Today we’re going hiking in Austria on the Salzkammergut long distance trail, leaving the lakeside town of Gmunden to visit a romantic castle on the lake, greeting forest creatures carved in wood with a delicious lunch in a friendly gasthous, served on the distinctive green and white Gmunder plates. This was the second day of our hike through the Salkammergut region of lakes and mountains in Austria, (Read about Day 1 here) on a new long distance hiking trail that can be as relaxing or challenging as you like, with over 20 well-marked sections, to make a tour of the region.
Visiting Schloss Ort on Traunsee
After our walk through the Almtal valley, we really enjoyed our overnight stop in the pretty town of Gmunden, with medieval streets that were built on the wealth of the salt trade that gave the Salzkammergut its name. From our window at Seehotel Schwann, we could just see Schloss Ort, the fairytale castle on the lake and the next stop on our trail.
The castle with its onion dome tower and enclosed courtyard is set on a small island, connected to the lake shore by a wooden bridge. There is thought to have been a castle on the island as far back as Roman times and it faces Schloss Lend, another grand building built on the lake shore. Schloss Ort was owned by the Hapsburg rulers until the 19th century, used as their occasional residence, fortress and sometimes a prison, until it came into the ownership of the community of Gmunden who manage it today.
The castle receives many visitors who are fans of the popular drama series, made for Austrian and German TV about “Hotel Schloss Ort”, which tells the story of a fictional 5 star hotel. The series was filmed at the castle and surrounding area between 1996 and 2004, and is still screened regularly, making a big draw for the castle, with some visitors thinking that it’s a hotel in real life and asking whether they can stay there.
As you can imagine with such a picturesque place, this castle on the lake is the ultimate spot for a fairytale wedding and over 300 weddings are held between May and October in different rooms of the castle. The castle can be visited by appointment or with a local guide to access the arcaded inner courtyard, chapel and interesting museum dedicated to the mountain rescue teams that operate in the area. Unfortunately we were unlucky with the weather, so I’ve borrowed some of the photos to show you what it should look like in summer when the sun is shining and the lake water sparkling.
More information about visiting Schloss Ort on the Traunsee Website
A visit to the Gmunder Ceramics factory
Before we leave Gmunden, it’s also worth mentioning the distinctive hand painted Geflammte green and white ceramics that are made in the Gmunder factory there. We’d spotted the traditional green and white patterns in the tiled stoves of a lakeside gasthof and guessed that this must be part of the local heritage in the region. Before setting off on the hiking trail, we paid a quick visit to the Gmunder factory which is open daily, just a short tram ride up the hill from the town centre.
There are factory tours twice a day, but at any time you may visit the factory shop or try your hand at painting your own ceramic masterpiece which can then be shipped home to you. If you happen to be in Gmunden in August, be sure to look out for the famous Pottery Market that takes place around the esplanade with ceramicists and collectors gathering from all over the world.
Hiking from Schloss Ort to Neukirchen
From Schloss Ort the Salzkammergut long distance trail continued parallel to the lake and through Altmünster, then over the forested slopes above the town looking back towards Traunsee. Because it was raining as we left Gmunden, we took a lift to miss this section and started the trail again at the Gasthof Reschenwirt.
We traced the grassy path across a meadow and followed the road between traditionally built houses with well tended window boxes and a distant view of the lake. The road at the bottom of the valley took us to the village of Neukirchen where we stopped for a coffee in the bakery beyond the church and the friendly owner made us excellent coffee. We were seated at the small table squashed in with locals, surrounded by bread rolls, chocolates and an incongruous box of hand-knitted socks for sale. Then fortified by hot coffee, we heaved our rucksacks onto our backs, and were wished a cheery Grüß Gott! as we picked up the trail again.
