15.09.2015
11:07

To Austria’s Lake District by rail

Mark Dudgeon, Blue Guides’ rail expert, takes advantage of the summer weather to visit the Salzkammergut region of Austria.

Budapest’s Keleti railway station on a Thursday morning in late August: the migrant crisis overwhelming Europe is on stark display here. On the subterranean level, masses of hapless refugees calmly mill around or lie down in their family groupings waiting for something to happen, somewhere to go.

A rail journey to Austria would normally start here: Railjets run towards Vienna at two-hourly intervals in the daytime. But today, instead, a sharpish flit over to Kelenföld station - in the southern Buda suburbs - is required, to catch the early morning train from Debrecen (in the east of Hungary) towards Vienna. This train does not reach Keleti, the main international station in Budapest, but instead skirts through the city’s southern fringes, stopping at a couple of suburban stations en route.

The train arrives on time and is very busy, for it’s the start of a long holiday weekend in Hungary. Surprisingly, it’s not a Hungarian or Austrian train which rolls up, but a Polish trainset. On board, breakfast in the Polish dining car – an advantage on this train over the newer Railjets, which only have a cramped bistro section – makes the journey pass by very comfortably. At Vienna’s Westbahnhof station, there is more evidence of the migrant crisis. Two platforms are cordoned off and a group of around a hundred refugees is sitting patiently, cross-legged, in the middle, surrounded by police. Then a further contingent of a dozen or so police officers arrives and escorts them away.

From Vienna, the next stage of the journey proceeds westwards on the Austrian main east-west axis towards Salzburg, but only as far as Attnang-Puchheim, reached about 3 hours after leaving Vienna. This journey is operated using an OeBB (Austrian Railways) inter-city train, made up of refurbished early-1990s carriages, which used to be the mainstay of Austrian long-distance rail travel until the introduction of the Railjets a few years ago. OeBB has kept these trains in excellent condition, and many consider them to be more comfortable than the Railjets, having more legroom and feeling less cramped, with a mixture of traditional compartment and open-plan seating.

The scenery so far has been pleasant, rather than spectacular, but thing soon change on the Salzkammergutbahn, part of which runs from Attnang-Puchheim, for a distance of about 60 miles southwards and then eastwards, to Stainach-Irdning on the Graz-Innsbruck line. Now travel is on a regional express train, and about fifteen minutes after leaving Attnang-Puchheim, the train arrives at the first major station on the single-track line, Gmunden, which is at the northern tip of Traunsee, the second largest lake in this area. The lake is unfortunately not yet visible from the railway, since the station lies some way out of the town. The station is linked with the lakeside by the Gmunden Tramway, which, although short (less than a mile-and-a-half long) is the oldest tramway still operating in Austria. From the lakeside square in the centre of Gmunden, the full expanse of the eight-mile long lake unfolds, with the mountains providing a splendid backdrop to the south and east, whilst on the western side of the lake, just south of the town, lies the striking Schloss Ort, a castle with origins in the eleventh century.

Back on the railway, after another ten minutes, the lakeside is reached just before the station at Traunkirchen, and the train continues along the lake’s western shore all the way to its southern end at Ebensee. Traunsee is a popular lake for water sports, particularly sailing and water-skiing - and on any summer’s day the view from the train is of a lake dotted with the sails of yachts. The railway line then bears south-westwards along the banks of the River Traun, for about ten miles, until it reaches the town of Bad Ischl.

Bad Ischl lies at the centre of the Salzkammergut region, Austria’s lake district, and while being a significant tourist base, it does not at all project the feeling of being overwhelmed by tourism – it is a charming and bustling town in its own right. It lies at the confluence of the Traun and Ischl rivers, which loop round effectively transforming the town’s centre into a peninsula. By the mid-nineteenth century, Bad Ischl had become fashionable as a spa resort, and it was the summer retreat for many years of Emperor Franz Josef I, who was engaged to the future Empress Sisi here. Consequently, the spa town became very popular with Austrian and European aristocracy even before the railway arrived in 1875, and the centre contains many elegant imperial buildings.

From Bad Ischl, to the west lies the well-frequented lakeside resort of St Wolfgang and the Wolfgangsee, and beyond that, Salzburg; however, unfortunately, there is no railway line in that direction. The railway continues southwards towards to the sleepy town of Bad Goisern, and then soon a glimmer of the dark waters of the Hallstättersee – Lake Hallstatt – can be seen through the trees. The train now hugs the lakeside, but the opposite shore is only visible occasionally, offering the tantalising glimpse of the small settlement in the distance, hugging the side of a mountain. Then, after passing through a short tunnel, the train draws to a halt at the solitary platform which forms the station at Hallstatt, on the opposite side of the lake to the town it serves.

