Exploring Austria: Pam’s Insider Secrets

When friend of IT and Nerd’s Eye View blogger Pam Mandel saw Traveler’s feature story on Austria’s Lake Country in our current issue, it brought back fond memories of when she used to live in the area. So we asked her to dish on some of her favorite spots in the region.

When I lived in Austria, the Salzkammergut was sort of like the cool neighbor’s backyard. We’d go over to their house to play — it was a short and very scenic drive to the Salzkammergut from where we lived, in the Ennstal, a bucolic farming region smack dab in the middle of Austria. Guests who showed up to visit us were promptly bundled into the car, regardless of time of year, and taken to the locations listed in the April issue of National Geographic Traveler — and then some. Depending on the season, we’d see the sights on skis or on foot, and where we sat to eat was seasonally dependent too — in summer, it was balcony or garden seating, in winter, as close as possible to the fireplace, if there was one. The Salzkammergut is a great place to travel, so picturesque as to be cliche, loaded with outdoor activities that fit your style, and filled with great places to eat. Here are a few of my favorite things:
 


Bad Aussee Kurbad: This huge indoor swimming pool is the place to wait out inclement weather. Pay extra for the sauna privileges, though if you’re of a modest disposition, be sure to ask if it’s men, women, or mixed on that day.

Gasthof Zauner in Hallstatt: If you have the good fortune to be in Hallstatt around lunchtime on a September day after the tourists are gone, get a balcony seat, order the fish, and take in the scenery at this excellent historic restaurant and inn. It’s also nice in winter – the cozy dining room may be empty and the waiter will let you taste new things that the chef is cooking up. Hey, it happened to me. It could happen to you.

Kurcafé – Konditorei Lewandofsky

in Bad Aussee: If you haven’t indulged in Austrian baking, you haven’t really experienced Austria. The Lewandowsky has a decent-sized seating salon — with a much too small non-smoking area — but it’s best when the weather is good and you can sit outside, watching the promenade of Bad Aussee’s traditionally attired residents.

Auseer Lebkuchen on the main road outside Bad Aussee: I have never departed from Austria without my bag stuffed with gingerbread from this bakery. The cafe isn’t particularly charming, but the family that runs the place is. My favorite treat from this place is a layered gingerbread cake with marzipan on top, the whole thing covered in dark chocolate.

Saibling from the Hallstattersee or Grundlsee: The lakes of the region are populated with saibling, a sort of trout, if I’m translating correctly. Lots of restaurants serve up this excellent fish, simply cooked, but you can also buy smoked saibling from any number of storefronts and stands in the region. It’s delicious stuff, get some brown bread and a little cream cheese and you have a king’s picnic.

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Gosausee: If, instead of bearing left towards Hallstatt, you go right instead, you’ll end up in the middle of the big nature that’s the Gosausee region. There’s a gondola station here — hikers can take the gondola up to the top of the plateau and see amazing views, though the views from the lake trail are nothing to scoff at either. I still remember the opening lines to the poem about the Gosausee: O, Gosausee, wie bist du so schoen! Or, translated into the vernacular, “Holy cats, it’s gorgeous here!”

Altaussee Bierzelt: Interested in the “authentic,” are you? This year — 2009 — the Altauseer Bierzelt (that’s beer tent to us English speakers) takes place from September 5th to 7th. It’s part street fair, part Octoberfest in September. Get yourself some roast chicken, a kaiser roll that does double duty as a napkin, and settle in to drink some beer. Dirndl, lederhosen optional, but if you go native, you won’t be out of place.

Photos: Pam Mandel

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