Hallstatt, Austria: The Most Beautiful Village of All?
Hallstatt, Austria is so pretty that a copy was built in China!
By Michelle Brant
Hallstatt village is the most beautiful village in Europe, so beautiful there is an exact replica in Southern China. A huge tribute for a small corner of Austria surrounded only by water, typical mountain scenery and a lot of hysteria that had recently reached a friend’s travel radar while researching must see European destinations to suit both our relaxation, adventure and cultural needs, all rolled into one short haul trip.
As I waited for the small boat in anticipation at the quaint single-tracked railway station a huge relief washed over me. The views and shapes of the neat Alpine houses dotted across the water reflected perfectly with the googled images I’d seen of my travel partner’s findings, right before I enthusiastically booked a flight into Salzburg.
I was almost star-struck as we stepped off the little boat encircled by truly remarkable landscape so surreal it looked like a film set and headed through the cobbled narrow passageways and chocolate box houses in search of our 400-year-old guest house for the four-night stay.
All the accommodation looked similar, the benefits of a 16th Century world heritage site, but ours stood out, on the corner of a beautiful market square packed with small eateries and bright flowers, adding perfection to what was turning out to be the location of dreams.
The kind owner gave us a larger room facing the square – our reward for booking directly, which was made even better with extra-large windows and dark antique wooden décor punctuated with light pastel soft furnishings fit for two very happy travelers.
Sitting smugly on the equally stylish red seats of the back garden terrace, with our face to the sun and eyes gazing over the lake we ordered one of our best meals, the traditional veal schnitzel with shredded beetroot and a glass of homegrown Riesling. This was to be our daily sanctuary where we hung out, ate breakfast, drank crispy wine, dug out our map and made rough plans for the day ahead.
To get a feel for the area we took the cable car to the world’s oldest salt mine and its famous platform overlooking the entire village and beyond. The panoramic views were every bit as postcard-pretty as we were expecting and the walk down a breeze with the clever sloping zig-zag layout of the path guiding us back to the heart of the village. In the same location, we picked up an easy trail leading to waterfalls.
There are many well-signposted routes to follow given that we were surrounded by exquisite Austrian nature, but ice blue waterfalls are always appealing and this one did not disappoint.
Somewhere between a lingering lunch and a spot of sun-lounging we decided that a full day must be spent with a couple of hired power assisted bikes around the lake. A sensible choice given its scale and our fitness levels.
With the map redundant we simply followed the traffic free cycle path leading to shallow secluded waters clear enough to paddle in, which we did frequently.
A small detour inland, took us off the beaten path and for a while following the route of a stream and many steep hills, which after a solid effort, amusingly resulted in our second Austrian train ride and more scenery than we’d bargained for. It’s a mountain biker’s paradise, but for us, an amble round to the half way point and line of cake-filled café’s more than sufficed.
Fatigued slightly by our unexpected intrepidness, an abundance of fresh air and eagerness to do everything, we took a relaxing approach in the latter half of the trip, in the shape of a self-guided pillar box red electric boat.
There was only stillness and the sounds of water splashing in the middle of the lake, a peaceful journey before we reached our goal at the farthest end, where we took pleasure in doing nothing other than whiling away the hours at one of the lakeside’s remote restaurants packed with lots of day trippers and locals enjoying the views across to Hallstatt.
A plan that worked out well until the dark clouds rolled in – a hazard of the hot sun combined with mountains. To ride out the storm we made a bee-line straight to the home-grown schnapps tasting shop in the center of our beloved village, something we had earmarked for such eventualities.
Within minutes of our arrival, we had sampled two boldly flavored berry infused schnapps, poured freely from the sociable and generous shopkeeper, who showed no signs of slowing the pace, much to our delight.
We left with a bag full of drinkable souvenirs and an appetite that would only be satisfied with large portions of schnitzel and variations of meaty salads at Hallstatt’s busiest restaurant with commanding views, Gasthof Zauner. As the skies cleared, the bells rang out and a traditional wedding party filled the square, turning it green with their elaborate outfits.
The guests held on to large declarations of love signs lit up by fire, while the just married twosome danced and lit lanterns to the joy of what seemed like the entire village. As I took in the romantic scenes, it occurred to me that maybe everyone was right, this really is the most beautiful place in Europe.
British Airways offers flights from London Gatwick economy £99.00 return. To book visit www.britishairways.com
Gasthof Simony offers a double room with lake or market square view from £90.00 per night including breakfast. Book direct at www.gasthof-simony.at
Pre-book electrical bikes for the following day.
Do not miss authentic apple strudel – served almost everywhere.
For information regarding Europe's train systems, check out GoNOMAD's article "Everything You Need to Know About Railpasses"
Michelle Brant is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer from Yorkshire, England, who's passions have led her to frequently wander the globe and share her discoveries. She has written for TNT Magazine, A Luxury Travel Blog, South East Asia Magazine and National Newspapers among others.