For our visit to Hallstatt, the oldest still inhabited settlement in Europe, my friends and I rented a very spacious cabin in the small village of Obertraun right across the Hallstatt lake, equipped with two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a fireplace, complete kitchen, etc.
I slept one of the best nights ever in the oh so comfortable bed and the complete silence that reigned at the foot of the Austrian Alps.
After a 4-hour train ride from Munich, we arrived at the Obertraun station early in the afternoon. A quick 5-minute walk brought us to the cabin resort. We immediately fell in love with the small quiet village and its breathtaking surroundings. There are only a handful of restaurants and shops, and in mid-September, the place was incredibly peaceful.
In Obertraun, we visited the amazing prehistorical Dachsteinhöhle ice cave, hidden in the mountain, halfway to the summit at 1500 meters in altitude, and the main attraction in the area along with Hallstatt. I dare you to pronounce Dachsteinhöhle correctly.
Simply getting there was a lot of fun. We took a bus in front of the resort, purchased our ticket at the site entrance and hopped on a cable car up the slope. Though a bit scary, the jaw-dropping view of the Alps, the village and the lake made me forget all about my unease.
After they drop you off, you still need to hike a little to get there, on a nice asphalted zigzag path. We drank water coming directly from the Alps, chased each other, and took tons of pictures.
We enjoyed ourselves so much that we missed our guided tour and had to wait for the next one. I hate waiting. Patience is not a virtue I possess, but surrounded by this scenery I could wait hours on end.
We were supposed to have an English speaking guide, but after our not-so-fashionably late arrival, we found ourselves following a German tour with schoolchildren. Although the explanations were in German, the guide was nice enough to lend us an English booklet. Once again, no complaints here.
Our guide walked us through a series of chambers that have been adapted to the public in a respectful manner to preserve the natural beauty of the cave. In some parts, the cave ceiling was incredibly high and it was impossible to see the end of the closing walls. I could have imagined myself crazy-carpeting down these ice waves, if it wasn’t for the danger and all.
Don’t fool yourself. These ice blocks may not look like much, but they are over 20 feet high. Use the people in the photo as a point of comparison.
Surprisingly, the outside temperature does not really influence the caves. Their temperature actually stems from the amount of precipitations received in a year, which determines how much ice melts or accumulates.
The tour lasted about an hour and, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to the top of the mountain to experience the 5 Fingers Viewing Platform, which offers an incredible panorama of the region at 3000 meters high. Although it’s not like I’d have needed a reason to return here one day, now I have one.
If you go (and you must), I suggest you spend at least two nights there, ideally three or four, especially in the summer since there are a lot of outdoor activities offered by the Obertraun Resort, not to mention Hallstatt is close by and you’ll definitely want to spend at least a full day there.
Also, start exploring the Alps and its ice caves early in the morning as the cable car stops riding quite early (around 5 pm).
One final tip: wear layers of clothes. While you may get sweaty climbing the Alps, the temperature in the ice cave goes as low as 0°C. Trust me on this one.