A simple mission, get from Vienna to Salzburg the most beautiful way possible. It can be done in three hours. We did it in three days. Enough time to enjoy the landscape, stop at weird roadside cafes, and take a swim to cool down from the sweltering heat. Here are a few tips and recommendations on what to do and what not to do.
This was the route: Vienna - Burg Plankenstein - Nationalpark Gesäuse - Hallstättersee - Salzburg.
After picking up the rental car we hit the road and the busy streets of Vienna were quickly exchanged with quieter roads. My favorite part was driving away from the main roads and onto small twisty country lanes. I would probably have curated the route a bit more to incorporate smaller roads but it was getting late in the afternoon and we had hotel waiting that I knew would be interesting!
After driving for about two hours from Vienna we made it to the hotel, Burg Plankenstein (scarily close to “Frankenstein”). Burg Plankenstein is on old castle from 1400’s that has been turned into a hotel in recent years. There was not many people there, other than an odd middle aged couple and a man in his late 60’s smoking cigarettes in the inner yard. The hotel itself was restored in a slightly odd way with a mix of old and new. The kind of tacky you only find in Germany/Austria.
It was a nice place though and the friendly manager had upgraded us to a room with access to a big balcony so we could cool down in the heat - although the thick stone walls kept the heat off bay inside the room. We were hungry after a long day of travelling. Instead of eating at the hotel restaurant we decided to go to the local supermarket and buy some bread and charcuterie that we could enjoy on the balcony. To our surprise the supermarkets close fairly early in Austria (6-7 pm) and we had to race (safely) to get what we needed before closing time.
We got the goods and enjoyed a light dinner while the sun was setting over the Austrian pre-alps.
After we had finished the simple but fulfilling dinner we ventured out to see if we could catch the last rays of the sun before it disappeared. And so we did. A big bright ball disappeared behind the mountains. Magical.
After a good night’s sleep with no interruptions of ghosts or other paranormal activity we enjoyed a nice traditional breakfast: white bread, sausage, ham, and cheese. As it should be in this part of the world.
We loaded our bags in the car and hit the road. Slowly, we grinded our way through the mountains, through small sleepy towns. We made a stop at this small cafe to buy some road snacks: fresh Austrian strawberries. Sweet.
We drove through Nationalpark Gesäuse - we should definitely have made a longer stop there and gone for a hike, in hindsight.
Next stop was Hallstättersee which we had heard both good and bad about. The good: very beautiful. The bad: very touristy. Both turned out to be true. We arrived at Hallstatt early in the afternoon and immediately decided to move on as hoards of tourists (as ourselves) had invaded the scenic small town.
The lake was beautiful though and in the high noon heat it was a given that we had to go for a swim. We drove on to the other side of the lake to Obertraun which was a bit more quiet and the perfect place to go for a swim! The cold water in the mountain lake came as a relief in the 35c heat.
We decided to return to the town of Hallstatt later in the evening and hoped that most of the tourists would be gone by then. This turned out to be mostly true. Still many tourists in the evening, but manageable. And the light was better for taking photos. Win win. Hallstatt is definitely worth a visit, just know what you’re getting yourself into.
We spent the night in not to far away from Hallstatt in a classic roadside Gasthaus. Chinese inspired Gasthaus to be frank. Very tacky.
After spending the night partly surrounded by dragons, we enjoyed another round of bread and ham for breakfast and then pointed the car towards Salzburg. We drove through St. Wolfgang and St. Gilgen which was somewhat bland tourist towns, so we quickly passed through and continued towards Salzburg. We rolled down the steep hill and into the city that is surrounded by mountains to the east, west and south.
The immediate reaction: What beautiful old city! Big old houses in pastel colors with fine detailing, a river flowing through the heart of town and the mountains in the background. Beautiful! From the city there is a view to Gaisbergspitze, a mountaintop. I was immediately drawn and had to know how the world looked from there. So, I spent a morning hiking up there. It was steep: 20 km, 1300m vert. gain round trip (activity link). What would have been a lot easier, was to drive up to Gaisberg before entering the city as there is a road going all the way to the top (you can also take the bus from the city centre). But the view would not have been as satisfying as when you have been grinding, partly blinded by sweat in your eyes, up the steep trail through the forest and then turn around and see the entire city below you and the mountains scaling up in the background.
We got settled in the city, where my girlfriend will be living for the next 6 months as she will be working for Red Bull Media House who has their HQ in Salzburg.
Now we were hungry. The kind of hungry that makes you make bad decisions. We ended up at one of the tourist “bier garten” traps. Not recommended. Go get a burger at Ludwigs or asian at Mister Le. Still need to find the best schnitzel in town. But I will be here on/off the next 6 months at least, so I got time to figure that out.
Can’t wait to explore Salzburg and the surroundings!