Hiking from Neukirchen to Windleweg
From the village the road continued uphill past a small chapel and cross, with views over the village and rolling countryside. Cows grazed on the slopes and there was an air of prosperity in the traditionally built houses dotted along the roads and lanes, with forest clothing the higher slopes above the valley. The sunflowers in the garden dripped as we tramped on in the drizzle, past houses where dried corn was hanging for decoration from the rafters. As I approached a flock of sheep grazing on the steep slope, the ram stomped a foot in warning when I leaned in a little too close to take his photo.
Forest creatures on the Windlegernweg nature trail
We reached the start of the Windlegernweg, a nature reserve that made a popular Sunday morning walk, between the village of Neukirchen we had just left, and the country inn Almgastof Windlegern where a hearty lunch could be found. The start of the trail was marked by a Wishing Tree, small pieces of cloths hanging like Budhist prayer flags with wishes written on them, although we couldn’t see any on which to make a wish of our own (perhaps to wish the rain would stop!).
The mist had come down among the trees and we felt a little like Hansel and Gretel, following a path of white stones laid on top of the pine needles, making an almost luminous trail ahead. Information signs educated us about the forest we were passing through, with the groves of beech, known as the Mother tree and the ubiquitous pines, which are used to make paper and build houses, giving employment to many.
We passed a friendly woodland creature carved in wood, spouting water from his mouth into a trough below. I love these artistic wooden sculptures that we’d often seen on trails in Austria, made from the trees that had probably fallen nearby.
A hearty lunch at Almgasthof Windlegern
After hiking in relentless rain, our spirits were lifted by the sight of the Almgasthof Windlegern where we were welcomed by the very friendly staff, despite our dripping rucksacks and waterproofs. They told us that they’d had a lot of walkers pass this way who were following the Salzkammergut long distance trail and treated us to a pine schnapps to warm us up. The lunch was served on green patterned Gmunder plates – we tried the venison carpaccio and goat’s cheese salad, sharing an apple strudel with our coffee. Every so often a choral harmony would burst from a neighbouring room and when we enquired were told that a wedding party was in full swing. We really wished that we could have stayed here all afternoon, but with true British resolve we donned our rain ponchos to hike the final leg of the day’s trail.
Above the gasthof we entered an eerily dense forest which took us down a steep and slippery slope over tree roots and rocks, on a path that was barely visible. It was a great relief when we missed out on our Hansel and Gretel destiny to be eaten by a witch and found a better path, running parallel to a rushing mountain stream which took us to Landgasthaus “In der Kreh”, our next stop for the night.
Landgasthouse in der Kreh
We settled into the cosy gasthaus which was at the intersection of several hiking routes but otherwise with not much around, and were the only people staying there at the end of the summer season. Our very comfortable apartment was on the top floor, where the stove had been lit and we could spread out our things. From our window we could see the owner’s horses grazing in the field, their stables adjoining the guesthouse. The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast of hot coffee, rolls with jam and a freshly cooked omelette, before we set off again for the next leg of the Salzkammergut long distance trail.
Coming soon: You’ll read about our final day hiking the trail in which we encountered mysterious lakes and ended at beautiful Lake Attersee where we finally found some sunshine.
More stories from Austria
Staying in Gmunden at Seehotel Schwan
The previous night we had stayed in Gmunden at Seehotel Schwan, an elegant, turn-of-the-century hotel which is very centrally located opposite the Rathaus (town hall) and facing the lake. There has been an inn on this spot since the 16th century but after the older building was destroyed in 1898, the current hotel was rebuilt and has been run by 6 generations of the Nöstlinger family for the last 100 years. While the restaurant and bar areas are furnished in charming traditional Austrian style, the bedroom was stylish and modern with pale wood floors, a cheerful red sofa and felt covered headboard. Our room on the second floor had a balcony that overlooked the lake with beautiful views although the weather was overcast and misty while we were there.
We also ate in the hotel’s restaurant with a menu that features many traditional Austrian dishes and I tried the excellent trout caught from the lake, served with buttered parsley potatoes and a green salad. The hotel also has a lovely terrace which is a nice place to relax with a view of the lake in fine weather. Seehotel Schwann is a great place to stay in style while hiking the Salzkammergut trail or as a base for exploring lake Traunsee and the surrounding region. If you can’t stay at Seehotel Schwann, check out the other options for hotels in Gmunden.
