“Visiting a place has always been about finding solace and retreat from the otherwise mundane life that we follow. When a place gives me the combination of escape, landscape, beauty, and culture, I know I have found my kind of paradise”. An eternal escape
Austria, a country in the heart of Europe, landlocked by eight other countries, is a terrain full of high mountain ranges, wide green pastures, and crystal clear turquoise lakes. The allure and the beauty of the Alps have been explored by wanderers, royals, poets, and painters alike, since centuries. When you talk about history and heritage tightly knitted with magnificent scenery, you are talking about “Austria”. Even though the grand legacy of Austria is best explored in its historic cities of Vienna, Salzburg, and Melk, it’s the quiet and untouched nature of the small towns and villages that present you with the true reflection of its tradition, culture, and cuisine.
A splendid example of it is “Salzkammergut” a.k.a The Lake-district. Stretching east-wards from the city of Salzburg, with its Austrian Alpine Foreland and the Northern Limestone Alps, this resort area of Salzkammergut, literally translates to “Estate of the Salt Chamber”. Known for its precious salt mines, this Lakeland landscape with its series of glorious Baroque villages, numerous lakes, and impressive mountain ranges, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Only 29 km off Salzburg, St. Gilgen is a small town in Salzkammergut, nestled in the north-western part of the Lake Wolfgang. A quintessential Salzkammergut town, St. Gilgen offers the picturesque Alpine beauty of nostalgic country houses, sumptuous wooden chalets, and onion-shaped church spires. It retains the charm of its long gone times and offers scenic beauty and diversity. This Lakeside village, with its ease of access, beautiful lakefront promenade, and mountainous settings, rivals the ever-popular touristy Hallstatt and is a best-kept local secret.
The marvelous Lake Wolfgang or Wolfgang see is one of the most famous lakes in the Salzkammergut region and harbours three beautiful lakeside villages of St. Gilgen, Strobl and St. Wolfgang. This scenic lake amidst the picture-book Alpine scenery makes for an idyllic holiday setting and has long attracted visitors including royalties, in both summers and winters. Divided into two parts by a peninsula, the western side of the lake is called Abersee, which shelters the village St. Gilgen. The natural appeal of the village is so powerfully attractive, you feel awestruck the moment you arrive. With the breath-taking blue waters of the lake in the foreground and the high rigid Zwölferhorn Mountain on the back, no doubt the place was filmed and showcased in many famous movies, like “Sound of music”.
The town offers a historic center, full of traditional architecture and cultural monuments. Classic Alpine wooden chalets with their gently sloping wide roofs and precisely carved wooden balconies that are richly decorated with long hanging geraniums are a dazzling sight for its visitors.
The village has a definite antiquity that circles around its famous square, “Mozartplatz”. This small town square is packed with history that gives a glimpse of its connection to the biggest Austrian contribution towards Europe’s cultural heritage; genius composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The square houses a statue of a child Mozart and brings forth the connection of the village to Mozart (his mother was born here and his sister lived for many years after her marriage in St Gilgen). This princely square is surrounded by beautiful softly coloured Baroque townhouses with steeply pitched roofs. The ornate bow windows in many buildings are a sight to behold. Of particular interest are the intricate medieval mural paintings on the exterior of many buildings. Just a leisurely walk around the town brings you closer to its authenticity, regionality, down-to-earthness, and naturalness.
Almost every street in the town winds down towards the Lakefront. The lakeside esplanade is the heart and soul of the village. You can spend hours marveling and gasping at the beauty of the circumambient.
Here are some of the few things that you can do in and around the village; when you are not indulged in a leisurely walk around the Lakeshore or its beautiful lakeside promenade.
- St Gilgen along with its cute neighboring villages of St. Wolfgang and Strobl can be easily covered in a single day. You can choose to rent a bike, use public transport, take a car or just sit on a ferry across Wolfgang see, taking you across the most commanding views of the Salzkammergut area. The Ferry takes approximately 45 minutes and takes you around all the three villages surrounding the lake.
- Water sports like Canoeing, Fishing, Sailing, Windsurfing, Wind skiing, and Rowing are popular summer activities in the lake.
- Zwölferhorn peak just south of the village St. Gilgen, gives a beautiful vantage point for the fantastic views of the mountainous landscape. It is also the starting point of many scenic hikes and ski slopes. You can either hike up or take a Gondola ride to the summit. The Panorama Loop trail is open all winter, giving you the opportunity to experience the majestic mountains covered in snow with a great ease and comfort.
- An experience on the steepest cog railway of Salzkammergut, Schafbergbahn, is an excursion in itself. The railway starts in St. Wolfgang and offers exceptionally beautiful views of the Salzkammergut with its many mountains and lakes. All energy is generated with partly historic steam or diesel engines and leads you to the summit of Schafberg, at 1782m. You can combine the ferry and the train ride, as they are operated by the same company.
- Many hiking paths start at the Zwölferhorn summit. Alpine hikes from Zwölferhorn peak, can take hikers of varying skill levels to picturesque vantage points & through serene green pasture routes.
- Visiting the Parish church Katholische Pfarrkirche, dedicated to Saint Giles, which is reflected in the name of the town, Sankt Gilgen, can be a rewarding experience. This church is part of the prominent skyline of the village. A hike starting from this church and going up to the Falkenstein church is a favourite path chosen by many visitors. It’s an easy to moderate hike and passes through the Alpine forest overlooking the lake on one side.
- St. Gilgen is also famous for its Christmas markets. In the Advent weeks, these tiny villages surrounding the lake transform into a Christmas wonderland. It holds one of the most famous Christmas markets of Salzkammergut area with wooden stalls selling traditional wooden toys, warm gluhwein, Christmas biscuits, and elaborate nativity scenes. The Lake area is decorated with gigantic floating candles, giving a charming variation to the village layout. A twilight ride through the lake via the ferry gives a glorious view of the intricately adorned villages.
- You can join the locals for their Annual village festival held in June, which is celebrated with food, music, and costumes.
- St. Gilgen, owing to its small size, is not very big on restaurants; rather most of the eateries and cafes are Hotel-based. The choice of menu is of course cut towards the local cuisine and taste. Here are some worthy mentions: a) Kaiserschmarm(shredded sugared pancake with raisins) b) Lebukuchen(gingerbread) c) Krapfen(like doughnuts) d) Nannerl Schmatzerl(sugar confection) e) Dishes with Reinanken(Fish)
No matter what you chose to do or not to, this town will surely make an everlasting impact. Even a short visit can bring forth the true beauty of this place; which lies in its deep-rooted connections to its old culture. A town so submerged in its own traditions and natural delights gives you a complete picture of the country and a better connection and feel to the place, which is often lost in the starry dazzles of the big cities.
Have you visited Austria yet? Which village was your favourite in Salzkammergut region?