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Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Beauty of Hallstatt, Austria

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Hallstatt, an idyllic village in northwest Austria that is world renowned for its scenic beauty and old-world charm. Tons of tourists flock here every year to see what small town Austrian life in the Alps is like. It is especially popular among the Asians and more so the Far-East. So much so that the Chinese have built an EXACT replica of this village in Guangdong province! I only spent a few hours there, but I was absolutely floored by the alpine awesomeness of this quiet, yet industrious village. Here's a bit about Hallstatt, followed by a short video I made of the town.

Hallstatt has a long history dating back to Stone Age times. It lies in the Salzkammergut region, which is rich in mineral salts. Long before the Romans and the Habsburgs, tribes mined the salt that lies in the mountains surrounding the village. This fact allows the locals of Hallstatt to boast that their history goes back 7000 years. However, the modern identity of Hallstatt as a village only came about about 700 years ago, when the Habsburgs gave it the status of a market town. Salt was a very precious commodity in those days, and this made the region very valuable for the regimes that ruled over it. Salt also contributed immensely to the economy and prosperity of the town.

Today, the salt mines still do exist and are still mined for their natural resources. However, the village's economy depends greatly on the tourists that come by in droves. There are quite a few restaurants that serve up traditional Austrian fare like Leberknödel Soup and Wiener Schnitzel, right alongside Chinese and Thai dishes to cater to the taste buds of the Asian tourists. Gift shops with kitschy knick-knacks made of mineral salts line the main street as well. There are a bunch of family-owned hotels and bed and breakfasts that you can stay in if you choose. I however, was content with the few hours I spent there, and I feel a day trip is more than sufficient for one to appreciate all that the village has to offer.

Another big draw is the "Beinhaus" or Bone house. Since Hallstatt is located at the foot of several hills and mountains, on the banks of the Hallstätter See (lake), there is very little space for a large cemetery. So, as a tradition, every 10 years or so, the remains (bones) of dead former Hallstatt residents are exhumed and installed in a small crypt by the side of the Chapel that sits on a hill overlooking the town. The people of this village actually request this in their final wills and testaments, because it is such a strong tradition here. The crypt itself is surreal. About 600 skulls and bones are in there, and the skulls have the names, date of death, and the profession of the person inscribed on them. Quite the eerie sight!

The Hallstätter See is a pristine lake filled with fresh and pure alpine spring water that streams down the hills and mountains through the village. It is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and hills, and is the water playground for the residents of Hallstatt. Elegant swans and other aquatic birds flock here, and words fail to describe the beauty and serenity that one can experience by sitting along its banks and gazing at its wonder.

All in all, I would say that Hallstatt is a destination with a perfect mix of history and natural beauty for any nature and culture loving tourist. Another testament to this is the fact that UNESCO added Hallstatt to its World Heritage List for Cultural Heritage in 1997. The buildings, architecture, and layout of the village are protected to preserve their historic and cultural significance. If you ever get the chance, make sure you visit. I can pretty much guarantee that you won't regret it. 

In the meantime, check out this short video I made from the pictures and videos that I filmed while I was there. Enjoy and safe travels! 


Music - "Heartstrings" by Slow Down Clown - http://www.facebook.com/slowdownclown
(Check them out. They have some good tunes!)

Official Website of Hallstatt - http://www.hallstatt.net

Some pics (are also in the video) -