90% of my posts the last year have been of my travels, and while this has been great, I do miss writing angsty, messy, real life posts. It’s hard to deviate from travel posts when I have so many places I want to share, but I am hoping to squeeze in more “this is what I am feeling” posts soon. Today is not that day, today I share my recent day trip to Hallstatt.
Hallstatt is a village in Austria’s mountainous Salzkammergut region. Nestled into the base of the alps, this tiny village is thought to have been inhabited by people of the Neolithic age due to the rich salt deposits inside the mountains. Regardless of who first settled in this adorable town, I knew I wanted to visit for myself. Tourists from all over flock to Hallstatt, and for good reason – it’s beautiful!
My roommate Marybeth and I discovered we had a day off together, and decided to rent a car and drive the three ish hours to Hallstatt for a day trip adventure. Visiting in February meant a few things: less people, cheaper car rental, less open shops, less people to fight for attention from a local cat, and very, very cold/wet weather.
As stated in one of my Instagram posts: Das Wetter war sehr kalt, aber Hallstatt ist schön.
We left Garmisch around 7am, and arrived in Hallstatt shortly after 10am. When driving into the town, there are multiple options for parking in designated lots. Parking was easy to find, and cost us under 10 euros for seven hours of exploring. We were among few other tourists visiting, allowing us to wander the streets of the small town with ease.
Visitors can also arrive by train, and then take a short ferry ride from one side of the lake to the city center.
The city center of Hallstatt is small, and easy enough to walk from one end to the other in under an hour. We stretched our time by walking up to one of the town churches, enjoying the view, walking up to a small vantage point, and of course: drinking coffee.
Our goal for the day was simple: wander aimlessly, see what we find, and drink coffee.
We didn’t go far up the trail by the church, partly because we were unsure of where it went (though I had a pretty good idea), but also because we didn’t have extra time for random exploration. We had discovered an ancient salt mine at the top of the mountain that we planned to visit after exploring the city center for a bit.
I suspect the trail eventually led to the salt mine, but that’s a discovery for a later day.
After walking around for about an hour an a half, we decided to warm our bones with some coffee. By this time it was close to noon, meaning all the other tourists (albeit there were far less than in the summer) wanted coffee and food as well. This meant the few restaurants and cafes open were busy.
We settle on a hotel cafe, where I enjoyed a delicious Americano and Marybeth indulged in a cappuccino.
After a coffee break, we made our way back towards the beginning of the city center to buy a souvenir. I don’t often find souvenirs that speak to me, but both Marybeth and I saw something that captured our hearts. Two tiny piggybanks, one with mountains for me, and one with coffee for her (mountain fund and coffee fund!)
The weather was wet and moody, making for beautiful overcast photos. I made the mistake of wearing my trail shoes, and my feet were soaked shortly after we arrived. I’m no stranger to wet feet, but there is a stark difference when feet are both wet AND cold. Thankfully there was plenty of visual stimulation to keep me distracted, and then…a CAT.
After extreme disinterest from the cat, we made our way to the salt mine. A mountain trail leading to the top is available all year, but the woman at the ticket desk strongly advised against walking up this time of year. She looked at me like I was crazy for even asking. Instead we rode the funicular for an extra 18 euros.
Upon arrival at the top the trail did have visible ice, so perhaps it was for the best.
The salt mine tour was nothing special, in fact I didn’t much care for it (too many video presentations, didn’t look at any salt, mostly talked about an old bridge found inside and how salt is extracted…things I could have Googled.) However, the experience was worth it for the matching pajama/prison uniforms we had to wear.
These outfits allowed us to slide down a salt mine slide like children at the park.
After the tour it was 4pm, and time to head home. The lack of feeling in my toes had become too distracting, and the rumbles in our bellies heard the loud calls of the food we had waiting for us in the car. I wanted to start driving back to Garmisch before dark to beat the frigid temperatures on the road, however as we were heading down the mountain it began to snow.
Snow and I are not friends, especially when I am driving a car (a low to the ground sports Mercedes at that) so needless to say I was tense until I saw the temperature gauge jump from 1 degree to 3.5 degrees (Celsius.) The rain was endless until we arrived back to Garmisch, allowing us to walk home after dropping off the car.
Hallstatt is the perfect day trip, making this UNESCO World Heritage Site a must see for travel lovers. I recommend visiting in the off season, to avoid the masses, but maybe wait until after winter. If you do go during peak season, you risk this type of atmosphere. Tourists aside, a visit to this town when the sun is shining on the lake is still on my list.
Q: Would you rather walk up the hill to the top of the mountain, or take the funicular?