Austria: Salt Mine Tour in Picturesque Hallstatt

Travel Date : 16th June 2013

Location: Near Hallstätter See, Salzkammergut, Upper Austria

[ Getting To Hallstatt Station ]

From Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (Salzburg Main Station), take ÖBB’s REX train to Attnang-Puchheim Station (1 hour 40 minutes) and transfer to Hallstatt Station (1 hour 10 minutes). We have bought the Einfach Raus Ticket which allows two to five people to have unlimited rides on ÖBB’s suburban/regional service trains and Raaberbahn (R, REX and S-Bahn trains) within a day at 32 Euro.

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[CAT] : We walked to a nearby bus-stop in the early morning after we checked out from our hotel. This time, we were determined not to walk there or we might get lost again and miss the train boarding time. It was a relaxing short 5-7mins journey on bus to the train station. (Should have taken that yesterday so we need not waste too much time!)

We have to check out the exact train platform to board the train using the information board. It was still cool so we were wearing several layers. (grew hot later in the day) Some sceneries of Austria that we saw from the train. Austria is really a scenic country with lots of natural landscapes such as mountains and lakes.

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[ Journey By Ferry ]

After three hours travelling from Salzburg on the train, we finally arrived at Hallstatt Station (pronounced ‘Hel-ll-Start’). It was a smaller station than we had expected, with only an unmanned station consisting of automated ticket machines.

Our original plan was to place our luggage in a locker at the station but as we were rushing down the stairs to the ferry that was waiting for us, we forgot about it (later we checked and found that there wasn’t any locker available at the station anyway).

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The ferry is actually timed closely with the train arrival times and should wait for all the passengers from the train to board the boat (I don’t think there’s anywhere else one can go from this station) so we didn’t really have to rush and worry that the ferry will go off without us.

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The ferry ride took only about 10 minutes and 4 Euro each to get across the lake to Hallstatt, a historical town situated just next to the lake, making it a beautiful sight to behold while we headed towards it. It is also a UNESCO Heritage Site.

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Disembarking from the ferry, we started heading towards the salt mine, since we knew our time at Hallstatt was limited (we had to catch the train at 4.30pm to get back to Germany in time). As a result, we didn’t have the luxury of admiring the historical town, especially when the weather was getting hot near noon and we had to pull along our luggage (packed with our weekend stuff).

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Long Walking Trail through the town to get to the foot of the Funicular | Finally reached Funicular station!

Along the way, we paused to seek assistance on where we could store our luggage for a few hours, but were disappointed that no such service was available. We started regretting that we should have stayed here on Saturday night instead of at Salzburg, so that we would have more time to appreciate the place and have more convenience when moving around.

Funicular Transport

Following the signs, we finally reached the funicular station, where the funicular would take us up to the hill where the salt mine is located. By then, we were already perspiring under the hot weather.

As we were buying our Family Ticket (54 Euro for 2 adults and 1 child; only children above 4 years of age are permitted and Dar needs a ticket too), we checked with the cashier if she could let us safe-keep our luggage with her. She was hesitant initially but agreed to help knowing that it would be difficult for us to move around up the hill later. She then brought us to a garage nearby where we could place our locked luggage at.

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The journey up in the funicular was a fun one, as we watched Hallstatt became smaller as we moved up in altitude. Dar was of course enjoying the ride too.

When we alighted from the funicular, our moods lifted as the air up on the hill was much cooler than it was at sea level. We could finally start to appreciate the surroundings with a more comfortable environment.

We took an elevator to go to an even higher level, the Hallstatt High Valley with a viewing platform and a bridge leading to a restaurant.

A Restaurant High in the Mountain
A Restaurant High in the Mountain

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Mountain Trail

To get to the mine, we would still need to walk quite a distance on a gradual up slope.

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Fortunately, despite the bright sun, the air was quite cool in the forest and beautiful scenery with flowers made the journey an enjoyable and memorable one. We took out our chocolate snack bars to keep our energy levels high as we leisurely strolled along the path (no point kept rushing). Cat and Dar even did a chocolate bar fight and we chased each other at some point.

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At a point in our walk, there was a small gallery on the archaeological finds in Hallstatt.

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Finally, The Salt Mine Tour

After nearly 20 minutes of walking, we finally arrived at the visitor centre for the salt mine. There are specific timings for each tour so we waited for less than ten minutes for the next tour, where we scanned our tickets and walked into the changing room.

Each of us were then supposed to walk to a counter where the staff would assign us a ‘mine uniform’ to wear. They were so experienced that they immediately knew what uniform size to give us by sight. Dar’s uniform was a little large for him but guess that was the smallest size available.

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We took quite a while to get dressed up, because we were undecided if we need to wear our jackets inside the uniform. We have read that the temperature in the salt mine is 8 degrees so we worried that we might get cold in there.

In the end, we decided on not wearing our jackets. When we were properly dressed, we handed our belongings to the staff at the changing counter, whom would look after them for us. We then started walking along the corridor and went through some exhibits on the history of the Hallstatt Salt Mine.

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We then reached a room where we were to sit down and wait for all participants of the tour to arrive. Our tour guide was already there and we were glad that he could speak fluent English. He would still alternate between German and English throughout the tour though as there were some who could not understand English.

When all had arrived, the door leading outside opened and we followed the sheltered walkway till we reached the entrance of the mine. The tour guide gave us a brief introduction to the mine before leading us into it. The salt mine is actually still in use today for salt production but salt mining is done in other tunnels.

It was a long, narrow walk through the mine, which was very exciting as it gave us the feeling that we were entering a deep tunnel into the depths of the mine. Back in Jinguashi (金瓜石) Gold Ecological Park in Taiwan, we didn’t get such a feeling as we reached the interior of the mine only after a short walk.

