HallstattLakeside Village in Upper Austria
Hallstatt means 'salt settlement,' and the town originated with the ancient salt production and mining industry, which has evolved from the Middle Bronze Age over the past 2,500 years.
Cradled in the pristine alpine landscape of the Dachstein Mountains in Austria’s Eastern Alps, Lake Hallstatt lies smoothly against sheer mountains rough with boulders and pine forests. The town of the same name clusters tightly around the scant shoreline of the lake, and in places its colourful houses clamber up the rock. Despite its raw, precipitous location, Hallstatt is renowned as an idyllic haven of unspoilt prettiness and historic interest. Rooftops and mountains are dusted white with snow in winter, the lake a cold expanse of slate grey shadows, and in summer, intense emerald greens emanate from the dense forests and sun illuminated depths.
The picturesque mirroring of the village in the glassy water is, not surprisingly, a frequent reference for anyone who wants to capture its beauty in words or film. It also calls to mind not only the ubiquitously reproduced postcard images of the town, but also the fact that in 2012, a development of new homes near Huizhou City, China, was built to replicate the Austrian village, costing an estimated 960 million USD. This Chinese tribute in bricks and mortar serves as an ironic highlight in the rich history of Hallstatt.
This, one of Europe’s most photogenic gems, was born out of an industrial heritage: Hallstatt means ‘salt settlement,’ and the town originated with the ancient salt production and mining industry, which has evolved from the Middle Bronze Age over the past 2,500 years. So lucrative was the salt trade across Europe, that the Prince Archbishops of Salzburg used its profits to build their city’s numerous, lavish palaces. The region of Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, in acknowledgment of its outstanding natural beauty, historical significance, and the exemplary preservation of its unique character, defined by salt mining and its associated industries.
Hallstatt was rebuilt after a fire destroyed many of its timber houses in 1750. The rebuilding led to the appearance of the pastel tones favoured at the time, scattering pleasing colour through Hallstatt’s narrow, pretty streets. While Hallstatt’s beauty is well preserved (or as unnervingly prescribed as its Chinese twin), that is not to say that some aspects are not contrived. Swans seem perfectly placed against a majestic backdrop of sharply rising mountains, but are said to have been first introduced as late as the 19th century by summer resident Empress Sisi. This elegant bird was something of an unofficial family emblem. Her cousin, ‘mad’ King Ludwig of Bavaria was sometimes called The Swan King, and reputedly adorned all conceivable items in his castles with swans, from draperies and fountains, to pudding moulds.
The Brine Pipeline Trail, one of Austria’s most famously beautiful walking routes, is a rather lovely example of how centuries of salt production has defined the way in which people traverse and experience the landscape. The brine in question was transported to a salt factory in nearby Ebensee from Halstatt. From 1607, timber pipes performed this function, sloping gently downwards, allowing the water to flow away from Hallstatt to its destination. Today, echoing the course of funicular railway that lifts passengers up into the mountains, walkers descend the Pipeline Trail effortlessly back to Hallstatt.