We collected a hire car in Salzburg and headed further south to an apartment we booked for a week in a little rural area just outside of a town called Abtenau, situated in the valley between the mountain ranges. This is a picture of the view from our apartment window.
Before going into too much more detail, I should say that our digital SLR camera has suffered a few knocks over the last few weeks, mostly in metro turn styles! The lens now rattles like broken glass, we have limited zoom or wide view capability and all auto focus, auto flash and auto ISO adjustment is gone. A replacement lens is €500, so we’ll be limited to ‘old school’ photography from herein and we can’t promise it’ll be great, but we hope to get better at it as we go.
Like everywhere we have been in Austria, the whole region south of Salzburg turned out to be another fantastic area with plenty to see and do, we spent all day everyday out and about and there were still many more places we would have liked to visit, although some of the hikes and sights like the Ice Caves would have to wait until the kids are older due to age restrictions.
The first place we came across was the salt mine (salzwelten) at Hallein, not far from Salzburg. It is the oldest salt mine in the world (although I am sure the sign at Hallstatt made the same claim), salt has been mined here for more than 2,500 years, hence the name of the city ‘Salz’burg. The tour of the mine starts with getting dressed in miner’s overalls and then taking a ride on a wooden row of seats attached to a train which takes you about 1km into the mountain through the original hand dug tunnels, from there you walk through the smaller tunnels with various information points and videos on the history of the mines and mining methods. The best part is descending from the upper tunnels to the lower tunnels which is achieved by sliding down the timber trolley rails on your backside. There are two of these slides and they are fantastic fun. At the deepest point you are taken 210m underground in a tunnel dug in the year 1560. When this was explained by the guide Ari asked how he was going to get us out of there since we were so deep and we slid in, to which the guide replied ‘we have much steps’. In the middle of the section of mine we were in, after crossing the border into Germany underground (there is history of feuding about that of course) and bearing in mind we’re now about 2km into the mountain, 200m deep and it was hand dug hundreds of years ago, there is a large lake which you cross by boat! The lake was one of the later additions, I think 16th century, when they started extracting the salt as brine water which they later boiled back down to salt. After catching an underground escalator, rather than ‘much steps’, you complete the round trip back on the train. The mine was a great experience well worth a visit, it is one of three on the Austrian side and I believe they are all similarly run. Near the entry to the mine site there is a reconstructed Celtic village which you can walk though and enter various houses, barns and other buildings.
A delight of the Austrian, German and Swiss Alpine regions in summer are the numerous Sommerrodelbahn’s, these are various types of toboggans that you ride, on tracks, down the mountains, often down the snow ski runs and sometimes accessed by the ski lifts. I’ll probably post about a couple of these along the way, because they are fun and hard to drive past without stopping. There was one in Abtenau, just 6km from our apartment. It is 2.2km long, on a single rail track, accessed via a cable car and they let me take Tess on it strapped to me in her Bjorn Carrier, while Ari went down with Skye. Tess didn’t know what to make of it, crying her eyes out as we waited in the queue for our green light, but the instant the light turned green and we started zipping down the track her crying turned to giggles and delightful wheeee’s! She ducked, unnecessarily, as we went under bridges and pinched my legs on the corners, but loved the whole journey, especially as we passed very close by some cows grazing on the same hill. Ari was excited from the start and could be heard giggling with Skye as they came up close behind us, wanting the brake lever to be left well alone for maximum speed. These rodelbahns are so cool! Afterwards we started a Wanderweg (leisurely hike) through the fields and forest, but despite having just stood in the hot sun waiting for our turn on the toboggans, a hail storm appeared from no where leaving us no choice but to retreat to the car in which we took a lovely drive through some of the local villages.
One of the many walks we did locally was to the Gollinger Wasserfäll, a picturesque walk up the river, past an ancient timber water mill, via the base of the falls and eventually up to the source and the ‘Witches Cauldren’.
We did a day trip across the boarder to Germany to explore the beautiful Lake Königssee, Germany’s deepest lake at 190m. We took a boat trip on one of the silent timber electric ferries up the lake between the steep mountain ranges to St Barthaloma. At one point the boat stopped in front of a conical section of cliff and the driver came to the back of the boat, pulled put a trumpet and played a tune towards the cliff face, to demonstrate the amazing echo effect, it sounded like three trumpeters playing at once, quite a treat. We didn’t see any of the other ferries stopping to do this so must have been lucky. At each end of the ferry trip we explored the towns, having lunch at one end and dinner at the other. We also took a walk along the lake and through the forest, part of which was leveled by an avalanche one winter not too many years ago and it was interesting to see the potential destructive power of something as soft as snow.
One of the castles we visited and particularly enjoyed was the 11th Century Burg Hohenwerfen, sitting on a 155m high rock overlooking the Salzach Valley and now accessed via funicular. The castle has a bit of a sinister past, having been used as a prison which incarcerated several highly ranked noblemen over the centuries. It now has a beer garden in the upper courtyard with some games set up for the kids, a large weapons museum, a falconry museum and most impressively a birds of prey presentation which was fantastic, showing the training and feeding of various hawks, kites, falcons, eagles and I think even a buzzard? They allowed even the biggest of birds to fly straight through the audience, getting breathtakingly close, we made sure we held on tight to Tess, they could have easily carried her off! She absolutely loved them.
Another fantastic hike we did, not far from our apartment, was up the Lammerklamm Gorge, which was carved out of the rock by the melting glaciers 10,000 years ago and is now declared a national monument. There is a stone path cut along the 2km of steep cliff face of the gorge down to the Oefen (oven) at one end and to the river valley at the other. It was a fairly slow going walk, Ari trekked the whole distance himself (I only picked him up for the photo) and Tess gave it a good go too. That curious looking funnel is an ‘ear horn’, for focused listening to the rumbling water, although I couldn’t help giving a good coooeee through it to counter all the yodeling we heard along the track.
There was another lovely little lake not far from where we were staying called Hallstäter See which we visited via the town of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut Region. Hallstatt was a very wealthy town right from the Iron Age due to its salt resources. It has the worlds oldest pipeline constructed over 40km from 13,000 hollowed out trees in 1595 to transport the salt brine to Ebensee. It’s a very quaint little town with 1,000 inhabitants, which were clearly outnumbered by tourists at the time of our visit. There’s also a funicular to the top of the mountain overlooking the lake. It was a lovely little place to walk around, have lunch and play in the fantastic playground right on the lakes edge.
These are our highlights from our week in this region. It has been such a fantastic place to visit in summer. It must also be an amazing and completely contrasting experience in winter, when it is predominantly a snow skiing resort.
We are leaving Austria for now to head to Munich in Germany for a week, but after that we plan to duck back into another southern region of Austria briefly on our way to the Black Forest.