Is this the most scenic village in the world?

Hallstatt is one of those destinations that fire up the imagination. It is the place you conjure up in your mind’s eye to find tranquillity when life’s pressures threaten to derail your inner peace. It grabs anticipation by the scruff of the neck and shakes it into a deliciously teasing foreplay to scenic travel!

hallstatt dusk church
Hallstatt in Austria – click for larger image

Hallstatt clings precariously to a narrow spit of land between the Halstatter See and the rugged ranges of the Saltzkammergut

Surprisingly, the Austrian town of Hallstatt is largely unfamiliar among Western travellers. Unlike in the East where this ancient commune has enraptured Asian cultures ravenous for a taste of European history. The charmed Chinese have even built an exact replica of this UNESCO heritage-listed lakeside village in the Southern Chinese province of Guangdong!

So what makes Hallstatt a Top Destination?

The scenery must be first and foremost. Hallstatt clings precariously to a narrow spit of land between the Halstatter See and the rugged ranges of the Saltzkammergut. Hotels, restaurants, pensions and businesses fight for every inch of habitable land, climbing up the mountainside in a deviant bid to survive in this inhospitable landscape.

Central Europe Hallstatt
Hiking towards the Echtern Valley near Hallstatt

Harsh in the sense that Hallstatt is predominantly isolated from the superb Austrian infrastructure that criss-crosses this central European nation. The town itself is largely vehicle free, with most visitors arriving by train and getting off at Hallstatt Bahn. The town’s ferry synchronizes its schedule with Austrian Rail’s arrival and departure times, which makes for an effortless and very scenic transfer over the Hallstatter See towards Hallstatt.

 This is one of the oldest permanently inhabited sites in the world, tracing its origin to prehistoric times

The proximity of Dachstein Mountain dramatically increases Hallstatt’s scenic allure. From the Dachstein Visitor Information Centre, which is about 6km by bus or taxi from Hallstatt Lahn, the Gondelbahn whisks adventure-seekers to ice caves on level 1, or spectacular views of Hallstatt and surrounds from 5 Fingers on level 2. The panoramic vista from this observation platform, which extends over a yawning chasm, is breathtakingly beautiful.

However, Hallstatt also holds interest for the more discerning traveller. Despite its unusually low profile among Western tourists, Hallstatt is incredibly rich in history. This is one of the oldest permanently inhabited sites in the world, tracing its origin to prehistoric times. Salt has always been the ‘white gold’ of Saltzkammergut and they have been mining it around Hallstatt since the 2nd millennium before Christ. In fact, during the early Iron Age between the 8th to the 6th century BC, Hallstatt culture was the predominant central European civilization.

Central Europe Hallstatt
Hallstatt waterfront

Exploration of Hallstatt’s salt mine – the oldest in the world – is easily achieved with a funicular railway delivering prospective ‘miners’ to a footpath on top of Salzberg that leads to the tunnel mouth and an exclusive underground world.

Eventually, loved ones began instructing the grave digger to decorate the skulls with paintings in much the same way as one would mark a gravestone or decorate a grave with flowers

One of the more intriguing cultural experiences is a visit to Hallstatt’s Beinhaus. This depository of 1200 human skulls in a charnel house behind the Catholic Parish is of particular interest because of elaborate decorations on 610 skulls.

The practice of exhumation was born out of necessity due to the limited real estate. Graves were opened 10 to 15 years after burial and the skulls cleaned and bleached in the sun before being placed in the ossuary. Eventually, loved ones began instructing the grave digger to decorate the skulls with paintings in much the same way as one would mark a gravestone or decorate a grave with flowers. Thus, laurels of oak or ivy would signify a man, while garlands of roses and other flowers depicted a woman. Yet more skulls are adorned with a Maltese cross, or even the individual’s name and their date of birth or death.

Whatever your reason for visiting Hallstatt – whether for romance, adventure, history or culture – this is a location that confidently meets the criterion of a Top Destination.

Want to know more about European destinations? Visit…

The Castle of Wagnerian Proportions
Unique Bavarian Air Painting
Cycling Along the Danube
Into Central Europe


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