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Travel report: Through the Salzkammergut from north to south

Cristina walks through her beautiful home

Since I could get out of my pram, I’ve been walking the hiking trails of the Salzkammergut. I know almost every path and almost all of the peaks of my homeland, which for me is the most beautiful of all hiking regions. Of course there are also stunning landscapes in Tenerife, Norway and Sardinia, but if I could only choose one region, I would definitely pick the Salzkammergut. Because there is a fantastic combination of beautiful mountains and turquoise blue bathing lakes, a mix of lovely green alpine pastures and demanding high rocky peaks, loud chiming of cow bells and silent high plateaus. There are wonderful high-altitude trails and fantastic deep views of glittering water and there is super delicious Kaiserschmarrn (small pieces of pancake) with fresh milk in rustic mountain huts.

High Trails, Lakes & Dachstein Glacier

On our new hiking tour from the Traunsee to the Gosausee we hike through the Salzkammergut region from its northern borders on the Traunsee to its southern cornerstone, the Dachstein Glacier. I particularly like the unusual route, which deliberately does without the touristy UNESCO region near Hallstatt.

Instead, we take a look at the more unknown corners and explore remote areas of the beautiful Salzkammergut…because there is a lot to discover there!

Start at the Traunsee

It starts at the Traunsee, the deepest of all Salzkammergut lakes. It is framed by the Toten Gebirge and the Höllengebirge, at the north end is the official capital of the Salzkammergut, Gmunden. In order to be able to see all of this from the best vantage point, the first stage leads steeply up to the first panorama summit. Admittedly: the climb is quite demanding, but it is really worth it. The small Sonnstein hut lies like an eagle’s nest in the rock and the views down to the lake and the tiny ships viewed from above are breathtaking. The delta of the Traun river at the southern end of the huge lake is also easy to see. It goes down over the large Sonnstein to the saltworks town of Ebensee, which has been completely overlooked by mass tourism and is therefore ideal as an overnight stop.

The rocky desert of the Höllengebirge

The next day, the cable car takes just under 10 minutes to travel 1000 metres in altitude to the Feuerkogel. At first we still encounter cows, mountain restaurants and ski lifts here, but after a few steps you enter a fantastic mountain world! The plateau is reminiscent of a lunar landscape or rocky desert on which only low pine bushes grow and any water seeps away immediately. Every time I go up here I am overwhelmed! The huge plateau with its numerous rocky peaks and crests is criss-crossed by sinkholes and rocky crevices. Grey, wild, rocky and fantastically diverse, especially if you pay closer attention to the different formations of the limestone rock slabs and abysses! Well-marked paths lead us through the rocks and Latschengassen on the large Höllkogel, the Kesselgupf, to the Europakreuz and of course to the rustic Riederhütte.

I helped out for a few seasons in this small mountaineering base in a depression on the plateau. I love the seclusion, here you don’t see a valley, no  electricity cables and no cars, nevertheless there is food and drink for hikers. Food is transported here by helicopter or on the shoulders of the hut helpers. Even though I have hiked through the Höllengebrige many times, the moon-like rocky landscape inspires me again and again.

After taking the gondola back down to the valley, we take the Salzkammergut regional train to the imperial city of Bad Ischl. A visit to the thermal baths (open until midnight), where you can bathe in warm brine water – a fabulous relaxation treatment for the body is worthwhile. The next day you will feel reborn.

On to the Wolfgangsee

The third stage is the only one on which we move closer to the valley with less altitude, but cover more kilometres. On the favourite paths of Empress Sisi, we go up to the Nussensee, a small mountain lake hidden in the forest under high mountain slopes. I loved the circular hiking trail around the small lake so much as a child. The silence and the dark surface of the water make this place very special! Soon we cross the border into the state of Salzburg and hike along the light blue Ischl river to the world-famous Wolfgangsee. In Strobl we first drink an iced coffee on the lake promenade and look out over the beautiful bays. The so-called ‘Seewegerl’ through a beautiful nature reserve right along the shore is also worthwhile. The most beautiful bathing spots with the best view of the opposite St. Wolfgang with the Weisses Rössl and the Schafberg with the cog railway await you here.

Into the realm of the alpine pastures

After an overnight stay at (for me) the most beautiful of all lakes, we leave the valley again and climb up to Austria’s largest alpine pasture, the Postalm. Passing the Schwarzeneckalm, Niedergadenalm and Wiesleralm, we reach the extensive pasture area in the afternoon, where hundreds of cows and horses spend their alpine summer.

The chiming of cow bells and beautiful flower meadows accompany us on the way to the hut, where we spend the night in the middle of the mountains.

My tip: take a look out at night, the starry sky is really gigantic here!

The next day we continue across the pastures and meadows, the alpine plateau is huge!

Passing the highest peak of the Gamsfeld you reach Rinnbergalm, where a stop for fresh dairy products is mandatory…as we say “Auf der Alm da gibt’s kei Sünd” (There are no sins on the Alm).

On the south side of the alpine pasture, we now descent into the dreamy mountain village of Russbach and are already approaching the Dachstein. A short bus ride over the Gschütt Pass brings us to the Gosau, an elongated, sunny high valley, framed by jagged rock ridges and extensive mountain forest. The Gosau coat of arms shows a shell, a reference to the many fossils that we can discover here in the limestone mountains. Chamois, red deer and roe deer are at home on the steep slopes…and we hikers can look forward to cosy quarters where we can spend the last two nights in an alpine setting.

Off to the Glacier

On the last stage we hike step by step closer to the glacier. A wonderful forest path leads steadily upwards over roots and wooden walkways to the Gosaukamm, a mountain range that is also known as the ‘Salzburg Dolomites’. Directly below the Donnerkogel we reach the Gablonzer Hütte and on the opposite side see the eternal ice of the Dachstein. Our majesty ‘King Dachstein’ is the almost 3000m high mountain giant that borders the Salzkammergut in the south. The snow-covered tongue of snow of the Hallstatt Glacier shines unmistakably white, the snow-free white ice looks blue-grey. The Gosau lakes, one of the most famous photo opportunities in the region, lie at its feet. With the gondola, we swing down to the banks of the river in just 4 minutes and admire the reflection of the glacier in the water – an unforgettable sight and the crowning glory of our hiking tour.

PROSIT – to the power of nature

Now we can toast an eventful and impressive week of hiking through a wonderful mountain and lake world, which is so rich in natural beauty that I keep thinking to myself (although I’ve seen everything a hundred times): wow!

What a gigantic and ingenious landscape lies before our eyes and under our feet – and how much energy and natural power lies within it – it is just waiting to be hiked through! Because anyone who crosses the Salzkammergut from north to south on foot can really feel the special atmosphere and power of nature!

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