Exploring the Salzkammergut, Austria

Salzburg is certainly the sparkling jewel of Austria, but then where do Salzburgers go to “get away from it all?” For hundreds of years, they have been exploring the magnificent Salzkammergut region just outside of Salzburg. During our visit in 2012, Chris and I decided to join them!

Actually, the Salzkammergut is quite a large region and includes 54 municipalities, so we visited several attractions that are not well known to North Americans: Mondsee, Wolfgangsee, and Schafberg.

Buildings and sidewalk cafes in Mondsee, Salzkammergut, Austria

Buildings and sidewalk cafes in Mondsee, Salzkammergut, Austria.

The town of Mondsee is located next to the lake Mondsee (Moon Lake), and together they provide the perfect retreat for weary travelers. Fans of The Sound of Music will enjoy the Collegiate Church of St. Michael, where Maria and von Trapp were married. Chris and I enjoyed a walk along the lakeshore, and a taste of ice cream at the lakefront restaurant. We also visited the very nice (but small) SKGLB narrow gauge train museum.

Our next stop was St. Gilgen, on the shore of the lovely Wolfgangsee (Wolfgang Lake). We sailed across the lake, admiring the beautiful landscapes and buildings, until we reached St. Wolfgang, at the foot of the Schafberg (Sheep Mountain).

Some people still hike up Schafberg, but if your legs are over 25 years old then you might want to let the Schafbergbahn do the hard work for you. This narrow gauge rack railway opened in 1893 and has been going strong ever since. In fact, this is the steepest cog-wheel railway in Austria and offers a mostly unobstructed view of the lake and mountainside as it climbs towards the summit.

Schafbergbahn steam train approaching summit station.

Schafbergbahn steam train approaching summit station.

Once at the summit station, we were initially disappointed to see that the hotel and mountain summit were still a bit further up. The twenty-minute climb zig-zags up to the top on a not-too-steep trail which didn’t bother us at all. We had lunch at the Haus Schafbergspitze (Sheep Mountain Summit Hotel), sitting outside and admiring the spectacular view.

There are hiking trails everywhere, as well as a small petting zoo for children. A paragliding school also operates locally and we watched several paragliders soar off the mountainside.

Paraglider from Schafberg, Salzkammergut, Austria.

Paraglider from Schafberg, Salzkammergut, Austria.

Most North American tourists owe their awareness of Europe as a holiday destination to Rick Steves, who filmed an episode in the Salzkammergut at the town of Hallstatt, on the Hallstätter See (lake). If you enjoy meeting other Americans, then by all means go to Hallstatt.

If you would like to experience the “real” Salzkammergut, we recommend that you explore Mondsee, Wolfgangsee and Schafberg. It is a perfect day trip from nearby Salzburg!

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