A June 1999 trip
to Austria by Wasatch
Quote: The Salzkammergut has some of the finest in Europe, perhaps the finest.
We don’t make advanced reservations. On a very rare occasion, we have stopped at a hotel we liked the looks of and found it full. The worst case ever was having to try three pales before finding a room. When you are driving around, a room reservation only serves to constrict the freedom of travel. On the other hand, I wouldn’t try it in high summer, but we never go to Europe in high season, or, if you are determined to have lakefront room, especially on a weekend, you might want to reserve ahead.
The government tourist office has, or at least used to have, for I’ve not been able to get a copy from them for the last several years, a very useful guide to hotels. Every hotel ins Austria receives a rating of one to five stars from the government, based mainly on the level of amenities offered, but it also serves a reasonably good approximation of overall quality and price. A three star place is basically a modest first-class establishment, that is, I think, quite satisfactory for all but the most fussy. Even two-star places are most satisfactory: basic and plain but clean and comfortable.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 13, 2005
Attraction | "The High Alps of the Salzkammergut"
Now to one of the most famous picturesque villages in the world. Everybody knows Hallstatt, even before going there, because this little village on the shores of the Hallstattersee is probably pictured on more travel posters than any place in the world. Pass by the first turnoff for Hallstatt, because you will never find a parking place at this exit unless you are staying in town at a hotel with a parking lot. Continue north. The highway enters a tunnel. Watch for parking signs turning off to the right inside the tunnel. The town’s main parking lot is carved out of the inside of the mountain, and it is short walk into the center of town. Scenic boat rides on the lake. Everybody takes pictures of the church, the best views being from the north of the church. Just off shore are found some of the oldest human settlements in Europe, estimated to be about 30,000 years old.
Continue north from the parking lot and turn left on Rt 146 to Gosau, where we headed south toward the Gosausee through a quaint little farm valley. The Gosausee is one of the most spectacular Alpine lakes. We like it even better than the Hallstattersee for sheer scenic beauty. At the far end of the lake looms the rocky crags of--you guessed it--the mighty Dachstein.
Returning from the Gosausee to Gosau, continue west on Route 166 and Route 162 to the expressway south of Salzburg. This dive, Routes 166 and 162, is one of the most pleasant in the Alps. It's not the grandest scenery, but scenery that feels right for a drive thorough the Alps. For a longer trip in the Salzkammergut, go south on Route 166 from the intersection with Route 162 and follow the more northern road from Eben in Pongau to Aich, with a trip up the Hunnerkogle cable car for a dead on look from 9,000 feet at the 10,000-foot summit of the Hoher Dachstein itself.
If time is a problem, the high points of the Salzkammergut are the view from the snack bar, the Gosausee, and Route 166-162. Begin your visit by going from Gmunden to Bad Ischl.
Attraction | "The Pre-Alps"
It is best to enter the Salzkammergut from the north so that the scenery builds from the rolling hills of the pre-Alps to a crescendo in the high mountains and glaciers of the mighty Dachstein and the Totes Gebirge. North of the Hallstattersee, a certain amount of driving in circles is needed to see all that is worth seeing. The most scenic of these roads is going from Bad Ischl to Gmunden but also take in Gmunden to Attersee town via the east shore of Lake Attersee, from Mondsee town to St Wolfgang via the east side of Lake Mondsee and the west side of Lake St Wolfgangsee. (Note that the directions given for these drives are the way to go for the best views along each lake, although it is well worth driving both north and south along each lake, where possible).
Every visit to the northern lake region of the Salzkammergut should end in bad Ischl, for here is where the grand scenery begins. After a short visit to this quiet old spa town, we always head south on Route 145 to visit the Snack Bar, just off Route 145 between Bad Ischl and Bad Aussee. This is one of the greatest Alpine views, but it’s not in any guidebook I’ve ever seen. It is worth a major detour to see. Leave Bad Ischl going toward Bad Aussee. The highway begins to climb a mountain. About two-thirds the way to the top, the road makes a hairpin turn to the left. You will see a parking lot on your left, tucked into the bend in the road. Park here. Walk to the downhill corner of the parking lot nearest the highway to the tunnel under the road. The best views are from the terrace in front of the snack bar. Below, ringed by cliffs and high mountain walls lies the famous Lake Hallstatt. At the far end of the lake towers the mighty Dachstein, its glaciers sparkling in the midsummer sun.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 13, 2005
Attraction | "How to Get There"
From the west (Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva, and Zurich), there are three alternative routes approaching the Salzkammergut. From Switzerland, follow the expressway through the scenic heart of Austria to Kufstein or Munich (see below). From other points west, head for Munich, from which there are three choices:
(1) Munich to Passau, to Scharding, then across the pre-Alpine highlands via Ried to Gmunden and the Salzkammergut. This is the route off the beaten path. Remarkably free of tourists, especially American and Japanese visitors, Passau and Scharding are well worth going out of the way to visit.
