The best way to reach Austria’s picture-perfect lakeside town of Hallstatt? On foot, of course. A few years ago, I spent days trudging to Machu Picchu – sleeping in a freezing tent and fearing every night I was drawing my last breath as the altitude sickness crashed over me in waves. The hardships, however, where all worth it when I finally arrived at the Lost City having earned the right to sneer at people who had caught the train. They might not have been strung out on Skittles and Tramadol, and it’s unlikely they missed sunrise because they fell asleep amid the llamas, but I think we can all agree on who had the more rewarding experience.
Of course, the hardships we faced on the two-day, 20km trail that we followed from Bad Ischl were significantly less, but the traveller’s badge of honour was very much pinned to my backpack as we made our descent into Hallstatt and the sparkling Lake Traunsee.
The other option involves arriving by coach and having your eyes poked out by selfie sticks, which is far less romantic. Therefore, if only for the bragging rights, we urge you to lace up your hiking boats and hit the trail. Here’s everything you need to know about walking the Salzkammergut Brine Pipeline.
The route: Excitement levels were high when we realised our path from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt via Bad Goisern follows the route of the oldest active industrial pipeline in the world – the Brine Pipeline – which was established in 1607. And while the whole 40km route continues past Bad Goisern to Ebensee, we opted to break it into two 10km sections. Most of the time you are following the River Traun with regular glimpses of the railway line – so you can always leap on a train if the weather turns bad.
Day 1 – Bad Ischl to Bad Goisern
If you can tear yourself away from the EurothermenResort in the spa town of Bad Ischl, you’ll find lots of woods to wander through on this leg of the journey, as you get to grips with the Salzkammergut region. It’s worth wondering into Lauffen to see the Traunfluss rapids, where old boats transporting salt would often capsize, but other than that there aren’t any villages along the way so enjoy the serenity and pack any supplies you might need. It’s an easy-going walk that’s really well signposted, so no going wrong.
Day 2 – Bad Goisern to Hallstatt
Camera at the ready – this is a super-scenic stretch with heaps of Austria clichés to snap as you exit Bad Goisern through wildflower-filled meadows and mountainous backdrops. Highlights include crossing a brand-new bridge over the Gosauback stream – don’t look down – and a glimpse of the pipeline (yes, THE pipeline) near Steeg. But really, it’s the rocky path that hugs the valley slopes and leads over waterfalls and steep drops that’s the star of the show – we stopped every few feet to take pictures as the lake looks simply stunning from this height. It’s a bit tougher today – a few uphill climbs and ducking under outcrops, but no hiking experience needed other than a sense of adventure! The journey into Hallstatt is stunning – the winding path takes you through a jumble of houses and churches with jaw-dropping views at every turn.
Day 3 – In Hallstatt
For an easy morning, spend some time on the lake – either hire an electric boat or join one of the hour-long round trips. If you are not done with walking, head to the salt mine and skywalk on the outskirts of town (you can also catch the funicular there and back if you prefer) or walk through the Echernvalley to some waterfalls.
But, if you are feeling really brave (or have consumed enough Stiegl beer with your lunch), take a bus to the cable car station near Obertraun. It takes two hair-rising rides to reach the even more hair-raising Dachstein mountains – at 2100m you’ll find yourself above the clouds at times, wandering between the snowy, craggy peaks and praying a storm doesn’t roll in (if you are a wimp like me). The area is home to one of the largest karst caves in the world, heaps of hiking trails and an eight-metre metal shark, but the main attraction is the recently opened 5fingers – five viewing platforms that reach out over a 400m ravine and offer amazing panoramas of the range.
In Bad Goisern we were at the Goiserer Muhle – a lovely countryside hotel that dates back to 1551 with a tasteful, modern extension that has rooms overlooking the stream out back. Don’t let the carpark address put you off – it’s a beautiful spot in a sleepy town and makes for a great base.
Next up, the Hallstatt Heritage Hotel really wowed us, with its boutique rooms housed in the second oldest house in town (Stocker House), which is just a five-minute walk from the main lakeside building. Set just off the main thoroughfare and slightly uphill – but still completely in the heart of the action – our balcony offered great views of the lake and was super-peaceful.
The food and drink:
k.u.k. Hofwirt – dinner – a top tip from the tourist board, we really liked this place. Super tasty Austrian food, generous portions, something called ‘beer cheese’ that’s aged in-house, craft beers from Germany and lederhosen-wearing waiters. What’s not to love?
Café Immervoll – breakfast – excellent coffee – the best of the trip – and inventive breakfast platters meant we didn’t get walking as early as we might have liked! A highly Instagram-able interior that’s an ode to the humble bean.
Moserwirt – lunch – this historic hotel must get their fair share of walkers coming through, hence the Hiker and Biker Pasta on the menu. In addition to that delicious carb fest, there’s rustic Austrian fare served most of the day (with a short pause late afternoon) and benches set up outside for a sunny beer stop.
Brauhaus Hallstatt – lunch – with views of the castle over the lake, speedy and friendly service (despite the number of people desperate for their serve of salad and schnitzel) we ate in this place two days in a row. Great value and if the weather is not so good, the old building has enough cosy corners to hole up in.
Hallstatt Heritage Hotel – dinner – it’s definitely a popular stop for coach tours, but the food is good enough to compensate for the (at times) slightly chaotic dining room. Seasonal and local produce looms large– wild garlic soup followed by river char and white asparagus were winners.