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Hallstatt is a small town in the Salzkammergut area of Austria, overlooking Lake Hallstatt. We wanted to get out of the bigger Austrian cities and spend a few days in a more remote and relaxed spot and Hallstatt was simply perfect.
As you get off the train, a boat is waiting for you to take you over to the town itself, which just adds to the charm. Hallstatt itself is nestled in between a mountain and a lake, taking up a narrow portion of land in the middle.
The houses are picturesque and and if not for the hoards of tourists heading here in the summer in would be the perfect spot of tranquility and beauty.
There also happens to be a star attraction here – the salt mines.
The salt nestled deep in the mountains above the town made it a center of salt mining and the Hallstatt Period (800 to 400 BC) refers to the early Iron Age in Europe, named after the town and the settlers who worked in the mines.
This makes the Hallstatt salt mines the oldest salt mines in the world. This area has been producing salt for 7000 years, and archaeological artifacts dating back to 5000 BC have been found in the area. The Celts were the first to start the salt mining industry around 4500 BC and were on the hunt for this ‘white gold.’
To get to the salt mines themselves you take a short ride on a cable car up to the top.
From the top a beautiful view opens up in front of you and you continue on a short uphill hike to the entrance.
Entrance to the salt mines is by guided tour. As you wait for the tour to start you put on some protective clothing, button down shirt and pants – dark blue for boys and maroon for girls. The temperature in the salt mines is quite cool, even in the summer, so this extra layer of clothing really helps.
A map of the complex reveals that it will be an exciting tour with many stops in various rooms, with passageways and slides connecting them.
With our tour group we made our way down the corridor, ready to learn about the history of the salt mine.
We stopped for a brief interactive history lesson. Through these globes we were shown the story of how the salt came to be hidden inside the mountain, starting with the salt coming from the oceans, which eventually dried up, and with the changing of the landscape and desserts turning into mountains these salt deposits eventually found a home deep in the mountains.
The entire presentation was simplified to give you a great overview of the history of salt in the world. I was seriously impressed and really enjoyed learning about this.
It wasn’t all serious and educational though.
We did get to go down a 64 meter slide (apparently Europe’s longest wooden slide).
A visit to a salt lake showed where the brine is collected before being pumped out of the mine. Of particular interest was learning about how the salt was extracted from the mines back in the old days. Most shocking was the 1734 discovery of a body of a prehistoric miner. His body was completely covered and preserved in salt. They now refer to him as the ‘Man in Salt’.
Overall Hallstatt is simply a magical small town that is perfect for a getaway weekend. The town itself is quaint and for nature lovers there are many hiking and walking trails nearby. Of course visiting the salt mines is a must – both from an educational and entertainment perspective.