Of the so many places we have been fortunate to visit - I believe that Hallstatt Austria is one of the most magical and beautiful regions ever. The city is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited Village in Europe. It is due to the discovery of salt and the importance of the salt trade which dates back to as far as 5000 BCE...and you can visit a still working mine - Salz Welton ! But more on that in a bit - let's talk about the city.
Situated about 200 miles from Vienna or 50 plus from Salzburg on the western side of Lake Hallstatt. It is in the mountainous Salzkammergut Region. If you are getting the idea that "salt" played a dominant role in the development of village and surrounding areas you are catching on !!!!
Salt was a commodity that carried significant importance in days past. It was used as a preservative - especially for meats - but added flavoring as a spice to simple foods. The term salary was derived from the latin term "salarium"......sal is the root - which meant salt. Roman soldiers were paid a "salary" which was enough money for them to buy salt...very important !!!!!
Even today you might hear phrases like "worth his weight in salt" or "take it with a grain of salt". Salt was the lifeblood of this area and because of its value - a damn was built to raise the level of the lake so barges of salt could be transported to other significant cities in Europe. Amazing what we take for granted these days with our table salt.
Anyway - before we get to Salz Welton - I want to talk about the village of Hallstatt.
To say it is beautiful is an understatement. Hallstatt does not allow traffic in the main village without special permits so you park outside and take a shuttle in to the center square. We decided to spend the night in the village and were so glad we did.
During the day it is a "Tour Bus Magnet". The region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Region so tours from around the world find their way to Hallstatt. But in the evening most of them leave. We had the village to ourselves. It was a bit rainy but that added to the magic.
The lake provided a mirror of the surrounding mountains and high above there is a Skywalk that juts out over the city. It is about 850 feet above the village. Not for those who don't like heights but it offers spectacular views and heart pounding excitement and amazing photo ops.
As I said we were so glad we decided to spent the night in the village. We found a little restaurant for dinner - had wonderful Bavarian Sausages, wine and beer and just thoroughly enjoyed our time. No rush. I don't think we would have felt that way had we spent the day just dodging selfie taking tourists who regularly walk into traffic. I know I said that you needed a special permit to drive in the city but there are plenty of folks who work there or deliver goods that do drive. We heard that earlier in the week a self-absorbed selfie taker had actually walked onto the highway that goes around the city and was hit by a bus........be warned.
Above the city sits one of the oldest known salt mines in the world Salz Welton. The mine entrance sits about 1,200 feet above. They offer tours of the mine as well as a museum with photos and remarkable history. Tours run about 60 EUR per person - or about $70.00. Obvisouly it isn't cheap but it was worth it for us.
You take a furnicular to the top where you can hike around and just enjoy the scenery. You don blue, orange or green "anti-salt" suits - and travel deep into the mines. It is a guided tour - our guide spoke impeccable English and was funny and informative. As you walk deeper into the mines you can only imagine what the conditions must have been like to work there - and someone had worked there for hundreds and even thousands of years. Then you get to board the "salt train". It takes you even deeper into the mountain squeezing through small passageways - a fun ride.
There is the story of the "salt man". An ancient miner who they believe must have been in a mining accident about 1000 BCE. He was found in the 1700's by another group of miners and because salt is such a great preservative......some of his hair and skin still visible - his clothing and tools and other artifacts in virtually intact. Unfortunately -he was buried somewhere in the Hallstatt area so what we have is only historical documentation. Still a great story.
Finally before you leave - there is a wooden slide that you can take. It is over 200 feet in length not too fast but great fun. That was a highlight.
Leaving the mine your rewards are breathtaking views of the Mountains, the Lake, the Valley and the city.
Hallstatt is a must see and a wonderful trip through history.
Couple of travelers points:
1. Spend the night. There will be a bunch of people during the day. It is better at night.
2. Don't take a tour bus - control your own time to wander the city and enjoy what it has to offer.
3. You will shuttle into the village so pack light.
4. Watch out for self-absorbed selfie takers.
5. Bring your camera.
6. Be very polite to the restaurant folks and shop owners - they get sick of rude people.
7. Go in the "off" season if you can. We went at the end of September beginning of October....perfect even if the weather was a bit iffy.
8. Book Salz Welton online.
9. Walk the Skyway - stunning
10. Enjoy the beauty and appreciate the history.
BK Travel Tips
To enjoy travel and see the world and often yourself as if for the first time and with with the eyes of a young child.