Austria Day 8: Leisurely Hallstatt photography and Bad Ischl

Today when I woke up and went downstairs for coffee in the breakfast nook, I noticed that it was completely overcast and foggy outside. I thought to myself “what a bummer,” because today was the day we had planned on going into Hallstatt to meander and take the infamous photo of the town from the north side of it (which includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church). Luckily, though, the sun started to peak out right around noon, and it stayed out for the remainder of the day. Crisis avoided!

View of Hallstatt including the Lutheran church
Infamous view of Hallstatt including the Lutheran church

We made our way into Hallstatt and parked in the P2 car park. The lots are generally always on the full side, and we had to wait to get in for a little bit. There are tokens that you take when you enter and you return them to a vending machine when you leave. The machine keeps track of the tokens that are in use, and can therefore determine the number of available spots in the lot. The gate simply won’t open when the lot is full. We only waited for about 10 minutes though, and were then able to park the car.

We spent much of the afternoon just walking around town (which is essentially a heavily congested tourist trap) and taking photos. Not only did we get THE photo of Hallstatt (above), but we also walked to the southern side of town and found this cute little park. From there, the views were arguably better, and there were significantly fewer people around. It was also a good place for getting a photo of this magnificent house on the eastern shore of Lake Hallstatt.

Hallstatt - mansion to the east of the lake
Hallstatt – mansion to the east of the lake

We spent some time walking up and down the little side streets and alleyways in the southern portion of the town, which seemed to be more residential and quiet. Though it was fun to see all the shops in the centre, this area was quite relaxing and tranquil. Best of all, there were some great opportunities for photos that could more accurately capture the quaint feel of the area juxtaposed with the grandeur of the surrounding mountains.

Hallstatt view from the southern portion of town
Hallstatt view from the southern portion of town

After the photo sessions, we drove up to Bad Ischl and walked around that town as well. I actually preferred it to Hallstatt by a long shot because it wasn’t as crowded and also had some lovely architecture. We stopped in at Zauner, which is a bakery and cake shop. We picked up a slice of their signature Sissy cake as well as this strange looking pastry ball, which turned out to be filled with chocolate marzipan. We bought them so that we could have dessert back in our room later that night.

Hallstatt / Bad Ischl - Zauner bakery's Sissy cake and Marzipan ball
Hallstatt / Bad Ischl – Zauner bakery’s Sissy cake and Marzipan ball

We then walked just a few blocks to dinner at Weinhaus Attwenger. Larry (the owner of Haus Hepi) recommended the place after finding out more of the type of ambience and food that we prefer. I must say that if we had known about this restaurant when we first arrived, we probably would have dined there all three nights! The food was absolutely outstanding! We started by sharing a salad with pears, seeds, and roasted walnuts along with some cream cheese filled gnocchi and sautéed vegetables.

Hallstatt / Bad Ischl - Weinhaus Attwenger - Walnut salad starter
Hallstatt / Bad Ischl – Weinhaus Attwenger – Walnut salad starter

For our mains, I got a combination of Char and Trout over a bed of vegetables in a yellow curry sauce, and Deb went with a salmon filet and shrimp (still in the shell) over a bed of tagliatelle pasta in lobster sauce. Both dishes were outstanding because the sauces were light and didn’t overpower the fish. With as lovely as the mains were, I think that the salad stole the show for both of us.

Hallstatt / Bad Ischl - Weinhaus Attwenger - Salmon fillet
Hallstatt / Bad Ischl – Weinhaus Attwenger – Salmon fillet

After dinner, we ventured over to the other location of Zauner (the one that is a restaurant and open later into the night), because they offer a dessert that I’ve wanted to try since we’ve been here: Kaiserschmarrn. Austrian Chef Wolfgang Puck, during an interview on the television show The Best Thing I Ever Ate, said that it’s one of his favourite foods. It’s basically shredded strips of pancakes that are lightly charred and crunchy on the outside, served with powdered sugar and stewed plums. It was delightful, but I think that I still preferred the salad from dinner. 🙂

We started on the ~25km drive southeast back to our room in Obertraun, and I had hoped to put fuel in the car before our early morning. However, the petrol station was closed. Oh well, there is always time in the morning. We enjoyed our takeaway desserts from Zauner, and of course, our wines of the evening. I went with the 2016 Domäne Wachau Pinot Noir, and Deb had the 2017 Domäne Wachau Federspiel Grüner Veltliner Terrassen. For me, this was the most ethereal and best of the Pinots that I’ve had on the trip… by far! Honestly, I had anticipated that the Schloss Gobelsburg Pinot Noir would be the game-changer for me, and though it was wonderful, this one from Domäne Wachau was able to compete with the featherweight elegance and precision of some of the great producers in Chambolle-Musigny!

