Austria Footnotes

Hiking in the Salzkammergut region is a wonderful experience; the climbs are exhilarating, the views spectacular and the villages are picture postcard beautiful. The scenery is more than stunning, with dramatic colossal mountains towering above the green Alpine pastures and the calm, peaceful lakes. Over and over again you find yourself just stopping and looking, taking in the stunning views. The history of the region, dominated by the Habsburgs, the wealth brought by salt mining and the geological significance of the Hallstatt period, brings further interest and a stimulation all of its own.

So why is that we both feel that this trip lacked some of the buzz of our previous adventures? Maybe it was because it was all pre-booked, and the thrill of backpacking was absent; maybe it was because there was insufficient “challenge” – it is not difficult for a Brit to be within their comfort zone in Austria, where the culture is very definitely modern Western and just about everyone speaks perfect English. On reflection also, Hallstatt is probably a place we would not recommend for a stay of over a single night stop over. It is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns you could ever see, in a wonderful natural setting – even the fact that the railway station is the other side of the lake adds to its charm. But what it gains in beauty it perhaps loses in character; it seems to have allowed the renowned Austrian regimented mentality to slot into catering for the hordes of short stay Chinese visitors, and found a routine for itself which starts and ends the day early. Most restaurants will be closing around 8pm or just after, some are not even open yet outside of main season. On one occasion, we called in for a coffee at 5.45pm, but were declined service because “we shut at 6”. You get the picture. And, not wishing to be too critical, it really isn’t too long before the rudeness and lack of awareness of others demonstrated by those Chinese seriously starts to grate. Their presence actually makes you become a little insular – the absolute opposite of what normally happens to Michaela and me on our travels. It even seems to have happened to the locals too, who just go about their business with brusque efficiency. Nothing wrong with that of course – but it just isn’t interesting!

In fact, the true on holiday vibe didn’t really land until we hit Salzburg, one of the World’s loveliest cities, full of charm and romance and life, in a most beautiful setting. Salzburg oozes romance and culture in equal measure and is a wonderful place to be.

Don’t get us wrong – the Salzkammergut lake district is absolutely worth the visit; it has much to offer and, as stated above, the scenery is consistently breathtaking, the walking, hiking and climbing is top quality. The natural beauty of the place is outstanding.

But we are looking forward to our next backpacking trip, already.