Traveling for me is not a check list of places that I should visit as a tourist. A late bloomer when it comes to travel, I realized that the beauty of a city or country lies in the non commercial, untouched regions.
As much as I enjoy cities, the serenity and peace that one experiences in a less commercial town is unrivaled. I recently experienced nature at its best when I spent 5 days in Salzburg in Austria. Salzburg by itself is a small, touristy city. One of its prime attractions is the Makarsteg bridge which runs across the Salzach river. It is a pedestrian bridge where tourists put padlocks engraved with their names and that of their partner declaring eternal devotion and love for one another. There is no history to this ritual but thousands of locks are perched along the fence of the bridge gleaming in the bright sun! Silly as it may sound, I added one to the bridge too! And I must admit that when one is traveling, there is some amount of excitement associated with doing the ‘touristy-thing!’ even in the quaintest of cities.
At the Makarsteg Bridge. Picture Courtesy: Aditya Nagavekar
However, there is another side to Salzburg that I enjoyed much more than walking along the bylanes, visiting the famous Mirador gardens and shopping at some popular shops in the city. I was in awe of the region when we drove to the outskirts of Salzburg along what is known as the Salkammergut (don’t let the name bog you down. It took me a few minutes to pronounce it right). Neither my husband nor I drive much, so we opted for the hop on-hop off bus service which took us around the lake towns.
Tip: The bus service is absolutely convenient and punctual. Buses run between the lake towns every half an hour until 6 in the evening. And there is a stop outside every town.
Our bus swirled past lush green mountains and sparkling bluish green lakes. I must admit that I have never seen anything as pure and ethereal in my life. Our first stop was at Lake Fuschlsee. The first sight of it is divine! Imagine waking up in a small town engulfed by mountains on one side and the emerald green Lake Fuschlsee on the other. This lake isn’t just visually attractive, it is believed to be the cleanest lake in Austria. Also the famous energy drink Red Bull is head quartered here.
First sight of Lake Fuschlsee
Tip: Leave for the Salzkammergut tour early. Get off at Fuschlsee and walk around the beautiful lake. On a warm day, don’t hesitate to take a dip into the cool waters. However, keep a track of time if you only have a day to spare
Fuschlsee is just the first of many gems of Salzkammergut region. You pass many lake towns until you reach the last stop – St. Wolfgang!
Wolfgangsee is slightly more commercial as compared to the other lake towns. It is, in fact, the most popular resort town around Salzburg. In spite of this, it doesn’t lose its tranquility to tourists. The first thing that you notice when you get off the bus is wide spreading, deep blue water body. We went there during peak summers and my first instinct was to jump into the fresh, inviting waters! It’s breezy even on warm days – an ideal combination!
We walked towards the city centre from the bus stop along the beautiful promenade by the lake.
Tip: Do taste the shandy at this stall just as you enter the town. The citrus flavored drink is a blessing for a parched traveller.
The orange citrus flavoured shandy is worth a try. Picture Courtesy: Aditya Nagavekar
The town is a mini paradise. Wolfgangsee is a combination of traditional houses and contemporary art. The cobbled streets that go uphill are lined by these two to three storeyed buildings with its dark colored triangular roofs standing tall. Some buildings have balconies with identical red flowers blooming on the window boxes; while some others, which do not have porticos, have these beautiful, artistic designs running along the length of the building.
Wolfgangsee city centre
In summers, the town is bustling. It has many souvenir shops and aromatic, inviting restaurants. One might get a slight touristy vibe during summers around the souvenir shops but largely this magical town is pleasant and charming.
Where to eat: No dearth of restaurants in Wolfgangsee. You can stop by at any restaurant you like and you will be served amazing food! A friend recommends Platzhirsch – a cozy yet lively restaurant that serves excellent wines and wine cocktails.
The town has narrow streets – some which take you up the mountain and some, to the lake. We walked towards the lake, hoping to sit on the wooden jetty-like platforms overseeing the blue lake. It was a perfect day – sunny and bright. We parked ourselves on the deck chairs placed by the restaurants around. On the opposite bank of the glistening waters we could see pretty wooden chalets.
And then it happened! All of a sudden heavy mist mantled the other side of the river. It brought with it frosty winds and cold showers. So clean is the air at Wolfgangsee, that we could see this storm progressing towards us bit by bit! It started blowing away menu cards and plastic chairs in the restaurants around us.
When mist descended on Lake Wolfgang
It rained like there was no tomorrow
We ran towards the shade and safety of an eatery nearby. The owner seemed unperturbed. With a knowing smile he said, “Not to worry. Happens often. Will go away in 10 minutes”.
Indeed, this squall did not last long. Within minutes, the town was bathing in warm sun rays. The colourful houses looked brighter after the torrential downpour. Tourists had resumed eating and walking along the wet roads. In no time, the town was back in its element – hearty cackles from restaurants around, shopkeepers placing their wares on display outside the shops to lure tourists in.
Wolfgangsee after it rained
We opted for a boat ride from Wolfgangsee to St. Giligen. So we walked to the dock with a heavy heart, wanting more of this town. We tried to capture the last glimpses of this fairytale town with our camera – indeed a day trip etched in our hearts and minds.
Tip: Do take a ferry to St. Giligen instead of opting for the bus. You can then get on to the 6:00pm bus back to Salzburg from there.
This is why I feel visiting the less commercial towns is more fun. You get to see nature at its best in these offbeat locales. I will always regret not staying the night in Wolfgangsee. To see this toytown alight at night would have been something else.
Note to self and for all those who do day trips: Spend a night or two in a smaller town close to your base. You will never regret it!