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Start of the Guided Tour | First Walk into the Narrow Tunnel in Single File
A Long, long walk through different structured tunnels.
A Long, long walk through different structured tunnels.

Dar was enjoying the walk too with me behind him and last in line, so that he wouldn’t feel compelled to keep up with the pace. We managed to catch up with the group soon and were guided to the various parts of the salt mine.

We learnt more about the formation of the salt deposits deep under the ground and the ins and outs of salt mining throughout the tour. The tour also consisted of a few multimedia shows (a bit strange to use high technology in a so-called ancient mine though) as we walked.

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We were also brought to the site of the historical salt lake and they had another multimedia show shown over the waters. Although we did not understand the language, it was still an impressive presentation. The most interesting portions of the tour though, were the two wooden slides that each of us get to attempt.

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There was no handle by the sides for us to grab as we went down, relying only on balancing skills. Yet it wasn’t really dangerous or difficult, as we were well protected with our thick mining uniform and we just needed to keep to the Dos and Don’ts mentioned by the guide.

Dar went down with me seated between my thighs, as we let gravity took over. We got a little fast at some point and he felt frightened, so I tried to use my feet to slow down a little at times. The second slide was longer and higher than the first, and there was even a motion-activated camera which would take our photos and capture our top speed too! How interesting!

At the last bit of our tour, we had to cross into a very narrow tunnel that was only about the width of person.

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As the tour was almost coming to an end, we were surprised that the last part of the tour would be to take a train-like vehicle through a long and narrow tunnel to the outside of the mine!

Dar was certainly very excited about the ride and we let him sit right at the front, so that he could get a nice view as we headed out.

Unfortunately as the train was very fast, the cold winds were a bit too much for Dar hitting at him, so perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to seat him in front after all.

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We then returned to the changing area to change out of our uniforms and retrieved our belongings. Even though the temperature was supposed to be 8 degrees, we were comfortable with two layers of clothing throughout the walking tour.

As a memento, we were each given a small gift bottle of Hallstatt’s salt. Our photos which were taken at the second slide were being laid on a table from which we could purchase them home as souvenir. It was a must-buy for us since it had been a memorable trip out there and we could relive the experience every time we look at those photos. ^^

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Entrance Fee :54 Euro (2 Adults + 1 Child – At least 4 yrs old) Includes Return Rides on Funicular and Salt Mine Guided Tour. Opening Hours: Apr- Sep: 9.30-4.30pm | Funicular Last Descent: 6pm

Official Website: Hallstatt Saltmine Tariffs

Exploring Hallstatt Town 

We started to make our way down to the town, got our luggage and walked along the streets. The weather was still hot so Cat bought herself a nice hat. We didn’t really see much that caught our eyes so just bought a few more souvenirs in the end. We then started to make our way to the jetty.

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Near the jetty, we saw a stall selling delicious Doner kebab (a Turkish dish made of meat cooked on a vertical spit) and bought ourselves some to savour while we waited for the ferry to arrive.

We soon boarded the train at Hallstatt Station and were expecting a smooth ride home, only to find out that the train stopped halfway for about 30 minutes (we later found out it was due to some storm at another place, though it was hot and dry at where we were).

Side-Story: The Mad Rush To Catch Our Train

In the end, when we finally arrived at Wels Hbf, where we were to transfer to another regional train, we were already 15 minutes late! Not knowing what to do, we frantically looked for the ticket counter, only to discover that it was renovating and we had to head to the regional office outside the station!

When we finally found the place, I explained the situation to the staff. We had to be at Simbach (Inn) Station for the next train, else there would not be a train for us to head back to Burghausen!

He suggested us to take an Intercity train, which would be faster and allow us to catch that train at Simbach (Inn). However, we would need to pay approximately 100 Euro for the tickets!

Instead of foolishly acceding to his demands, we stood firm and said that it was not our fault at all that our train arrived here late, so there was no reason we should be paying for the train company’s fault. The staff relented and said he would inform the train conductor of the Intercity train of our situation and make an exception for us.

However, this train had already arrived at the platform and would be leaving in less than ten minutes’ time! Therefore, we had to once again run back to the station (with our luggage etc) and got onto the platform! Fortunately, we managed to make it in time and the conductor understood our situation and allowed us to board without the valid tickets. Phew! What a mad rush that was!

The rest of our train journey was fortunately smooth and we made it back at Burghausen on time. We wouldn’t know what to do if we ended up stranded somewhere, since I still needed to report for work the next early morning. Well, that is the risk of travelling by train since we have no control over delays. That made us consider other alternative transport options for our subsequent trips.

Side-note: A few days later, we were informed by some German colleagues that Hallstatt had been struck by a mudslide just days after we had visited the place! We were fortunate to have avoided this natural disaster.

[ History ]

(source: Wikipedia)

Hallstatt is known for its production of salt, dating back to prehistoric times. Some of Hallstatt’s oldest archaeological finds, a mining tool, date back to around 5500 BC. In its early history, it was a secluded village accessible only by boat or mountain trails and salt was transported using a pipeline built from hollowed out trees. The first road to Hallstatt was only built in 1890, along the west shore, partially by rock blasting.

Today, apart from salt production, which since 1595 is transported for 40 kilometres from Hallstatt to Ebensee via a brine pipeline, tourism plays a major factor in the town’s economic life. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An interesting tidbit is that a full-scale replica of the site was built by a mining company in Huizhou, China and used for tourism.

{Next : Salzburg Haus Der Natur Museum}