The Salzkammergut region of Austria is sometimes referred to as the Austrian Lake District. The best way to get a flavour of this corner of the Alps maybe to watch the opening credits of the Sound of Music. I had a 2 week summer break with my family in St Wolfgang, a picturesque town on Wolfgang Lake (Wolfgangsee). Here are some of our highlights:
Wolfgangsee is a wonderfully picturesque lake. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to get in it or on it. Comfortable ferries with a bar and deckchairs stop at 6 or 7 places along the shore. The 3 main settlements are Strobl and St Gilgen at either end of the lake and St Wolfgang about halfway along. A small ferry travels widthways from St Wolfgang to a campsite, which can also be the start of a pleasant walk through Alpine meadows and forests to a children’s theme park. Electric boats, pedal boats and other pleasure craft can also be rented. Hurtling along the surface of the lake while sitting on a tube towed by a speedboat, seemed to be a popular activity with older children. We stuck to the electric boat, but my daughter did enjoy aiming for the waves left behind by the wakes of the speedboats!
There are numerous locations where you can bathe in the lake while Strobl and St Gilgen both have pleasant lakeside parks.
Other lakes in the region can be accessed by public transport including Fuschlsee, Mondsee, Hallstattersee and Traunsee.
Climb Every Mountain!
The Schafberg mountain towers over St Wolfgang and can be climbed by keen mountaineers. We cheated and took the Schafbergbahn, a steam train on an old rack and pin railway that takes you nearly to the summit. At the top are spectacular views of Wolfgangsee. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see Mondsee the other side of the mountain, but on our visit, we looked down on a bank of cloud. The summit is served by a hotel, restaurant and children’s play area.
Zwolferhorn provides another opportunity for a mountain top trip, via its antique gondola rising from the nearby town of St Gilgen – more cafes and spectacular views, not to mention an opportunity to watch the many paragliders that take off from the mountain. St Gilgen can easily be reached by ferry or bus from St Wolfgang.
There are plenty of gentler walking opportunities along lakeside paths or over hills and mountains.
Bad Ischl is a spa town about a 15kms scenic bus ride from St Wolfgang. The Spa has 5 pools where children are allowed and 1 specifically dedicated to young children. The pools are indoors and outdoors, including Jacuzzis, swimming areas and a lazy river. The complex has a separate adult section which is nude only. We utilised the onsite self service cafe, where my efforts at pouring a beer from the tap, convinced me I’m not cut out to be a bartender! The whole experience was a big hit with my young daughter, who loved the warm waters, whirlpools and especially the lazy river. Bad Ischl’s parks and gardens are also worth exploring, as well as an outdoor leisure pool (when it’s open) and an old Imperial palace belonging to Emperor Franz Josef 1. The must visit destination though is Konditorei Zauner. This coffee shop has an amazing range of cakes and gateaux and is an institution in the area. It has a branch in the town centre as well as one by the river.
“This is wowsers!” exclaimed my young daughter as we hurtled down a mountain sat on a sledge like trolley rolling along something akin to a metal bobsleigh track. The Austrians call it a rodelbahn. As you can gather it was great fun. The first one we tried was at Fuschl am See, a village by a neighbouring lake. We later tried the Strobl Rodelbahn, across the lake from St Wolfgang. At 1.4kms, it is the longest in the world. Both rodelbahns can be reached by bus, although we returned from Strobl via a pleasant walk through a nature reserve and a ferry.
The obvious city destination is Salzburg. It has a wonderful old town watched over by a castle, as well as sites you’ll recognise from the Sound of Music. Checkout the Mirabel Gardens with the backdrop of Salzburg castle on the hill behind. It is also the birthplace of Mozart and his home is open to the public. It is quite a long bus ride so it’s advisable to look for an express bus which is non- stop between Salzburg and Fuschl – this makes the journey less gruelling.
The Salt Mine
Hallstatt salt mine is the oldest in the world and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our journey to get there by bus train and boat was spectacular. You can read more on our trip to Hallstatt by clicking here .
On Your Bike!
The area is great cycling country and colour coded route maps are provided. Routes range from easy greens which are predominantly flat to difficult blacks aimed at mountain bikers. I hired a bike for a day and clocked up about 30 leisurely kilometres on mainly off road paths along the valley floor.
The Theme Park
This is hardly Alton Towers but they don’t charge AT prices either! If you have young children, Abarena can keep them distracted for a few hours with its mini Wild West Town, toy mine, go karts and indoor attractions. My daughter (who was 6 at the time) enjoyed herself immensely, most of the time on the little children’s water slide.
Abarena can be reached by bus, but we had a much better time crossing the lake by ferry boat and then walking through Alpine meadows and forests to get there. My little girl is not a keen walker, but the line “this is the way to the theme park” was enough to quell any complaints!