Usually, the view from high up on a mountain would most certainly have my undivided attention. Yet, whilst standing nearly 900 metres above sea level on the mountain of Katrin in the middle of Austria’s beautiful Salzkammergut region, I couldn’t help but dwell more on the sign outside the mountain’s cable car station instead. This was not because the sign was the only thing I could actually see from that vantage point as the mist was rolling down Katrin mountain at the time, obscuring any panoramic view of the surrounding mountain range…
… but because I was rather intrigued by the sign’s suggested ‘do’s and don’ts’ on climbing the peak.
For my own safety I decided to abandon any further ascent up mount Katrin and took the cable car back down to Bad Ischl instead.
Now, I’m sure I am not the first English-writing blogger to play on the German word for ‘bath town’ and concoct a tenuous link with the American TV drama Breaking Bad in an attempt to be witty and clever. Whilst walking around Bad Ischl however, it wasn’t just the town’s name that lent itself naturally to such a connection with the world of Walter White.
Bad Breaking Bad associations aside, I didn’t see any evidence of this charming Austrian spa town being the location for a large international crystal meth factory. Yet, there were signs that maybe a milder recreational substance had a strong influence on the town.
Horses were not the only creatures spotted around the town.
It wasn’t just a pride of lions that was a surprise find in the town either.
Strange and unique though it maybe, it is not the town’s quirkiness that has put Bad Ischl on the map. Nearly two hundred years ago, Princess Sophie of Bavaria came to the town to bathe in its waters in the hope of curing her infertility. Within two years of her visit she had given birth to a son who was to become Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Years later, the Princess bought a property in the town to give to her first born as an engagement present. The Kaiservilla became Emperor Franz Joseph’s annual summer retreat for over sixty years. As well as entertaining the finest members of Europe’s aristocracy there, it is believed that the Emperor officially declared war on Serbia at the Kaiservilla after his nephew and heir-apparent Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, an act that started a chain of events and alliances culminating in World War I.
Although the Kaiservilla is rather grand inside…
…it doesn’t take long whilst walking around the estate to realise that actually the Kaiservilla was probably the most suitable place to declare war on a nation. Emperor Franz Joseph I was a prolific huntsman and the Kaiservilla is strewed with his hunting ‘trophies’.
Bad Ischl makes for a fascinating day trip from Salzburg. There are several guided tour packages available in Salzburg, but it is just as easy – and cheaper – to go under your own steam.
Trains via Salzburg go to Bad Ischl daily, but some routes are not direct. The 150 bus service is more regular, strangely faster (if direct) and reliable. The buses on this route are more like coaches and are very clean and comfortable. The journey – travelling through some of the most beautiful areas around Salzburg – takes around an hour-and-twenty minutes direct and terminates outside Bad Ischl’s main train station. The bus can be boarded outside Salzburg’s main train station or at Mirabellplatz. Tickets can be bought online, at either station or on the bus and cost around €10.50 (2016) one way. Timetables and ticket prices can be found on the Salzburg public transport website here.
There are around eight coin-operated lockers in Bad Ischl station should you wish to leave any luggage there whilst taking a few hours to explore the town.
The Katrin cable car is open year round, only closing if the weather is extremely bad. There is an occasional bus from Bad Ischl station to the cable car ground station, but it can easily be reached by foot via the town. It is very well sign posted and takes around half an hour. Ticket prices for the cable car are quite steep but then all cable cars in Austria are. More information can be found on the official Katrin cable car website here, and a handy PDF copy of their brochure in English can be found here.
Entrance to the Kaiservilla is via a timed tour only, available daily during the summer months, but only on a couple of days in the week during the winter. Booking in advance is not essential. Note that the tours are in German only, but don’t be put off if you are not a German speaker. Non-German speaking visitors are handed a small guidebook in their own language and are given a head start from the tour group. Time your entry into a room just right between the earlier tour leaving and the later tour arriving, and the room becomes exclusively yours – albeit for a short time – to wonder around at your leisure and take snaps of without others getting in the way. Absolute bliss! Opening times and ticket prices can be found here.
Dachstein-Krippenstein … ice caves, 5fingers and the Dachstein Shark
Hallstatt … salt mines, stunning lakeside views and the not-as-eerie-as-one-might-think Austrian ‘Bone House’ in the heart of the Salzkammergut
The streets are alive with the sight of art work: Salzburg‘s fascinating ‘Walk of Modern Art’