I have no particular plans in visiting Austria. It is just a path between the Czech Republic and Italy. However, my chosen route passes along some of the many lakes which dot the country.
I start in the town of Gmunden which lies at the northern end of Lake Traunsee. Once through the modern, industrialised area, I find the older centre and park up near to the Land Schloss and Lake Schloss, two castles. The Land Schloss seems to have become a commune with clothes drying from the windows and music wafting out from the apartments. The Lake Schloss is the dramatic partner, built on a small island with a long, narrow, wooden bridge providing access from the mainland. During the summer months it is also possible to arrive by boat and the castle is a popular destination for weddings. It has also been used for the filming of popular Austrian TV series ‘Schlosshotel Orth’ since 1996.
A long, lakeside esplanade brings me to the main square, dominated by the town hall and its Meissen ceramic bells, the only ones in Austria. There is supposedly a unique ceramic fountain too, but I fail to locate it. Everyone is out enjoying the fine weather and I’m tempted to join them at one of the expensive restaurant terraces but I end up having a cheap picnic lunch on one of the many lakeside benches instead.
Halfway down the lake I stop at Traunkirchen, a tiny village nestled on a promontory. I want to visit the church but there is a service going on, so I follow a path which winds around a tall rocky outcrop to the small chapel perched on the top. I expect to find it closed but someone has already climbed up before me and opened it.
At the southern end of the lake is the town of Ebensee. I think it will be huddled around the lake edge but instead it snakes its way up a valley where a cable car stretches up to the mountain peak. Unfortunately, I’m a day late to ride it but I do find one of the many paths which contour around the slopes, through the forest, and have a pleasant walk back down to the lakeshore.
I continue south to Hallstattsee and one of the top sites in Austria, according to Trip Advisor. I already know that parking will be impossible and expensive but I want to see what all the fuss is about so I take the side road which tightly hugs the space between the cliffs and the water. I don’t get to see much of Hallstatt as the road is diverted through a tunnel and, as predicted, there’s no hope of stopping anywhere close. Buses and motorhomes must continue another 2.5 kms along the lake and pay €15 for a muddy, desolate car park. A little further on I find a nice layby with picnic tables and distant views back to the town. Although it looks pretty I expect it is very commercial and very crowded.
Further south, the similar sized lake of Millstattersee is a calm and inviting place. I’m able to park in the centre and investigate the abbey. There is a lovely walk, following the way of the cross, up to a small chapel overlooking the lake. The edge of the lake is lined with bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels and spas which are all very tempting. There’s also a very high diving platform, built in 1931 by Christof Benedikt and now a listed structure.
I overnight in a town close to the lake with the unfortunate name of Spittal. In German this actually means hospital and I’m parked quite close to the modern one. The ancient spittal is now a technical college.
In the centre of town there is a lovely park and the old Castle Porcia. Next to it a small fresh food market is set up and rather spoiling the scene are several huge TV trucks where ‘Good Morning Austria’ are broadcasting live from the town. The locals seem quite excited about it, having photos taken with the hosts and crowding around the cameras hoping for their five minutes of fame. But I have no time for celebrities as Italy is calling me.