After spending five days in Vienna, I travelled four hours via train to a small alpine village called Hallstatt.
Located on the Hallstätter See in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, it’s difficult to put into words just how breathtakingly beautiful and picturesque it is… Like something out of a fairy-tale.
The train station is on the opposite side of the large, icy blue lake – just a concrete platform surrounded by steep wooded forest on one side and a rough pebbled path on the other leading down to a tiny jetty on the water’s edge.
To reach Hallstatt from there you must wait for the ferry captain and his boat to collect passengers and make the grand crossing to the village on the other side.
Arriving late afternoon as I did, the sun was starting to sink behind the mountains in front of us, casting a golden hue to the top swirls of mist encircling them all.
I was lucky that my first full day there was bright and sunny and before any heavy snow, so I’ve got some nice contrasting before-and-after shots.
I hiked up the steep zig-zagging terrace trail that runs up the side of the mountain above the town, affording some spectacular views of the surrounding landscape in clear sunlight.
I stayed in the gorgeous Seehotel Grüner Baum which is situated right on the lake’s edge, overlooking the water and encircling mountains on one side, and the village marketplace on the other.
The interior is sumptuously and tastefully furnished, retaining a grand, historic feel but at the same time offering cosy suites that are perfect for curling up with a good book and endless cups of tea.
The view outside my bedroom window was of the church next door, whose iconic spire marks the skyline of the many Hallstatt photos.
Johann, Alex and the rest of the hotel team were wonderful, and very much a part of why I so enjoyed my stay.
As well as being very accommodating with me poking my camera everywhere (including the embarrassingly touristy act of taking photos of my food in the dining room), they were always cheerful, friendly and happy to have a chat with a solo traveller.
On the morning I was supposed to be checking out and making my way to the next destination, the snowy weather had well and truly set in – and it also happened to be a Sunday. Navigating the national transport website OBB, it appeared that I would need to take two different buses and two different trains to reach Zell am See after nightfall.
Instead of just wishing me well and waving me off into the swirling snow, the hotel supervisor spent an hour or so mapping out route alternatives for me and even went to the trouble of phoning the OBB directly to confirm the final proposed train-and-bus-hopping itinerary.
In the end – given the risk of missed connections due to continuous snowfall and the fact that Sunday presented limited transport possibilities – I decided to stay bunked down in Hallstatt another night and set out the next morning (not that I minded, given how much I’d fallen love with the place).
Luckily the next day brought clearer skies and I was able to continue my journey, although I was sad to leave a place that has made such a big impression on me. I hope to return next year in spring or summer, to have a chance to experience the village and surrounding landscape in the opposite season, as well as say hello again to newly-made acquaintances.
The hotel also houses its own restaurant, Restaurant zum Salzbaron, serving delicious Austrian cuisine prepared with modern flair.
My favourite dish in their repertoire was kaiserschmarrn – pancake pieces caramelised with icing sugar and served with spiced poached plums.
One of the liberties of being on holiday and travelling solo is the entitlement to eat dessert at any time of day ;)
On the morning of my departure I woke to find that a steady, silent snowfall had blanketed everything in a glorious, WONDERFUL, icing sugar dusting of pure white.
I think I may have found my new favourite place in the world.