foundation dating back to 1390. Royalty and celebrities from all over the world have stayed at this hotel. Unfortunately the cable car up one of the nearby mountains to a panoramic view was out of service during the two days we were in Innsbruck. We visited the Cathedral built in 1717, the City Tower which had magnificent views of the city and surrounding mountains and the Imperial Palace built in the 1400s. Innsbruck is a compact city and it only took us a few hours to see the major sites of the city.

 

We then drove about a twenty minutes to the town of Hall. Soon after 1300, Hall became the center of western Austrian commerce and salt mining. There are cobbled streets throughout the old town. We visited several old churches there. Since it was a Monday, many museums are closed and so a few of the key sites in Hall, such as the 500-year-old mint and the Mint Tower (with panoramic views of Hall and the Alps) and the Hasegg Castle (a royal residence in the 1400s) were closed. But it was still interesting to walk the cobbled streets throughout the old town and view the exteriors of various old buildings.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 02 October 2019

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