A Guide To Austria’s Lake District

There is no doubt that Salzburg is serious sound of music country, both literally and figuratively. The latter because it is the birthplace of Mozart and there are several modern day Mozarts to be seen busking in costume at various shopping areas. More importantly for visitors today however, it was the setting for the 1965 blockbuster Hollywood musical The Sound of Music. Inside the city, guidebooks point out locations such as the attractive Mirabelle Gardens which once rang to the sounds of Do, Re, Mi.

However, the real scene-stealers were those set in Austria’s Lake District, known as Salzkammergut, with its 76-odd lakes. Convenient enough for a day-trip from Salzburg, its quaint villages, shimmering lakes and scenic hills make it an absolute must visit, whether you are a fan of The Sound of Music or not. And really, to be honest, who isn’t?

Begin with Fuschlsee, the first lake on your way out from Salzburg, around which the opening scenes ofThe Sound of Music were shot. There is a very easy and picturesque hike around the lake, which takes around four hours. Swimming is allowed in most parts but do check with the local tourism kiosk before you decide to wade in. The village adjoining it is Fuschl, filled with hotels catering to the summer crowds. On your way down to Fuschl from Salzburg, you can also stop at Leopoldskron Palace (www.schloss-leopoldskron.com) portrayed as the Von Trapp villa in the timeless movie and the Hellbrunn Palace (www.hellbrunn.at/en) where the 16 going on 17 gazebo is located.

The village of Strobl on the banks of Lake Wolfgangsee is another popular spot, from where boat cruises covering the villages of St Gilgen and St Wolfgang begin. This region is also great for hiking, biking and winter-skiing on the slopes of Mount Zwolferhorn. The Schafbergbahn railway, a 19th-century steam engine train starts from Wolfgang and passes through Gilgen before chugging up Mount Schafberg while offering great views all around.

Head next to Mondsee, a pretty village with the striking yellow church where Captain Von Trapp married Maria (in the film). Wander around the Marktplatz (market square), lounging over coffee and pastries at one of the numerous cafés or hunting for souvenirs in one of the gift shops. Mondsee, meaning ‘Moon Lake’ is also ideal for sailing in good weather. And if that is not your thing, just park yourself on one of the benches along the lakefront and watch the water turn from blue to turquoise and then silver, as the day progresses. Mondsee is a short way away from Salzburg, in the direction of north Austria but well worth the effort.

Apart from these, Hallstatt is one of the prettiest spots in the country. Some sources say this is Austria’s oldest village too, dating back to the eighth century BC. This charming village was named a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site in 1997. You can spend hours walking up and down the single main street of the village or even running along the lake in the shadow of the surrounding towering mountains. And once you tire of that, pay a visit to the oldest salt mine in the area; the name of the region Salzkammergut derives from ‘salt’ once busily traded as ‘white gold.’ Local shops still sell local salt in attractive bottles that make for ideal souvenirs to take back with you.

How to get there
The best way to travel around Austria’s Lake District is by hiring a car from Salzburg. Just pick up a route map from any of the tourist offices and get going. Or hop on to a half-day bus tour that takes you through the Lake District, stopping at significant locations, including those associated with the movie.
(www.panoramatours.com/salzburg-tour.aspx)

When to go
This area is an all weather destination since there are specific activities available in different seasons, like sailing in summer and skiing in winter. However, for leisurely and un-crowded exploration of the countryside, try to pick a shoulder month like April or October.

Don’t leave without
‘The Trapp family: Reality and Sound of Music’ exhibition is on at Panorama Museum, Residenzplatz, Salzburg till September 2013.
(http://salzburgmuseum.at/797.0.html)

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