“It was really good. We went down 2 big slides, watched a film and then had a ride on the back of a fast train!”
That was my 6 year old daughter reporting back to her mum on the excursion she’d just completed. Had she just come out of a theme park? Not exactly. It was a salt mine! Apparently, the 2nd wooden slide was the longest in Europe, and we both had our photo taken and our speed recorded. It was certainly more fun than going underground in a lift! It’s possible F had learned something about salt mining in the process, but that was a minor part of the experience for her.
We emerged from the mine and walked down a footpath to arrive at what must be one of the most beautiful views on earth – so beautiful that UNESCO has designated it a “World Heritage View”. We were looking across Hallstattersee Lake towards the Dachstein glacier rising high above the village of Obertraun. Way below us was Hallstatt, a small village perched in an impossibly picturesque location where the steep mountainous terrain meets the lake.
Our day had started ominously. We stood waiting for a bus in torrential rain, but our hotelier in St Wolfgang assured us the weather would improve later in the day. I’m glad we listened to her. We took the bus to Bad Ischl, by which time the rain had stopped. From there we caught a train, following the River Traun to Hallstattersee. Alighting at Hallstatt station, we were on the wrong side of the lake. A ferry boat was waiting to take us across to the village. The mountain tops could be seen emerging from the cloud, which hovered above the tranquil lake below, creating a mean and moody landscape. It was certainly a fine way to arrive.
Hallstatt is one of the most photographed villages in Austria, and a replica has even been built in China. It had a lot to live up to, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. The little village hugs the lake as the mountains rise above it. The miners used to have to climb a zig zag path high up to the hidden valley, where the entrance to the mine lies. We were able to ascend via the modern funicular railway. On our guided tour, we found out that salt has been mined here for 7000 years, longer than anywhere else on the planet. We also heard the tale, from life size models, of the discovery of a perfectly preserved body 280 years ago. The miners who stumbled across it, carried it out of the mine, all the way down to the lakeside village. We heard much about the history of mining and how it is done today. When we came out, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. The mean and moody landscape had gone to reveal stunning beauty in all its clarity. When we caught the ferry back across the lake, the mountains were now perfectly reflected in the water. The clouds covering the tree lined lower slopes had all cleared. It was like travelling back across a different lake. Two views in one day.
On our return, we saw the mountains surrounding Bad Ischl for the first time, showing the spa town in its proper setting. The bus journey back to St Wolfgang now revealed a picturesque Alpine valley, with farmsteads and meadows, chocolate box chalets and little waterfalls cascading down from its flanking mountains.
We got off the bus by Wolfgangsee Lake, knowing we’d had a good day. If we’d been put off by the morning’s torrential downpour, we’d have missed far more than 2 big slides, a film and a ride on the back of a fast train.
Hallstatt’s train station is across the lake from the village. A ferry meets each train. The nearest airport is Salzburg (78kms). We travelled from St Wolfgang by bus and train on a single ticket, changing at Bad Ischl, and then by ferry.