April 2024: As part of a 3 weeklong baby bonding family trip across Europe and Morocco, my wife, mother-in-law, infant daughter, and I visited the Alps of Northern Austria via a rental car from Munich, Germany for three days. This is our Germany trip report report: In Search of the Nazi and Cold War Past, Berlin & Bavaria, Germany | Venture The Planet.  Our primary destination was Hallstatt, a small village on an alpine lake in one of the most beautiful settings anywhere in the Alps. We ended up staying in Obertraun,a much quieter and cheaper village just a few miles down the lake from Alstatt instead.

 

 

Halstatt, Austria

Staying in Obertraun

I’ll be honest I wasn’t excited about Hallstatt because I knew it was one of the most touristy places in Austria and accommodation there was expensive. My main purpose for going there was to have a good base for exploring the surrounding mountains and to be on a beautiful alpine lake in the Alps. Additionally, we were there during the off season and tourist numbers would be relatively small compared to normal. It was also Spring, and the weather was starting to warm up and the alpine meadows were lush and green, and mountains still full of snow.  Hallstatt is a quaint, picturesque town and definitely worth a day trip and the best way to do this was by staying just on the other side of the lake in the small village of Obertraun. Obertraun was much quieter, still on the lake, and was a beautiful town to explore on foot. The town is a night and day difference from Hallstatt and even though it is not as picturesque as Hallstatt I liked it more. The best part of the area is there are many hiking trails from town that lead up into the mountains and around the lake. We booked a very affordable large chalet to stay in near the lake shore for two nights. The chalet was huge, and cozy with a balcony in each of our rooms. The view of the mountains and lake from our chalet was incredible and I had all kinds of plans to hike but sadly came down with a nasty cold, which took some of the wind away from my sails. We also really want to visit the huge ice cave in the mountains, one of the largest in the world but it was closed in winter and not due to re-open for the year until a few days after we were due to leave unfortunately.

 

 

Our chalet we stayed in at the village of Obertraun
Paula and Indie posing in front of the town of Hallstatt from across the lake on a hiking trail from Obertraun

Indie in her bear suit and I

Hallstatt from across the lake on a trail from Obertraun

An Old Church Tower in Obertraun

Traditional wood building

Traditional wood building

View of Obertraun in Spring from the town graveyard
Hallstatt

 

 

 

It’s easy to hate Hallstatt because of the throngs of tourists and its excessive commercial tourism. It is Austria’s most popular tourist destination, and it is exceptionally popular I noticed with Chinese tourists. I discovered it is so popular with them that a replica of Hallstatt village has actually been constructed in China and that is also very popular with Chinese tourists. Regardless, places like Hallstatt are touristy for a reason. There has been a human settlement here in some form since 800 BC during the early bronze era because of the Saltmine in the mountains-believed to be the oldest in the world. Hallstatt is also home to some incredible old buildings and churches and there is no shortage of eateries lining the shoreline of the lake.

 

 

Beautiful old Hallstatt Building

Iconic view of Halstatt that happens to be the most popular on Chinese social media platforms too because a line of Chinese tourists were waiting toget a photo of themselves in front of this view and when I took more than 10 seconds to take my photo I was asked to make way -politely at least-by the tour guide. 

Krampus is unique to Austria and is a kind of folklorish mean Santa Clauss troll like figure that punishes naughty kids instead of giving them gifts like Santa. Every year there is a Krampus parade in various villages displaying people dressed up in scary Krampus masks. One of the houses in Halstatt had some of these masks on display that appeared to be locally made in the traditional fashion.

 

 

Evil Santa-Krampus Masks

Salzwelten Hallstatt Salt Mine

 

 

 

No visit to Hallstatt is possible without a visit to the oldest salt mine in the world. The salt has been mined since the bronze era from ancient salt deposits that were formed by the ocean that once existed in this part of Europe long before the Alps were formed. When the ocean dried up this left exposed salt deposits that were pushed up into the mountain tops of the Alps when the tectonic plates of Europe and Africa collided pushing the mountains along with the salt deposits toward the sky to their present location. The salt mine is reached by hiking or a tramway. Views from the area around the mine of the lake and surrounding mountains are incredible.

Babies are now allowed inside the mine tour, so my wife and I left our daughter with my mother-in-law and Paula, and I had one of the first childless outings together since we became parents. The tour into the salt mine was touristy but fun. Part of the tour includes learning about the section of the mine that is still producing salt today and the last part of the tour is via the historic mine to see many of the archeological landmarks such as a bronze age era petrified ladder. But the highlight was the slide and the ride in the mine cart.

 

 

View of Halstatt from the mountain top salt mine perched above the town
View of Obertraun from the Saltmine
More views
Entrance to the salt mine
Paula inside the mine in the mandatory overalls provided at the beginning of the tour

Our two nights in Austria were very relaxing and I was mesmerized by how beautiful the Alps were, but it was hard for to be in such a beautiful place and not do some serious hiking. From Hallstatt we drove across the mountains to the German Alps and onwards to Munich where we flew directly home to San Diego via Lufthansa Airlines. We saved thousands of dollars each by buying a round-trip ticket from Munich to San Diego instead of a one-way flight because for whatever the reason the one-way flight was significantly more expensive. Then we just cancelled the return flight when home.  Sadly, our amazing 3-week baby bonding trip across Europe and Morocco finally came to an end.

 

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