From the station, a short path snakes downwards to the waiting ferry. For as long as can be remembered, in a very civilised arrangement, the ferry meets each train, and the trains stop at the station only when the ferry operates.

Despite the innumerable images of Hallstatt in guide books and online, nothing quite prepares you for the beauty of the setting in reality. The view from the boat crossing the lake is probably the most spectacular, and this is not lost on the many camera-wielding tourists making the journey. The town seems to be precariously situated between the mountainside and lake shore, while the colours of its buildings are reflected in the dark, shimmering waters of the lake. The boat docks at Hallstatt Markt pier, and everyone disembarks right into the centre of town.

Hallstatt is small – the main street, which is almost traffic-free, runs for about 500 metres, north to south – and despite the throngs of tourists, remains considerably beguiling, not least because of the charm of its well-kept buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old. It is easy to find some tranquillity away from the crowds by walking behind and above the main street, looking down on the town; in a mini-Venice effect, the town becomes much quieter in the early evening after the many day-trippers have left.

Highlights of a visit to Hallstatt include the salt mines and the town’s ossuary. Hallstatt’s connections with salt mining go back many centuries; indeed the early European Iron Age, between about 800 and 500 BC, is referred to as the Hallstatt period. The entrance to the salt mines is reached by a vertiginous cable railway running up Salzberg, the salt mountain itself. Near the railway’s summit, Hallstatt’s own skywalk – 350 metres above the town – provides the inevitably stunning panoramic views. The ossuary, or Bone House, is located in the basement of St Michael’s church, and dates back to the twelfth century. It contains some 1,200 skulls, about half of which are painted; many are arranged in family groups. It came about ostensibly because of limited burial space in the town, and the historical prohibition of cremations. The last skull to be placed there was as recent as 1995, being that of a woman who died in 1983.

Just south of the town, a glacial valley cuts into the mountains, perpendicular to the lake. The town’s dwellings soon dwindle out into the open countryside, and there are plenty of reasonably easy, and little-frequented hiking trails leading to craggy rock faces, rushing streams, waterfalls and high bridges with expansive views of the town and lake below. More experienced hikers can take the trail up the side of the Salzberg to the high station of the mountain railway.

Back in Hallstatt, it is evident that this place is extremely popular with Asian visitors, so much so that a few years ago - initially much to the chagrin of local residents of the original town - China built a full-scale replica of Hallstatt in Guangdong province.

On the good boat Stefanie, sailing back to the railway station on its last journey of the day, the constant clicking of cameras and smartphones evidences tourists making the most of the last chance to take pictures of the unique setting. Then they make their way up to the station, and just a few minutes later everyone is whisked away by the last northbound train of the day.

Practicalities

From Vienna or Salzburg, Hallstatt is reached by changing trains at Attnang-Puchheim. A shorter journey is possible from Salzburg by a combination of bus to Bad Ischl, and thence train to Hallstatt.

On Saturdays and Sundays, a through train to Bad Ischl and Hallstatt leaves Vienna (Westbahnhof) at around 10:00, returning from Hallstatt just after 16:30.

The last boat to leave Hallstatt Markt pier for the railway station leaves promptly at 18:15 daily, which allows a same-day arrival in Vienna just after 22:00. In the reverse direction, a train departing Vienna just before 15:00 connects with the last train from Attnang-Puchheim to Hallstatt, arriving at 18:47. The last boat to the town leaves immediately after the arrival of this train.

The low platform at Hallstatt is on a curve and the train leans away from the platform, meaning somewhat of a climb to get on or off the train, and making boarding and alighting with luggage cumbersome; the path down to the ferry, although short (less than 100 metres), is steep-ish and also can be awkward with bags.

Hallstatt’s station is unmanned, but if you are ticketless, be sure to buy your train ticket before boarding from the ticket machine, which is unsigned and somewhat hidden away in the small waiting-room. It will sell you a ticket for any destination in Austria.

