I sometimes feel like my enthusiasm when sharing places I’ve been might come across insincere. You can’t possibly have only good things to say, right? Well, I’m afraid this post is going to be one of those where I have nothing but praise to sing, because I LOVED Austria so much. Before even setting foot on Austrian soil I had a sneaky suspicion I’d feel that way (mainly because we were visiting the ‘Austrian Lake District’ and the itinerary looked so bloody good), but my expectations were exceeded. Holy wow what a beautiful place. Can I go back already?
Seriously though, I left feeling quite baffled as to why I don’t hear of more people taking their summer holidays to Austria. In most cases ‘summer holiday’ for young Brits means Mediterranean, interrailing, or sunny city breaks. Austria isn’t necessarily a contender, but it SO should be.
We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Im Weissen Rössl in St Wolfgang on the shore of lake Wolfgangsee (more on that in another post) and crammed lots into a 3 night press trip. Rather than share a diary style breakdown of everything, I thought I’d share exactly why you 100% need to add this part of the world to your summer holiday list ASAP. If I hadn’t managed to convince you via Instagram photos already. Here goes!
There’s the option to do absolutely nothing
If a chilled out, activity free, unwind-from-life holiday floats your boat, then you can do exactly that. On a boat, if you wish. With many a sunlounger and rocking-chair-bench kind of thing dotted around, there’s no shortage of places to just chill. I could easily have spent hours looking out over this view with a book in one hand and an Aperol Spritz in another.
But there are also activities to suit everyone
For those who don’t want to just laze around there are approximately 49707 things to do in the Salzkammergut area. It’s the place to be for active folk, and for people who want to see cool sights without expending too much energy too. I mean, you could choose to hike the mountains, but reaching dizzying heights is also doable without hiking at all! A few examples for you:
— Take the Schafbergbahn train to the top of the Schafberg mountain
This one’s a truly amazing sight for sure. I’m sure you’ll understand why that’s no exaggeration! 8 lakes can be seen from the panoramic view at the top of the mountain, and apparently when there’s zero cloud or fog you can see all the way to Munich 180km away. Was quite the spot to enjoy a mid-morning drink with the Thomson gang. There’s a hotel on the summit too, which I imagine must be quite the experience.
No need to walk for hours to this height though – the Scafbergbahn steam-powered cog railway has been ferrying people to and from the top since 1893, and is possibly the most picturesque train journey ever.
Just a small drop down the other side.
— Ride in a cablecar up the Zwolferhorn
OK so from a distance this cablecar looked a *little* like a tin can on a piece of string, (cue wary thoughts from me) but up close it looked far more substantial. Thankfully. I know I keep banging on about the views but I gotta say, looking out over Wolfgangsee, St Gilgen and the surrounding mountains was just a tad impressive. We spent our final morning in Austria heading up the Zwölferhorn and having a general mooch around at the top, which suited me just nicely. Benches and seats all over, a WiFi hotspot (yes really) and those views – not a bad place to relax really! I expected the mountaintops to be super windy but was pleasantly surprised to find how calm they were too.
–Ride an E-bike along the lakeside
Turbo mode wasn’t needed along the lakeside roads but definitely was needed for the hills in the villages! We probably looked so smug cruising up the steep slopes past people who’d given up pedalling for pushing. Apologies, guys. These things are a good idea. E-bike stations are dotted around in each village so you can pick up a bike in one, cruise along to the next, drop the bike off at the centre and take the boat back to where you started.
— Water sports on the lakes
Unfortunately we didn’t have chance to try our hand at any watersports but we certainly saw enough people out on the lake having fun. Stand up paddleboarding would have definitely been my choice; I can’t think of a better form of exercise than paddleboarding with The Most Idyllic View Ever tbh. My morning jog along the lakeside path wasn’t half bad, but I think paddleboarding would take the biscuit!
Hiking is obviously a big thing around these parts too, but doesn’t look like it’s for the faint hearted. From our cablecar view we saw a few couples who’d definitely had a row mid hike judging by the distance between them!
–Tour the salt mines at Salzwelten Hallstatt
We remembered our sensible shoes and donned ever-so-flattering outfits to head down the oldest salt mine in the world. The tour is part-science, part history, and part ‘who can go fastest down the slide’ and was a really interesting way to spend an afternoon.
Word of warning: the bench ‘train’ back out of the mountain sets off bloody quick!
Anddd back out the mountain for more view-gawping and lunch. Highly recommended.
