There were four villages or towns on our last Christmas market journey to Europe that took my breath away and filled me with the truest sense of a traditional Christmas. One of those was the “chocolate box” village of Hallstatt, full of 16th-century houses and tiny alleyways and located on Hallstatter See, a stunning lake surrounded by mountains in upper Austria.
Driving into Hallstatt at night after a sobering day at Mauthausen Concentration Camp did not give us a sense of what was to come. One minute we were driving on a modern road of snaking tunnels through the mountains and then, (following instructions from our hotel) dropped down (literally) into the midst of the village Christmas market in full swing. Our hotel Seehotel Grüner Baum is a 4-star boutique hotel right on the lake front and with the local market square at its front door. The hotel has limited parking about 30 metres away and cost us around €20 per day, but there is a nearby parking lot with a shuttle that costs around €12 per day (our hotel is the bright yellow building next to the church in the picture below).
What a treat! The lobby is traditionally and tastefully decorated and the check-in staff were efficient and friendly. We climbed 2 flights of wide wooden stairs (sorry no lift) and found our rooms off a large, Persian-carpeted landing. We were assigned a double ensuite room with balcony which was warm, inviting and charmingly decorated. Rooms in European hotels (particularly historic ones) are rarely huge but usually have very comfortable beds, are warm and have excellent bedding. One quirky fact was that the floors of the hotel creaked worse than an old “Lockwood” when you were walking on them but it was very quiet at night.
Not wanting to miss a minute of the festivities going on outside though, we threw on our coats, hats and gloves and headed into the market square for a warming, spicy and fragrant Glühwein (mulled wine). Do buy one of their mugs (each market has their own unique design to collect) and save on the refills! Charming stalls surrounded the square and we were spoilt for choice for dinner but opted for traditional Austrian sausage -wurstel and potatoes, followed by apple Kaiserschmarrn (chopped pancakes) and strudel. One thing I love about the European Christmas markets is that you will not see cheap “tat” or Asian imported goods offered. This is tradition central – from the sweets and candies to the food, decorations and souvenirs and this is the key to their absolute charm and popularity. A huge decorated fir tree marked the centre of the square, there was Christmas music and all around were local people and some tourists enjoying the atmosphere. Yes, it was cold, but you soon learn that Europeans dress for their winters and you quickly follow suite!
Warm and replete but tired from the journey we headed for our toasty-warm rooms and a quiet night’s sleep. The highlight of this stay was waking up the next morning and pulling the heavy drapes to find the most stunning view of the lake with the snow topped mountains opposite reflected in perfect symmetry. It was a clear, sunny day and we knew we had chosen the best location for this stay of 3 days!
A buffet breakfast is served in the large waterfront dining room ‘Zum Salzbaron’ with tranquil views over the lake and consists of the usual European breakfast of cold cuts, mueslis, good breads and croissants, fruit plus cooked options and excellent coffee. The quality and presentation were excellent and we looked forward to breakfast each day!
Hallstatt has an interesting history as a salt mining town, dating back to prehistoric times. A funicular railway connects to Salzwelten, the ancient mine with a subterranean salt lake, and to a viewing platform over the lake. The entire town can be walked in around 10 minutes and the town only has a population of around 1,000. We walked a Western trail that led to the Echern Valley with its glacial potholes and Waldbachstrub Waterfall.
Having found a charming restaurant for dinner on our second night the Bräugasthof am Hallstattsee was reasonably priced and we were so impressed by the quality of the schnitzel and the ambience of the charming interior, that we went back again the next night as well!
We all want to go back there one day and would certainly go again at Christmas and stay at the Seehotel Grüner Baum !
Happy travelling, Liz 🙂