Austria Day 7: A full day mountain exploration of Dachstein Krippenstein

Today I woke up and went downstairs for breakfast, which to me just meant some coffee as I don’t generally eat until around dinnertime. Larry (the owner of Haus Hepi) made me a French Press, which was a nice alternative to the standard espressos that I’ve had thus far on this trip. I just sat in the breakfast nook looking outside at the beautiful mountain landscape. I think that I could have spent most of the day doing just that, and been perfectly satisfied. However, we have too much fun planned for the day to just sit around! 🙂

After breakfast, we left for Dachstein Krippenstein, which is basically up the mountain from Obertraun, and has a bunch of fun activities. We purchased the all-encompassing ticket so that we didn’t have to pay for individual attractions or funicular passes. We started by going to the Mammoth Cave, which doesn’t have anything to do with the prehistoric gigantic animal, but rather simply refers to the size of the cave system there. After that, Deb was patient enough to let me set up for tons of beautiful photos of the mountain and surrounding areas. I’m really hopeful that I’ll be able to perfect them and have some lovely memories. I’m no fool, though, and realise that it’s absolutely impossible to capture the sheer grandeur and magnificence of natural wonders like these.

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Dachstein Krippenstein - illuminated pathway in the Mammoth Cave
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Dachstein Krippenstein – illuminated pathway in the Mammoth Cave

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Dachstein Krippenstein - majestic mountain face near Mammoth Cave
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Dachstein Krippenstein – majestic mountain face near Mammoth Cave

After the Mammoth Cave tour, we ascended to the mountain summit (because we just weren’t up high enough beforehand). We walked along a beautiful path that lead us to the 5 Fingers lookout. We didn’t take the path all the way due to time constraints, but instead just sat and looked over Lake Hallstatt below. At one point, we even got to see a lady take off parasailing from the summit! It looked like a lot of fun, but I know my limitations and my fear of open heights would have left me permanently planted to the mountainside. 😛 What we did get to experience, though, were some breathtaking views of both Hallstatt to the northwest and another mountain to the south.

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Dachstein Krippenstein - summit facing northeast overlooking Hallstatt
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Dachstein Krippenstein – summit facing northwest overlooking Hallstatt

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Dachstein Krippenstein - summit facing south
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Dachstein Krippenstein – summit facing south

After our wonderful day in the mountains taking in some truly incredible vantages, we came back down the mountain and drove north of Hallstatt to to the town of Bad Ischl. Our main reason for going was that Larry (the owner of Haus Hepi) said that it was worth the drive to have some of the best pastries in the area. Unfortunately, since they had the street closed off, we didn’t make it in before their closing time, so we may have to try again tomorrow. We made the 25km drive back to Obertraun and went to the Koppenrast restaurant for dinner (again at Larry’s recommendation). We started with this dish of roasted pumpkin, potato gnocchi and tomatoes. I ended up liking it so much that I ordered it as my main.

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Gasthaus Koppenrast - Gnocchi with pumpkin and tomatoes
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Gasthaus Koppenrast – Gnocchi with pumpkin and tomatoes

Debbie, though hesitant, went with my suggestion of the venison with sugar snap pees, puréed pumpkin, and pickled plums. She seemed to enjoy it, with the exception of the purée. The reason that so many dishes have had pumpkin and / or mushrooms is that those ingredients are both in season during autumn, and I’ve noticed that many Austrian restaurants like to source local produce that’s available at the time. I certainly didn’t mind that Deb disliked the purée, and being a good friend, I helped her out with it. 😛

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Gasthaus Koppenrast - venison with pumpkin purée
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Gasthaus Koppenrast – venison with pumpkin purée

We decided to share a dessert that seemed a bit unusual. We ordered the semolina balls (hard to describe, but shaped like a doughnut hole and with the texture of a buckwheat muffin) with vanilla ice cream and a coulis of elderberry. The texture was really pleasing, I thought, and the combination of the ice cream and fresh berries made it both extremely refreshing and decadent!

