Months before we began planning our trip to Austria, we were visiting my family in Arizona for Christmas and my dad showed me a beautiful screensaver he found online that featured gorgeous snow-capped mountains surrounded by a cobalt blue high alpine lake. The scenery was so incredibly stunning that together we searched the web to find the location of this epic shot and discovered a new destination we had never heard of before: The Salzkammergut.
The Salzkammergut is one of seven regions in Austria most known for its breathtaking scenery of high alpine lakes (there are 76 lakes in the region), rugged remote wilderness peppered with lovely scenic villages and towns like the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hallstatt and Daschstein. If you are one who loves mountains and lakes, then this is the region for you. Besides its aching beauty and endless opportunities to connect with nature whether it be by hiking, biking, boating, swimming or sailing, The Salzkammergut is also home to the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave featuring magical towers of ice that make you feel like you are in the fantasy world of Narnia. As soon as I laid eyes on the photos and images from The Salzkammergut, I knew we had to go there. Thankfully, we planned four nights and five full days in the region before heading back to Munich for our flight home. Finding enough time to fit in all we wanted to see and do over the next five days was going to be a challenge yet I could hardly wait to see the Lakes region of Austria.
Choosing where to stay in The Salzkammergut proved tricky as the postcard picture perfect town of Hallstatt where all the tourists flock to see, is outrageously expensive. The region is fairly spread out with many towns and villages surrounding mountains and lakes, and many long and winding roads to reach them. We chose the popular Lake Traunsee about an hour’s drive north of Hallstatt for our base, and I quite frankly booked our accommodations on Expedia based on size and price. I knew we wanted a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and space for the four of us that was somewhat near one of the lakes. The Landgut Wagnerfeld, a family run property near Lake Traunsee in Altmünster, proved to be the perfect fit for our needs.
We left Seefeld in Tirol in the pouring rain that unfortunately clouded our view of the spectacular scenery. The rain came down like mad and wouldn’t leave us for at least another day. I was really disappointed but of course there is not a thing you can do about the weather. Instead of agonizing over it, I began to plot out our plans for the next few days. About three hours later we arrived at the town of Gmunden at the northern edge of Lake Traunsee. Our accommodations were located in Altmünster, the next town over.
Thankfully we had the address plugged into our car navigational system or else I’m not sure how we would have found it. The Landgut Wagnerfeld is perched high above Lake Traunsee on an immense pasture of farmland. As we pulled up into the estate, I couldn’t believe my foolishness as I had absolutely no idea that we were staying on a farm. Yet I was absolutely thrilled by this unexpected surprise. We had spent two nights at a farm in rural Costa Rica and our farmstay ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip. It was wonderful.
The farm has been in the hands of the Hafner family for over 200 years, and is home to over 40 cows, 4 calves, 2 bunnies and a series of outdoor cats. When we arrived we were graciously greeted by Thomas and Beate Hafner who along with Thomas’ parents have been welcoming guests to their farm for over 35 years. The farm has three spacious apartments -two of which are brand new – and a large terrace and outdoor area for enjoying the glorious views of the lake and surrounding mountains. It is a working farm meaning guests get a firsthand view into what life is like as a cattle farmer in Austria. The Hafner family live right on the property with their three children (ages 12, 8 and 6) which proved to be a big hit for my own children as they had new playmates during our stay! It proved to be a very lovely cross-cultural experience for all of us. We even got to enjoy several of Beate’s homemade jellies and jams as well as freshly-baked bread delivered to our doorstep from the nearby baker every morning. Beate is a wonderful hostess and cook and loved to leave us surprises of cookies and chocolate brownies which made my children even happier.
Besides the delightful hospitality of the Hafner family, the location of the farm could not have been more perfect. The sunset views were incredible and there was nothing I enjoyed more during my stay than sitting on a lounge chair with a glass of local wine in hand watching the sun set while the children all played. Although my kids don’t know German they were able to communicate just fine with the Hafner’s kids and fellow guests using Google Translate. I was truly spellbound by the ingenuity of the kids to figure out how to communicate and explain their American games to their Austrian counterparts. It was one of those moments where I felt so proud to see my kids jumping right in and engaging with the kids even when they didn’t speak the same language.
Once the weather cleared up, we were delighted to see how utterly beautiful it was at the farm and surrounding area. For some reason, it reminded me a tiny bit of Norway but it has been years since I’ve been there. Something about the lush greenery juxtaposed against the soaring mountains and the blue lakes just dazzled me. I can only imagine what it must look like in the winter when all is covered in snow!
One afternoon, I took an exploration walk to check out the area and the lake. There were people sailing, lots of bikers and plenty of much-needed sunshine. Right down the hill from the farm is a fantastic pizzeria called San Angelos where we had dinner two of the four nights we were in town. There were also plenty of other great restaurants to chose from in town.
Lake Traunsee is the second largest lake in the area reaching 12 km (7.5 miles) long by 3 km (1.5 miles) wide. There are seven different towns along Lake Traunsee, each with its own charm: Altmünster (where we stayed), Ebensee, Gmunden, Traunkirchen, Pinsdorf, Gschwandt and Laakirchen. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to check them all out as we wanted to spend most of our time hiking. However, there is plenty of history and culture to see in each village. There are also two cable cars, one in Gmunden and the other in Ebensee, that bring you up high to the tops of the mountains where you can hike in the summer and ski in the winter or just look at the impressive views.
One thing I learned very soon about The Salzkammergut is that there is tons to see and do and you could easily spend weeks just in this region exploring its immense beauty. After five fabulous days here we decided it is definitely a place we’d love to come back to again someday. It was just as beautiful and spectacular as I’d imagined.
If you go:
I highly recommend staying at The Landgut Wagnerfeld run by Thomas and Beate Hafner and located at Bauernhof “Wagnerfeld”, Ferienwohnung
Pichlhofstraße 44, 4813 Altmünster. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.altmuenster.info
Also check out regional website for The Salzgammergut at www.salzkammergut.at for more information on what to do and see. Warning: If you look at this website you will indeed want to go!