(2) Munich to Salzburg via Herrenchiemsee. Only partially completed, Herrenchiemsee is the third and last of Mad King Ludwig’s fairytale castles. Go to the town of Chiemsee on the south shore of the lake, catch one of the frequently ferry boats to Herreninsel, and then horse buggy to the place. Allow most of a day.
(3) The scenic route. Head south from Munich on the expressway to Kufstein (short visit); then go east though the valley on the north side of the Wilder Kaiser, working your way to Lofer, the most picturesque little village in the Alps. Then go to Bad Reichenhall, Berchtesgaden, and Salzburg.
From Salzburg, follow the expressway east to the exit for Mondsee, the start of the Salzkammergut lake region.
From the east (Vienna, Prague, and Budapest), take the Vienna Salzburg expressway to either Gmunden or Mondsee.
From the north (Nürnberg, Regensburg, the Bavarian Forest), follow the directions from Passau above.
Salzkammergut Directions & Driving
Europe has fast roads and slow roads. The expressways are the fast way to travel, and getting from here to there on the expressway is quick. It’s a day and half from Luxemburg airport to the Salzkammergut if you make some stops along the way. There two drawbacks to expressway driving: you don’t get to go through any quaint little towns and some are toll roads, very expensive toll roads, especially in France. In Germany, the Autobahn is rarely a toll road, so the best fast approach to the Salzkammergut is by using the German expressways.
Austria and Switzerland have sneaky tolls--you have to buy a special sticker for your windshield to drive there. If you rent a car in Austria, it will have one. Otherwise, find out before you leave how to get one when you arrive at the Austrian border. Other than that, most Austrian expressways are toll-free, except for some of the tunnels. If you’d rather save the toll and take the scenic route, go up and over the mountain on the old highway. This can be slow-going, with lots of twists and turns, but you don’t see any scenery from inside the tunnel.
I’m going to reminisce about the good old days. When we first started driving around Austria, there was no problem finding free parking places anywhere but in Vienna. Now parking meters have taken over the world, and they can be expensive--$6 to $8 an hour in central Salzburg. There may be some smaller villages that still use the Blue Disk parking system. This is clock face on a blue card where you set the time you park and put it in the windshield of your car. Nearby signs, a blue circle bordered in red with a number in the center, tell you this a blue disk parking zone, and the number is how many hours you get to park. A cop comes a long, looks at your disk, figures out how long you have been there, and writes a ticket if you're over the allowed time. Don’t try to cheat by moving the disk time back when you park. It's a big ticket if the cop finds a disk showing a time that has yet to come.
For driving in the Alps I’m a fan of small cars. They are easier to maneuver on narrow, twisting mountain roads.
Yes, gas in Europe costs about $6 a gallon, but a driving trip in Europe is no more expensive than in the USA because you don’t drive as far and their cars got better gas mileage. The things you want to stop and see are much closer together--all the sights in the Salzkammergut are parked into an area abut 30x36 miles, and a minimal visit should take 3 days.
It’s smart to learn the international road signs before leaving home. AAA has good little brochure explaining them.
It rains a lot in the Alps. That’s why the mountain slopes below the tree line are such a pretty emerald green--lots of rain, lots of trees. Unfortunately, rain is not conducive to mountain sightseeing, but all is not lost, at least not necessarily. Let me tell you the story of two trips in the Alps.
We were on a driving vacation through Austria and met up with my mother and some of her friends, who were taking a bus tour through Europe, for dinner and an evening visit in Innsbruck. The next day it was raining cats and dogs, but the bus tour left on its scheduled drive through some of the most scenic parts of Alps, from Innsbruck to Bern, Switzerland. My Mother later reported that all they saw all day were clouds. We spent the day in Innsbruck, visiting the Cathedral, the Palace, and the Folklore Museum. The next day the sun was back, and we headed to the mountains. The bus tour missed a lot, but we had no problem because we always plan two itineraries in the Alps, a trip for rain and a different trip in the same neighborhood for sunny days.
Unless you are certain of the weather, DO NOT stop in Salzburg or Linz on your way to the Salzkammergut. Perfect weather is needed to fully enjoy the Alpine scenery, so save the cites for your rainy day backup, along with a visit to the salt mine. Cites, mines, and abbeys can be visited in the rain but not mountain scenery.
We usually visit the Alps in late June to early July, and we always pack a heavy sweater, a raincoat, and a jacket. We have encountered daily high temperatures ranging from 50 to 80° F, fog drizzle, rain, and cloudless, sunny skies, sometimes all on the same trip.
Radio Blue Danube, one of the State Broadcasting System’s stations, used to broadcast only inEnglish. Lately its been mostly in English, This is a treat when driving in Europe. Like the statenetworks, it covers the whole country and parts of neighboring nations as well. We reallyenjoyed the English-language quiz show for schoolchildren. The host would read a definition andthe contestants would lace to push the buzzer to pronounce the intended word in English. We didhave a major quibble with the show when the host read “what you wear to bed” and the winninganswer was “a nightshirt.”
The other stations of the state broadcasting network provide an entertaining mix of pop, Austrianfolk, and classical music. Your rental car has a radio. Use it.
heber ctity, Utah