  •  
  • 0 Comment(s)
  •  

Your comment

Notify me when someone adds another comment to this post

back

Latest

Flawless ... and 100 years old
Extreme dairy farming in Sauris
Islamic Art in Florence
The Seuso Roman silver: on display at last
The Wonders of Pontormo
Builders of Budapest
Crowded Times
Good news from Florence
The Heartwarming Middle Ages
Waves of Art Nouveau
Bookshops in Budapest
Budapest at the Biennale
Living with Leonardo
The Zeugma Mosaics Saga
News from Syracuse
Raphael in Bergamo
Titian in Brescia
Comments and Updates on Blue Guide Budapest
Heroism on the Danube
The 'Romanesque Hall' in Budapest
Dürer in Milan
Re-interpreting the Trojan Horse
Charles I: King and Collector
Fleming and Honour Remembered
Pictures from Lake Maggiore
A late Art Nouveau treasure in Budapest
Anna: Female destinies in Transylvania
What’s on in Florence
Art Within Limits
A Time in Rome
Diana Athill, 'A Florence Diary'
Season’s Greetings
Christmas with the Gonzaga
Aegean Turkey: Troy to Bodrum
Collectors in Florence
European rail changes 2018
A people who changed history
Return to 'A Room with a View'
Italian island food
The Scythians at the British Museum
Rogues' Gallery by Philip Hook
Ferragamo's Return
Silence of the looms
Grammar and Grace
The Seuso Saga
Giuliano da Sangallo
The Black Fields of Kula
Leonardo's "Adoration of the Magi" restored
Venice before Easter
Selectivity at the Uffizi
Guide to the Via Francigena
What Ariosto could see
News from Florence: Giovanni dal Ponte
More than just the David
The formidable Empress Matilda
Life, Art and Kenneth Clark
Hedonist's travel, Hungarian wine
Remarkable Manuscripts
Abstract Expressionism at the RA
Comments on Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old...
Transylvania Launched
Which 50 Sites of Antiquity?
A Treasure in Cagli
The Transylvanian Book Festival
Comments on Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Târnava...
Roman Brixia
The new Museo degli Innocenti
Wine guide wins prize
Jesters at the Court of the Medici
Budapest, Freedom and the Olympics
The Roman Forum Reconstructed
Bernini's Beloved
Blue Guide Paris on Amazon
The Imperial Ramp in the Roman Forum
Sabbioneta, Cryptic City
Secret delights of Florence: the Bellini private museum
Cutting-edge mosque design in Albania
St Francis in Florence
To Austria’s Lake District by rail
Pilgrimage pathways to and from Rome
Five major London museums
Napoleon and Paris: Dreams of a capital
Whither Tate Britain?
The many lives of Nasreddin Hoca
Lesley Blanch: On the Wilder Shores of Love
The Middle Ages on the Road
Hellenistic bronzes in Florence
Europe by rail - an introduction
Frescoes in a convent of a closed order of nuns
Michelin starred Paris
A Michelangelo discovery?
Jan Morris: Ciao, Carpaccio: An Infatuation
The Venus de Milo fights back
Winter in Florence: a new look at Donatello
Tea (or coffee) with the Sultan
Artwork of the Month: January. Medieval stained glass
Which? ranks Blue Guides #2
Giacomo Leopardi: A poet in film
Sassoferrato and the Aion Mosaic
The Aventine and Turner in Rome
Artwork of the Month: December
Rendez-vous with Art
Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age
Giovanni Battista Moroni
London The Information Capital
Changes to European rail services for 2015
Comments on Blue Guide London
Egypt, Greece, & Rome
The Medici Villas of Tuscany and Tourism
Artwork of the Month: November. Reason, Unreason and the...
The first collectors of 'Primitives'
From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town
Artwork of the Month: October. The Arch of Constantine
Sorting out the Uffizi
Waging war with a view
Dull London? Surely a mistake
Artwork of the month: September. Watercolour of the Great...
Italian Venice: A History
A tale of three museums
Rissëu
All Aboard the Cheese Train
National Gallery London to allow photography
Artwork of the Month: August. Bust of Augustus Caesar from...
Sacred Splendours: reliquaries of Florence's pious grand...
Book Review. Helena Attlee: The Land where Lemons Grow
Holiday reading
Artwork of the Month: July. The Phaistos Disc
Budapest to Vienna and Salzburg by Railjet
Marvellous and Macabre: the art of Jacopo Ligozzi
David Esterly - The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of...
Artwork of the month: June, Pordenone's Noli me Tangere
Budapest to Serbia by EuroCity Avala
Saving the Great Bear: Trieste's floating crane
News from Florence
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Baccio Bandinelli: a rehabilitation
Artwork of the month: May. "Flora", Pompeii
Travelling around Britain in style
In praise of plague cakes
Princesses from the Trabzon Empire
Artwork of the month: April. The Seuso Silver
Uffizi selfies come to Budapest
Florentine Mannerists at Palazzo Strozzi
Rome: seasonal stations
Sustainable living in Bolzano
Artwork of the month: March. Murillo's Flower Girl
Tastes change
Francesco Laurana's serene beauty
Being Mithridates
Florence and Buda: two cities of learning
Thoughts on Rome
Copyrighting Heritage
Food is the new Florence
A Grumpy Visit to Westminster Abbey
The Honey Of Hybla
So what is the Turkish Van?
