Austria: Behind the Mountains

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: Uwe Krauss

For the longest time, the high alpine valley of the Lungau sat in remote isolation, approachable only by treacherous pass roads. And the region’s old traditions and stunning natural appeal have been preserved very well. Two of the many reasons to travel there.

It’s slightly decadent. Plenty of fur jackets and expensive purses and a poodle wearing a blue-and-white striped “vest.” If a chic crowd fits in anywhere, it’s here, in the oldest of Austria’s coffeehouses, the Café Tomaselli, in Salzburg. And I’m enjoying it. Not because of the fur jackets, not even because of the coffee, as warm and welcoming as its Italian name suggests. The unique ambience of a real Austrian coffeehouse justifies spending six dollars for a cup of coffee—so many chandeliers, mirrors, and gold—but no, it’s not the dazzling décor either. I’m enjoying it mainly because of all the characters about, starting with the waiters. Every single movement is a display of practiced perfection, and each of their faces bear the same amusing expression of disdain. At a neighboring table, a man with John Lennon glasses and a Ché Guevara cap is writing his memoirs (at least that’s my suspicion). He seems a fixture, like he’s been writing in that spot for the last 40 years. And at the window table, three elderly ladies with glaring red lip gloss bend together like conspirators to mock the poodle’s haircut.

Sophisticated Salzburg is definitely worth a visit. Even more so when combined with a down-to-earth tour of the mountains that rise steeply behind the city limits. Through the Lammer Gorge (Lammerklamm), I approach Lake Hallstatt. Alexander von Humboldt, the noted explorer and polymath, once described the village of Hallstatt as the most beautiful location on a lake in the world; and after coming around the last corner of the coastal road, carved into the vertical rock face looming over it, I’m inclined to believe him. 

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

The steep Dachstein Mountains behind the town left little room for habitation beside the turquoise waters. Still, there are some lovely houses covering that narrow slope, and others that rest on pilings sunk into the lake. Before 1875, when a road was carved out of the rock, Hallstatt could only be reached by water or over the ice in the winter. More recently, Hallstatt so impressed Chinese investors that a complete, full-sized replica of the village was built in 2012. Hallstatt #2 is now a suburb of Huizhou in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Many Chinese people still want to see the original, however, and the village clearly benefits from their tourism. 

(End of preview text.)

For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2018 back issue.