For more information and to book: Seehotel Schwan Website
Visitor information for hiking in Salzkammerkut
There is detailed information on the website for the Salkammerkut BergeSeen or long distance hiking trail, including walking notes and maps that can be downloaded and printed. Take a look at holiday offers for accommodation packages that save you money and make it easy to arrange a walking trip on different parts of the trail, with the possibility to have your baggage transported each day.
For more information on holidays in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, check out the tourism websites for Salzkammergut (the whole lakes & mountains region) as well as the tourism board websites for each of the lake-regions of Almtal, Traunsee and Attersee that we visited. You can find more information on holidays in Austria on the Austria Tourism website.
Thanks to the tourism boards of Traunsee, Almtal and Attersee in Salzkammergut for hosting my hiking trip in Austria.
We walked Section 1 – Gmunden to Gasthaus in der Kreh
Length: 18 km
Altitude difference (uphill): 860m
Altitude difference (downhill): 640m
Lowest point: 440m
Highest point: 962m
About the Salzkammergut long distance trail
The Salzkammergut BergeSeen or long distance hiking trail was inaugurated in the spring of 2017, creating a 350 km long distance route that covers the whole of the Salzkammergut region of Austria. The long distance route brings together numerous local trails that already existed, with new signage and route maps that make it very easy to hike the sections individually or by combining as many stages as you wish. Each section of the trail is planned to be a day’s hiking, and these vary in length from 4 hours to 8 hours, with 20 sections in all, making it possible to walk for 20 days if you want to make the whole trail in one round. Most hikers will probably do as we did and pick a section of the trail to walk for a few days as time allows. With excellent public transport in Austria it is also easy to move between the start points for each stage, if you wish to miss out a section.
There are also more advanced ‘Alpine Routes’ that can be added to the trail, that take you high into the mountains, although these are for more experienced hikers and should only be undertaken in good weather. Each stage starts/ finishes at a point where there are good accommodation options, with at least one place to stay and normally a range of different accommodation. The Salzkammergut long distance trail is a great way for walkers to get an overview of this beautiful region of lakes and mountains, with interesting and historic towns to visit, stunning scenery and plenty of welcoming guesthouses and restaurants to stop for a drink or lunch on the trail.
Maps and Guides for the Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail
If you are just walking a few sections of the Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail you can download the walking instruction and maps at the trail website – Click on the numbered section you plan to walk and at the bottom click Create PDF, which generates a document in either English or German with walking instructions and maps that can be printed. You can also buy maps and guides listed below which is recommended if you want to have a good overview of the trail. Maps and guides of the trail are also available from tourism offices and shops along the trail.
Recommended: Kompass hiking guide Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail – Buy on Amazon
This hiking guide gives instructions on each of the sections of the trail as well as including a map. This guide with map has all you need for the whole trail. Be sure to order the correct language version of the guide as it is available in both English and German.
If the guide book is not available, you can also buy the following maps and use them in combination with printed walking notes that you download from the website.
Kompass 1:50 000 map Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail – Buy on Amazon
This map covers the whole of the Bergeseen Trail but in individual sections so you don’t get the overview of the region.
Kompass 1:50 000 2-map set no 229 Salkammergut – Buy on Amazon
This 2 part set covers the whole of the BergeSeen Trail
Kompass 1:50 000 map no 18 Nordlisches Salzkammergut – Buy on Amazon
This map covers Traunsee, Attersee and Wolfgangsee including the sections 20, 1, 2 that we walked although the first part of section 20 from Grünau is not covered.
Photo credits: Due to the rain we experienced, many of my photos are very grey, so I have borrowed some photos from the Traunsee tourism board to show you what the area looks like in the sunny weather that is normally experienced through the summer and into September.