The Pike: by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Smoothly off the buffers
Under Another Sky
'Art under Attack' at Tate Britain
Comments on Smoothly from Harrow
Renaissance art from Florence to Paris and back
Comments on Blue Guide Venice
Hepworth's "Winged Figure": 50th anniversary
Tying the Knot in Urfa
Venice and the Politcs of Washing
Comments on Staten Island: A Blue Guide Travel Monograph
Comments on Short Guide to London 1953
Turin restored and rejuvenated
A palatial art museum in Trieste
The cloisters of Santa Maria Novella
The wonderful Palazzo Grimani, Venice
Pope Benedict: an unorthodox farewell
Obscure St Valentine and his famous Feast Day
Burano in February
The St Agnes lambs
Leonardo’s “Adoration of the Magi” in restoration
Cathedral picks: Exeter
The real Patrick Leigh Fermor?
The joy of Giambattista Tiepolo
Leonardo’s “Battle of Anghiari”
In praise of Venice’s water transport system
The Red Rooms at the Uffizi
The Blue Rooms at the Uffizi
A trip to the Port of Trajan, outside Rome
Pour l’honneur de la France
An early-morning visit to Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, Rome
Church of SS Luca e Martina reopens above Roman Forum
How the tide turned at the Milvian Bridge
A compelling reason to visit Trapani province
St Augustine and his mother at Ostia
Visiting St Paul’s in London
Hadrian, Antinoüs and the Christian Fathers
Earliest-known image of a martyrdom
Can’t face the Vatican crowds? Try San Lorenzo
Turin, Pisa and mathematics
Ideal cities are all around us. It’s simply a matter of...
On Canaletto and Guardi and Venetian Light
Mithraism: a Roman Mystery Religion
Random Musings on Pontormo and Vermeer
The Amphitheatre of Londinium
Edward Lear and Crete
A handful of favourite things to see in Sicily
The mystery of the veiled virgins
Venice without the crowds
Cividale del Friuli and the Lombards
The Trouble with Snake Goddesses
The tragedy of Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico
Oranges, lemons and relic cults: an escape from the queues...
City Picks: Verona
Hitherto unknown language discovered in east Anatolia
Painting of the Day
Museo Barracco: a little-visited gem
Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome
Staten Island: Upcoming Exhibition …
International Gothic at the Uffizi
Celebrating Santa Rosalia, patron of Palermo
Delhi Ghost Trail
Comments on Pilgrim's Rome: A Blue Guide Travel Monograph
The Roman Villa at Balácapuszta (Baláca, Nemesvámos,...
The Bard of….Messina? Was Shakespeare Sicilian?
Rereading Ruskin
Sicily’s emblem: the Trinacria
Luca Signorelli on exhibition in Umbria
The Tribuna of the Uffizi reopens
The Venice equivalent of the anonymous Tweet?
Comments on Blue Guide Sicily
Sicilian Holiday Reading
Attila the Hun and the Foundation of Venice
Death in Venice cocktail a hit
The Gentry: Stories of the English
381 years ago this June
Brooklyn Bridge: a New York landmark
A Venetian Update
Sixth-century church to reopen
Roman Aquileia
Springtime in Friuli
Northern Italy dining and accommodation recommendations
Al Dente: Madness, Beauty & the Food of Rome
A celebration of Lucca
Romantic music in a Baroque setting
Blue Guide India Delhi Launch
Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life
The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution
Comments on Blue Guide India
The Roman Forum
Whispering City: Rome and its Histories
The 15th-century Health Museum at Edirne
City of Fortune, How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
Books about Istanbul
Comments on Blue Guide Istanbul
Comments on Blue Guide Florence
Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor
Comments on The Venice Lido: a Blue Guide Travel Monograph
Comments on Blue Guide Literary Companions: Rome, London,...
Comments on Blue Guide Italy Food Companion
The 54th Venice Biennale stars Tintoretto
Holy Bones, Holy Dust
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO STAY AND EAT ON CRETE
Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity
Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us
Comments on Blue Guide Turkey
Comments on Blue Guide Rome
Comments on Blue Guide Hay-on-Wye
Comments on Blue Guide Greece the Aegean Islands
Comments on Blue Guide Crete
Comments on Sites of Antiquity: from Ancient Egypt to the...
Comments on Blue Guide Tuscany
Familiar face
Comments on Blue Guide Concise Italy
Comments on Blue Guide Paris
Comments on Blue Guide New York
Comments on Blue Guide Central Italy
Comments on Blue Guide Southwest France
Blue Guide Northern Italy
Comments on Blue Guide The Marche & San Marino
Comments on Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London
A day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome - highly recommended
Comments on Blue Guide Southern Italy
Comments on Blue Guide Concise Rome
A day trip from Venice up the Brenta Canal
A day trip to Murano from Venice
Pietrasanta, Pisa: in search of Stagi
Reading list for Venice
Reading list for Florence and Tuscany
The Best Credit / Debit Card for Travel
Ruskin on Venice
Reading list for Rome
Comments on Blue Guide Greece the Mainland

Archive

follow us in feedly