For a travel writer, the pandemic has been a frustrating challenge, but in August I was able to flex my writing muscles after a super trip to Austria and the Styria region.
After a year of lockdowns and restrictions, we were in Vienna to see our kids. Time in the city is always a pleasurable experience and I must say, in these strange times reassuring, as every bar and restaurant asked for our vaccination passport, and everyone seemed to be following the rules of masks in stores and on public transport.
Then we were off on a short family vacation with kids and their partners and a dog to the idyllic state of Styria in southeast Austria.
How to sum up Styria? Mountains, turquoise lakes, vineyards, alpine meadows and forests all add up to one heck of a wow factor! Sadly, the Austrian weather didn’t get the memo about our trip, so it dangled one delightful day in front of our noses and then the sun hid behind some impressive clouds. But, I will say that even on cloudy days this area is stunning!
Our base for the vacation was a super little town, Bad Aussee, in the Salzkammergut (the salt mine region) and according to the stone in the town, the geographical centre of Austria. In spring, the town hosts Narzissenfest (a daffodil festival) and on Shrove Tuesday Faschingsdienstag, an event where people in sequined clothing parade around town, children recite old rhymes and people march around town banging pots, pans and waving pig bladders!
Bad Aussee is also known for the people who wear tracht (traditional clothes) year-round.
• Things to Do
Vital Resort Bad Aussee – The area of Salzkammergut is famous for its minerals and the Vital Resort makes the most of the healing waters in Bad Aussee with bathing, saunas, holistic therapies and treatments, such as the Kneipp Cure therapy. They also offer accommodation if you really want the whole experience.
Altausee Salt Mine Experience – This salt mine opened in 1147 and continues to be mined for “white gold.” During World War II, the Nazis hid art treasures here, and the movie “Monuments Men” is based on that story. Now you can take a walking tour inside the mines.
Altausseer See – A beautiful lake at the base of Loser Mountain, with the cute little town of Altausee which is featured in the Bond movie, Spectre. The lake is crystal clear and dotted with places from which to swim. There is a boat trip and an opportunity to rent small boats and paddle boards.
Around the lake there is a 7.5 kilometer well maintained path which allows for an easy hike with wheelchairs or strollers. At the farthest point of the lake. a small restaurant provides well-earned, delicious food and cakes. There are also several trails branching off the lake.
Grundlsee – This is the largest lake in Styria and, once again, you can rent boats and swim from various beaches. There is also a recreation area and a nudist beach.
Toplitzsee – This lake is only accessible by hiking from the parking area at Gössl but comes with legends and possibly buried treasure! After the collapse of the Third Reich, it is said that crates of the Nazi gold reserve were sunk there along with fake British money that would have been used to destabilize the economy. The lake was also used for explosive testing during WWII. Its other peculiarity is that the lake’s top 18 meters is freshwater and below that is salt water!
Hikes and Mountains
Loser – Winter or summer, Loser (pronounced “loh-sir”) is a stunning place to be. In winter, the mountain has two ski resorts and 200 kilometers of cross-country trails. In summer, the nine-kilometer Panoramic Road (closed between October and April) costs 18 euros per car and eight euros per motorcycle and 10 euros for an evening visit Bicycles are free! This is great if you are just looking for some stunning views or want to reduce the summit hike.
A short walk from the car park you find the small but picturesque Augstsee lake with its circuit trail. If you are feeling up for a more challenging hike, a 1.5-hour hike will get you to the summit cross and the Loserfenster, a large rock window.
For those of you looking for some serious challenges, there is also a Via Ferrata, gliding and mountain biking. There is also a High Rope Course for adults and children.
Tressenstein: The 1.5-hour hike up to a 24-meter high observation tower can be started from Bad Aussee or Altausee. Empress Sisi apparently loved this area and several towers have been built and destroyed, the latest in 2013.
Krippenstein/Dachstein: In 1947, this became the first 2,000 meter peak to be accessible by cable car, and it has some serious hikes. After the area became a UNESCO Heritage Site, some amazing viewing areas were built which are easy walks from a cable car for children and those with disabilities. The gondola begins at the village of Obertraun.
This is an easy walk from the cable car station to some breathtaking views of the Dachstein.
5fingers – This viewpoint is not for the faint-hearted as it juts out 400 meters over the drop! Each “finger” has a different design, one made of glass and one with a picture frame.
The World Heritage Spiral – Situated on the 2,100-meter peak of Krippenstein, this futuristic viewpoint gets you just that little bit higher!
Via Ferrata – If you really want to test/freak yourself out!
• Hallstaat – The tiny, picturesque and historic lakeside town of Hallstaat is so popular the Chinese have made a copy! That being said, you can imagine just how busy it was pre-pandemic. Now is a good time to visit … before global tourism re-starts.
• Bad Ischl – Known as the gateway town to the Salzkammergut, Bad Ischl is primarily a small spa town. The Emperor Franz Josef and his empress Sisi, who were haunted by tragedy, made it their country home. It was from here the emperor signed the declaration of war on Serbia, kick-starting World War I, after his nephew and heir-presumptive was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. Their “Kaiservilla,” still owned by his descendants, is partly open to the public as are the grounds. If you fancy time in a spa resort, EurothermenResort has you covered.
Whatever your timeline, be it winter or summer, Bad Aussee is a great spot from which to explore, and after all that activity, the area has an abundance of spas and treatments with which to spoil yourself!
Go on … you know you want to!
About the author:
Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.