The queen of Bavarian Austria, Salzburg, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, is usually visited by most tourists for 3 to 4 days at best. One day for the Sound of Music tours, one day for the fortress and churches, and one day to just absorb the beauty of this culturally steeped city.
Well, I had a different bent on things. It was Oktoberfest time and I wondered if I could just visit Munich during the day and stay the night in Salzburg. The commute notwithstanding, it worked out pretty well. So I then started heading out in the morning each day covering the surrounding areas. I realized that the excellent transportation of Austria made day trips an efficient way to save time and money. So here’s what you could do in a few days……
Hallstatt. If you do nothing else in Salzburg (besides the Sound Of Music tours) do this atleast. A small alpine town nestled at the edge of a lake with breadth-taking scenery and access to the Dachstein Ice caves, it’s only about 1.5 hours from Salzburg. A lot of people tend to stay in Hallstatt once they reach and get mesmerised, and if you can do a night, it’ll be really worth it.
The Salt mines situated on the mountain above are not to be missed. A cable car takes to the top, and I would recommend paying for a tour once you are there.
The Dachstein ice caves are also a must, but check the weather beforehand or you might have to stay the night in Hallstatt. To get to Hallstatt, take the bus from Salzburg to Bad Ischl, from there a trains leave for Hallstatt at regular intervals. It drops you on the other side of the lake where a boat will take you across. Make sure you know the last departure timings of the train as well as the bus.
Berchtesgaden. Mostly know for Hitler’s lair, this beautiful small hilly town in Germany, just across the border from Austria is also a great place to spend the day walking around, having lunch at quaint restaurants with beautiful alpine views, and just absorbing the scenery. The tour till the Eagle’s nest mountain top, which was Hitler’s retreat, is very well organized with a regular bus service (only these special buses run till the top as the hill is very steep) and very clear instructions on where to go and what to see. Once you reach the entrance tunnel, there is a single elevator that takes you to the top. A small restaurant now stands where the main building is, complete with the smell of barbecued steak, and the warmth of a crackling fireplace – it’s really high and quite freezing here. There are a few hikes starting from here till the town below but might not make much sense if you’re here on a day trip. The Documentation Centre is the other place to visit. Its extensive archives piece together the rise of the Nazis, with lots of video footage and artifacts. It also explains the way the Berchtesgaden retreat was chosen and then built by Hitler. The fact that he only came here twice doesn’t take away much from the history of this place. It’s still a retreat for the German elite in Bavaria. The weather is cooler here so make sure you carry some fleece.
St Wolfgang. Ah, the Salzkammergut. Probably the most enchanting part of Austria and maybe the entire Southern Bavaria. Mountain peaks with alpine lakes, small villages dotted over the countryside and tiny restaurants overlooking them. All knitted together with an efficient transportation network, be it boat or bus. On the banks of Lake Wolfgangsee are several settlements, all connected by the ferry that runs several times a day from St Gilgen.
St Wolfgang is a small town with beautiful houses, wood facades and covered generously with creepers and potted plants. Nestled between snow capped mountains and the lake itself, it’s a wonderful walk around the village which is cloaked in a medieval theme, complete with horse drawn buggies and tourists walking wide-eyed wondering where in the world will you ever find a place like this.
Bad Ischl. There’s no need for a day trip exclusively to this small town, as you’ll have to stop here to go to Hallstatt. But do stop here for more than the time taken for the next train. It’s a quaint town with nothing to write about except that it’s so non-touristy. Shops, cafés, boutiques, small place to eat by the river, all add up to the charm of spending a couple of hours waiting for the next bus back to Salzburg.
Munich. A convenient 2 hour train journey takes you to the next country, where you can enjoy the city of Munich all in a day. With its museums and castles, it’s an enchanting place and a good taste of what Germany is. Admittedly, I was there for the Oktoberfest, but beside the beer, it was truly enjoyable. You could admire Bavarian treasures at the Residenzmusuem. Chill out at the Hirschgarten, one of the best gardens in Munich. Loiter around the Marienplatz, maybe even buy something. Roam around the BMW museum, admire the crazy concept cars built as prototypes but never put into production. Just remember to pick up your lower jaw on the way out.