As usual Sunday was border crossing day – we trundled over the mountains and arrived in country number 19, Austria. A few things changed, the currency of course – back to Euro, but more so the scenery. The houses grew bigger, the balconies became full of flowers, the mountains became higher and the road surfaces became quite frankly smoother than your average babies bottom.
The country is wonky not my photo
Stop one was at Ebensee, in the Salzkammergut mountains. We drove around Lake Traunsee and saw more people and cars in an hour than we usually see all week. The weather was playing its part for sure as people were parked up and swimming everywhere. We found a small stellplatz near the lake, parked up for a walk around the village and a quiet over-night.
Mistake there then, at 9.25pm the air raid sirens started. We had no idea what was going on, Iain half asleep said maybe its to tell you the dam has burst!!! We waited, no one seemed to panic or move so we stayed put even though it had put the fear of God into us (we found out later that they use the siren to muster the volunteer fire brigade).
Looking for a ‘must see’ village we chose Hallstatt – known as one of the ‘most beautiful villages in Austria’, always a sucker for the tourist blurb we were there bright and early ready to say it wasn’t that special. How wrong could we be? it deserves all it’s accolades – set on the side of the Hallstatter See (lake), wooden houses clinging to the side of a mountain, flowers trundling out of window boxes, cafes with gents dressed in their lederhosen – really the classic Austrian village.
It was only possible to reach the village by boat or rough trails until just over 100 years ago when roads were blasted through. The village has 940 full time inhabitants, and something like 3000 visitors based on the people milling around the teeny lanes. Many, many were Chinese, and they could have saved themselves a big trip, a complete replica of the entire village was built in the Chinese town of Huizhou China in 2011.
On the edge of the village is a funicular railway up to the salt mines, it looked steep but we bit the bullet and got on. It was, quite simply, terrifying – no not just me, several small German children (aged about nine) stood with me, facing the back, refusing to look down. It shoots up the hill like a bullet – then it meets the other one coming down and suddenly slams on the brakes, I am amazed I paid to be scared half to death.
The funicular railway
If that hadn’t been enough then according to World Heritage “everyone needs a bit of excitement” and to give you that they have built a viewing platform that extends out from the mountain and hangs 350 metres (1150 ft) over the rooftops of the village. In the spirit of already feeling like my knees were about to collapse I made the “Sky Walk” – I stayed long enough for a photo and was off, Iain on the other hand was a cocky sod and even did a few aerobic poses whilst taking some panorama shots of the views.
Brave or stupid – who knows?
So many castles to chose from but Hohenwerfen Castle appealed firstly because it was an 11th century castle high on an imposing hill towering over the villages. Secondly though, we do like them to have some current history and this one was the setting for the film Where Eagle Dare and main backdrop for the song “Do-Re-Mi” in the Sound of Music.
We expected some mention of either or, nope not a one. The castle is reached by either a 20 minute slog up the hill from the car-park or (yet another) funicular railway. Great! it was hotter than hot so we went for the railway, this one was even better you pushed the buttons as if you were in a lift, not as high though and certainly easier than the walk. The castle was a little under-whelming inside, a few exhibitions of contemporary arts, a museum relating to birds of prey and hunting and twice daily falconry displays.
Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton and Julie Andrews and I have graced these hills!
Zell am See was next on our list, one of the most popular ski resorts in the area. Being one of the hottest days of the year it was all about sunshine and the lake, the ski lifts were running but we really couldn’t muster the effort to do anything other than sit on the opposite side of the lake and look back at the village.
Zell am See – minus the usual snow
We considered stopping for a few days at a campsite, to be honest the price put us off but so did the whinging Brits stood outside reception moaning about everything from the weather, the amount of traffic and the service. Instead we plumped for a space outside a guesthouse on the side of a mountain, along with mainly German neighbours, and spent the evening marvelling at the views from our little pitch for which we had paid just £6.50. Whilst that included our electric and wifi it apparently doesn’t include rubbish, when Iain tried to dispose of a small bag of rubbish it cost him 50 cents 🙂
The view through our windscreen