Hallstatt village in northern Austria is often praised in a variety of ways: “the oldest village in Europe”, “the most beautiful lake town in the world”, “the fairy village”, “the legendary village”, “the dream village”. Over the past 7,000 years, Hallstatt has retained its charm, capturing the hearts of travelers with enchanting natural scenery nestled in the misty Alps, overlooking the quiet Hallstätter See lake.
In Hallstatt there are old churches and cozy wooden houses located on the mountainside, there are rows of flowers hanging down the windows and vines in various shapes, there are narrow paved roads blended in the high slopes -all of them reflect on the calm lake which is the village’s charm, a dreamy ethereal beauty.
I dreamed of this village several years ago when I came across melancholy photos of Hallstatt on an autumn day with yellow leaves wet in the rain. And then I arrive here, under a beautiful blue sky of a sunny day in late summer, to realize that the village is only a beautiful dream for half of each day.
It is the time from 5 pm to 9 am, when the village lives up to its nature. The peaceful dawn with golden sunlight at the beginning of the day and the purple sunset silently reflecting on the lake are the wonderful tranquility of Hallstatt village. For the remaining half of the day, the village has to live in reality. The scenes of people walking and bustling with laughter throughout the streets, from the square to the small alleys, awaken the midsummer night’s dream, disturb the peace and swipe away all emotions. When the afternoon comes regardless how hard the day has been, Hallstatt has the right to relax, without all the hustle and bustle in the daylight.
Half in a dream
The dreamlike beauty of Hallstatt village seems to be without question. The beautiful dream begins as soon as the ferry comes across the green lake surrounded by the mountains, from the Hallstatt train station to the ancient Hallstatt village. The old church and the small houses are quietly hidden by the crystal-clear lake, here and there are white swans and mallards with distinct iridescent purple-blue speculum feathers. Just a few minutes in such a beautiful scene, Hallstatt easily wins the hearts of any visitors.
The best moment of the village is probably the dawn. White clouds on the mountainside in the early morning reflect on the surface of a mirror-like lake. The whole village seems to glow under the first light at daybreak.
The small, empty alleys wind to the quiet square. The church bell ringing is the only sound that wakes up the village. The restaurants start to clean. Here and there the sound of rickshaw pulling on the rough stone road. It’s the beginning of a new day!
Though the lovely wooden houses have a similar style to “floral wooden houses” in some other European country towns, they have extraordinary charm. They are adorned with vines and plants in elegant shapes, from roses to fruit trees such as apples and peaches, which are extremely elaborately shaped and tucked in every fold of the houses.
The small steps connected with wooden rails lead to the houses on the hill, opening the panoramic view of the village from above. From here, the steeple of the church stands out on the old gray roofs.
It takes only few hours to go around the entire small village. There are also a number of historic places such as the Hallstatt Museum, the Hallstatt’s Bone House, the world’s oldest salt mine, or the mountain top observatory. I did not go to these places because I just wanted to hang around looking at every street corner. Then inadvertently, I walked past the old church, listening to the extremely graceful Hallelujah sung by an elderly choir. The mothers and aunts passionately sang along with the skillful piano performance of an old gentleman.
Late afternoon, when the tourists were gone, it was time for the village to rest. The twilight was still enough to make the Alps reflect its magical blue on the lake.
Nothing is more peaceful than sitting close to the water’s edge watching the swans playing with the mallards. And when the sun completely set, the lights were turned on and the whole village shimmered in an enchanting purple color.
Half real …
Hallstatt is located not far from two major Austrian cities, Vienna and Salzburg (only a few hours by bus or train). In addition, there are not many motels and hotels in the village and the room rate is quite expensive, so the majority of tourists take a day trip. Therefore, from 9 am to 5 pm is the time that Hallstatt stifledly welcomes the crowds.
I noticed that 70% of tourists come from Asia, of which China, South Korea and Vietnam are surely on top of the list. Hallstatt was so loved by Chinese visitors that they built the same village in Huizhou (Guangdong province), named “Hallstatt of China”. It is said that this project has not been completed yet, so the number of Chinese visitors to the original Hallstatt still accounts for an overwhelming proportion of tourists.
Being a visitor, I still felt frustrated by the large number of tourists, let alone the locals. Naturally, visitors are the main source of revenue, maintaining the prosperity of Hallstatt, but they also greatly reduce the charm of the village. “Pickpocket warning” signs are everywhere. “Respect privacy” signs are also found on many walls. However, they are mostly written in German and English – they should include some more Asian languages, shouldn’t they !?
I couldn’t blame tourists for laughing, speaking out loud and taking photos wherever they were as they were enjoying their holiday. I just silently hid in the deserted corners or snuggled into a lakeside restaurant to drink a beer and watch mallards and swans in the rest of Hallstatt’s little peace.
Though it’s only a dream for half of every day, Hallstatt is still a place you should not only dream about, but visit. Come here and sleep at least one night to live in that dream. Then when you wake up, you will feel fulfilled and satisfied.
Essential travel information
How to get to Hallstatt
From Vienna or Slazburg, you can get to Hallstatt easily by train, bus, self-drive car or day tour. It took me 3.5 hours by train from Vienna to Hallstatt and the fare was 42 € / 1 way. You can spend less if taking the bus, transit in more stations and only takes a few more minutes.
From the train / bus station, walk a few hundred meters down to the lake, continue to catch the ferry through Hallstatt village. 2-way ferry ticket price is 6 euros. (All price was at Sep, 2019)
Time to visit
You can visit Hallstatt any time of the year. In the summer, this place is a paradise for adventure sports such as trekking, hiking, camping and cycling. In the winter, the season of food and skiing festival, picturesque Hallstatt is amusing and entertaining. Hallstatt is
located in the cradle of the world music, so there is music playing everywhere. In particular, during the Christmas season, musicals are performed every night.
The largest hotel in Hallstatt is Heritage with room rate of 300 EUR/night, the rest are mostly motels or home-stays with prices ranging from 120 EUR to 200 EUR. This is double the average room rate in Salzburg, 30% higher than the average room rate in Vienna. Lodging in the center of the village will cost more but it is very crowded and busy. Therefore, most tourists do not spend the night in the village.
I chose a home-stay located 15 minutes from the village center. The lovely room was located in a beautiful and peaceful residence but not cheap for a home-stay: 160EUR /night.
Hallstatt has a lot of eateries, from casual to classy, from fast food to fancy dishes, from small alleys to lakeside restaurants. Seehotel Grüner Baum is the most popular restaurant here with a seasonal menu that makes it a destination for food lovers.
On average, a meal at a fancy restaurant costs up to 30 EUR (including an appetizer, a
main course and a beer). To make it simpler, you can eat a burger or spaghetti for half
the price. The regional dish is grilled bass which is caught in the lake so it is very fresh
Traveled on Sep, 2019