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Gasthaus Koppenrast - dessert of semolina balls
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Gasthaus Koppenrast – dessert of semolina balls

Like many of our evenings on this trip, we planned on very little besides wine and relaxation after dinner. I had the 2013 Schloss Gobelsburg Pinot Noir (a back vintage of my wine from the night before), and Deb went with the 2017 Schloss Gobelsburg Lamm (single vineyard) Grüner Veltliner. She said that she liked it, but not quite as much as the Heiligenstein Riesling from last night (which was her favourite of the trip so far). Another very nice day in Austria, and undoubtedly some of the most awe-inspiring surroundings I’ve experienced!

Austria Day 6: Hallstatt, Obertraun, and Gosau See

As I said, we unfortunately only had one full day in the Wachau region, and this morning we got up to depart for Hallstatt and Obertraun. The drive was about 3 hours or so, but there were some periods of road construction so it took a little longer than anticipated. We stopped outside of Hallstatt at a café for some coffee and tea. They had this amazing looking fruit tart that was rolled up like a taco. We didn’t get one, but it surely looked delicious and had some more interesting fruits like blackberries and red currants in it.

We arrived at Haus Hepi, which isn’t in Hallstatt, but rather in the neighbouring town of Obertraun to the east of Lake Hallstatt. I originally thought that we would be disappointed by not being in the centre of Hallstatt, but it turned out that Obertraun was a much nicer alternative. It was outside of the hustle and bustle of the touristy area, but close enough that it was only a quick drive (just slightly too far to be a comfortable walk).

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Haus Hepi bed and breakfast
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Haus Hepi bed and breakfast

Our room was on the second floor (which was the top floor of the house), and had a great country cottage feel about it. The room was slightly small, but provided more than enough space for the two of us to move around comfortably (even with our luggage). There was even a desk, a wardrobe, and a television in the room, which all added to the comfort.

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Haus Hepi - guest room on top floor
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Haus Hepi – guest room on top floor

Another reason that I thought we might be disappointed with staying in Obertraun instead of in the centre of Hallstatt was that we wouldn’t have a direct view of the lake. Again, though, I was pleasantly surprised and realised that I don’t mind at all that it’s not on the lake. The view of the mountains to the south ended up being nicer than I could have possibly imagined!

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Haus Hepi - stunning view from our balcony
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Haus Hepi – stunning view from our balcony

Larry (the owner of the house) mentioned that “cash is king” here, so we stopped by the local bank to get some more Euros from the ATM. We also went to the little supermarket to get a few things like beverages and snacks for the room. We then headed out to Lake Gosausee just to take some photos and such before nightfall. I spent some time setting up my camera for HDR photo sets, and hopefully one day I’ll have the time to process them.

Instead of eating at the restaurant right there on Lake Gosausee (which we were told had great views, but mediocre food), we drove over to Rathlucken Hütte. The road to the restaurant was incredibly steep and winding. Several times along the way I thought that we were going to be hit by oncoming cars. The food there was essentially pub food, but it was all nicely prepared. Our waiter, who I would imagine was the owner, was kind enough to translate every single dish for us. Seeing as the menu was only available in German, we were certainly grateful for his generosity! Deb had the wiener schnitzel with roasted potatoes, and I had essentially the same thing but instead of meat, mine was pumpkin. It came with a tartar sauce that ended up being the first tartar that I’ve ever enjoyed. Overall, a nice meal that was something different than either of us is used to (we very seldom eat at pub-style restaurants when home).

Back in our lovely cottage room at Haus Hepi, we enjoyed some wines for the evening and watched this pop music channel on the TV (it was one of the only channels in English). Deb had her 2017 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Ried Heiligenstein (single vineyard), which she said has been her favourite of the trip thus far. I had my 2015 Schloss Gobelsburg Pinot Noir, and it had lovely fruit notes with a great minimalistic mouthfeel. I can’t wait to try the 2013 vintage of the same wine tomorrow night! One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Schloss Gobelsburg and try their Pinot Noir was a comment from Karen MacNeil in her venerable tome The Wine Bible (2015) where she claimed:

“before I first tasted this wine, I would have said that Austrian and German pinot noir had a long way to go before they’d be put in the same company with Burgundy. This wine opened my eyes. It’s as delicate, layered, precise, and filigreed as pinot noir can be, with long ribbons of spiciness and earthiness and a core of rich raspberry/cranberry fruit. The silky/creamy texture is sublime (for Burgundy lovers, it will seem like a page out of the Chambolle-Musigny playbook).” (p. 608)

MacNeil, K. (2015). The Wine Bible (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Workman Publishing Co., Inc.