Salzkammergut in Austria is one of those dreamy regions filled with picture-postcard villages that becomes even more spectacular when its Christmas markets come to life
The Salzkammergut region, or Austrian Lake District, lies between Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria, tucked away at the eastern end of the Alps. It owes its name to the salt deposits which have been mined for more than 7,000 years, dating back to the Bronze Age. It is the beauty of the landscape that truly sets this region apart – the rugged white peaks of the Dachstein, Traunstein and Osterhorn-Gruppe mountains, the picturesque villages and its seventy-six lakes.
Not to be missed in the Salzkammergut are Lake Hallstatt, considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world; the Attersee, which enchanted artists such as Klimt and Mahler; and the Traunsee, a favourite of Brahms and Schubert. The spa town of Bad Ischl, on the banks of the river Traun, with its magnificent villas, is another must-see. So too are the ice caves at Dachstein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The towns of Steinbach, Traunkirchen, Gmunden, with its curious Ort Castle and, of course, Salzburg are also well worth a visit.
The Salzkammergut region is even more beautiful at Christmas when the festive spirit truly comes alive in the form of its beautiful Christmas markets. These Christkindlmärkte open on the first Sunday in Advent in a tradition that dates as far back as 1298. And since 1782, the festivities have also included the display of handmade nativity scenes in local homes.
Starting from Salzburg, Mozart’s stunning birthplace, there is a boat tour on Lake Wolfgangsee that takes you to three small towns: Strobl, St. Gilgen, and St. Wolfgang, where you’ll find the region’s most famous and most magical Christmas market, the Wolfgangseer Advent. Here you can sample local delicacies such as Punsch (homemade punch), Glühwein (mulled wine), Lebkuchen (spiced cakes), or a tasty hot soup served in pots made of bread to keep it warm – crucial bearing in mind that the thermometer often drops below freezing! The market’s Christmas decorations at the foot of the snow-capped mountains and all along the lakeshore make for a truly picture-postcard Christmas scene.
To herald the opening of the Christmas market, a sixteen-metre-high floating light of peace in the shape of a lantern is installed in front of St. Wolfgang village. As well as being the only illumination on the lake, it invites onlookers to pause for a moment of contemplation. For those not keen on boats, there are also minibus tours of the region.