Hallstatt, Austria – Solo Travel for Introverts
Solo Travel for Introverts Ratings
Sensory Peace (5 / 5) – Excellent getaway from the cities. Although the town is getting increasingly popular, it still emits the charm of an idyllic escape.
Solo-Friendliness (4 / 5) – While most places seem like family sit-down restaurants, they are very accommodating towards everyone.
Commute Friendly (3 / 5)– The closest city is Salzburg. There are trains here from Munich and Vienna
Predictability – (4 / 5) Fairly predictable, although make sure you return before the night as many places close early. Decide on using trains versus car.
Safety (5 / 5) – Very high.
Nerdy stuff – (3 / 5) – There is a prehistoric salt-mine and a small bone-church.
What and Where?
Hallstatt is a picturesque lake-town nestled between mountains. It lies in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria and 1 hour away from Salzburg. While there are trains here from the nearby Salzburg, as well as major metropolitans like Munich and Vienna, I drove here by car, as trains were less frequent and time-bound.
I had acquired an international drivers license for this, which is needed, along with passports at car-rentals. Caution: In many parts of Europe, stick-shifts (gears) are default unless you specify you want an automatic. Cars drive on the right side of the road. Make sure you decide on parking spots, and not roam around searching for one – there is a large paid one for day-tourists.
The Lake in the Alps
Hugged between the slopes of Dachstein mountains, this village is in the shape of a crescent lining one side of the lake (Hallstatter See), giving it perfect shots for the camera.
Driving up here, I found several cute villages hiding below church steeples visible though the mountains, but this specific one was breath-taking. I saw some boat-tours available on the lake as well, but I preferred walking the streets instead. It’s a small town and it was fun walking end-to-end several times.
At this time there emerged a Chinese package-tour bus and an array of 15-20 wedding couples positioned themselves along the lake to take pictures in full regalia. However, I, having grown up in India, and other regular Chinese tourists, knew how to elbow our way through the crowd and still get good shots.
After a while, an elderly Chinese aunty, in a beret-hat and sleeveless pink jacket spoke sternly in Mandarin waving around her cane, and this herded the wedding couples on one side making space for other people. Within a few seconds, they pulled up their white-dresses and tripod cameras and crouched back into the bus which disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared.
Cobblestones and Food
This village has more to offer than just the lake-front. The valley has tightly-packed houses stacked up near-vertically in many layers, and open at different vertical floors on different streets. Connecting them are tiny courtyards, bridges, tunnels, stairs and funiculars all mixing into each other like a giant maze to be explored.
The buildings are brightly colored and timbered in the medieval Germanic style. Most of them house tiny museums, souvenir-shops, restaurants and beer-gardens. After working an appetite running though the town like a child in a play-castle, I had a traditional viennese schnitzel and poached fish with creamed tarragon.
The fish was fresh-water and caught on the same day from the lake itself. The simple recipe was meant to bring out it’s natural sweet-and-savory taste and was out of the world.
While the beer here is amazing, after too many, I needed to take a leak. I had a funny experience, while trying to use the men’s room. the bartender – a towering teutonic woman with blonde hair and an austere face grabbed my shoulders and said something I couldn’t understand. After a while, I found out that restrooms had an additional charge of 1 Euro. Caution – Restroom use often cost money and its better to keep exact changes. As I didn’t have any, I had to go back to the cash register to change money, and after that had to sprint back down.
The Most Beautiful Cemetery
[Warning – Picture of skulls further down]
If I wanted to be buried, it would have to be with a view like this. Hallstatt has two churches – a Catholic and Protestant one facing each other with a plot of land in between. This had been converted to a cemetery in 12th century, with beautiful wrought-iron or wooden grave-markers with intricate carvings, and flowers grown on them.
Since the plot of the land is small, the graves are temporary. After 10 years the remains are housed in the Bone Chapel. Here, the bones are stacked up with kin placed together and presented below the image of Christ.
In the 17th Century, the practice of skull-paintings became popular and names of deceased individuals were painted on the skulls with colorful motifs to immortalize their memories, as an alternative to permanent grave markers.
Due to lack of time, I couldn’t visit the salt-mine here. Salzburg has been known to have one of the oldest continuous human settlements in Central Europe, since Bronze Age times. The secret to this is salt. There is a massive still-functioning salt-mine here with multiple layers going back to prehistoric times. Salt, in fact, gives this region its name – Hall (meaning salt) and Statt (meaning center). And it was salt that made this village coveted across eras.
The entrance to the salt mine is located at a higher altitude and there is a funicular ride with spectacular views leading up to it. I have heard there are also movies shown inside about prehistoric salt-mining. And this is definitely on my list for next time.
There are also locations here where the classic movie Sound of Music was filmed.