The summer weather is just perfect
Warm weather isn’t necessarily what jumps to mind for Austria, but the summer weather is just delightful. Look at those blue skies! Sure, we had one cloudy day and a very short thunderstorm, but for the most part the weather was beautifully warm and bright. Exactly what us Brits are looking for. Don’t be fooled by the photos with me wearing long sleeves – that was only for journeys to and from the airport.
Cheesy promo shot for the wonderful Thomson Lakes & Mountains there.
There are adorable villages and towns to explore
I don’t know about you but I love a good aimless wander around pretty towns and villages, and these couldn’t have been more perfect. They’re both rich in history (Mozarthouse, Emperors’ homes) and rich in photogenic spots, which is never a bad thing! We visited St Wolfgang, St Gilgen, Bad Ischl, and Hallstatt, so here are a few snaps from each.
We stayed in St Wolfgang and the first thing to say is OMG so cute. This town had the friendliest atmosphere and felt like an all round happy place to stay.
You would be happy if you lived here though, wouldn’t you?
Bad Ischl is a beautiful spa town where many people came to be healed, and where WW1 was declared. Also where Lily ate a very yummy cake.
St Gilgen – Home of the Mozarthouse, beautiful hotels, delicious food and a shop selling ‘Schnapps and Shoes’. Standard combination.
I’ll hazard a guess that many of you will have seen Hallstatt on Pinterest – unsurprisingly given that it’s such a postcard perfect place. It’s just as picturesque in real life. There are even signs dotted around saying ‘Hallstatt is not a museum’ and ‘no drone zone’ because it seems so idyllic that apparently people try to walk into houses thinking they’re part of a tourist attraction.
Hallstatt’s ‘bone house’ is certainly unique but I think it’s pretty cool. Why be 6 feet under when you could have your skull painted and on display?
Everything feels clean and safe
The air, the water, everything. You can drink directly from the streams no problem, and everything feels so fresh and lush. I would’ve felt perfectly OK walking around alone at night in these Austrian villages, which definitely can’t be said for many places. So whilst I think a holiday here would be great for families or groups of friends, it seems like it’d be perfect for a solo trip too.
Pretty sights are in every direction
Not even an ugly supermarket, and that really is an achievement. Everywhere you look there’s a scene that could be straight out of a painting, be it mountains towering over a blue lake, flowers framing a colourful archway or quaint old shops.
It’s lively but isn’t packed with tourists
The odd hotspot gets pretty busy when coach tours pass through (particularly in Hallstatt), but you don’t need to wander far from these hotspots to feel like you’re exploring by yourself.
The food is delicious and isn’t scary for fussy tastebuds
Personally I’ll pretty much eat whatever’s placed in front of me (within reason, ofc), but I know not everybody has such relaxed tastebuds. However that needn’t mean missing out on tasting the traditional Austrian dishes – I’m pretty sure even the fussiest of Brits would have something to enjoy! I came home with a very full belly, that’s for sure. Some foodie examples and where we ate:
Traditional cheese, meat and bread platters at Dornerhof, St Wolfgang. The location felt like something out of the sound of music and the selection was what my expert self would describe as ‘very very yummy’. Lunch stops don’t come more traditional than this.
Catfish at Hotel Im Weissen Rossl, St Wolfgang. I’ll choose the fishy dishes every time and this one didn’t disappoint! We only ate one evening meal in the hotel we actually stayed at but the evening of good food, company, and wine was definitely a top one.
Iced coffee and cake by the riverfront in Bad Ischl. I was expecting a coffee with… ice as a nice cool drink, but little did I know it would come with loadings of whipped cream and ice cream too. The sexy version of ice coffee.
Austria is famous for cakes and I can see why. Can I have this exact strawberry roulade again now, please?
Goulash at Bergrestaurant Rudolfsturm, Hallstatt. Yep goulash is Hungarian but it tastes damn good and the ‘world heritage view’ over Hallstatt makes a pretty decent lunchtime view I have to say.
Schnitzel at Hotel Hollweger, St Gilgen. Couldn’t possibly leave Austria without eating schnitzel.
4 (5 maybe? I can’t remember) courses of deliciousness at Strandhotel Margaretha, St Wolfgang.
Here’s a photo of the salad buffet because the light was shining on it nicely. This tomato was the chosen one, evidently.
It’s oh so Instagrammable
Just throwing that out there and letting the photos do the talking.
In conclusion: YOU NEED TO GO TO AUSTRIA. Anybody who’s made it to the end of this one deserves a medal but forgive me for the long post; I fell in love with this country a little, OK?
My trip to Austria was complimentary thanks to Thomson Lakes & Mountains, however all opinions are my own.
Lily Kate x