Church bells toll in the distance, snow has started to fall on the Alps almost across the road and mist and low cloud is rolling across the vivid green alpine meadows.
The town of Puch bei Hallein snuggles into the hillside about 20 minutes from the Austrian city of Salzberg.
Combining the acclaimed alpine scenery of the Salzberg area with ancient village atmosphere, Puch bei Hallein is an ideal base to explore the beautiful surrounds.
We’ve gathered for a reunion with our Danish family at one of the area’s man-made gems, the luxurious family Hotel Gasthof zum Kirchenwirt.
Watch for our upcoming review of this hotel.
The hotel seems to be only a stone throw from the craggy and breath-catching Alps, where lights twinkle from tiny villages and an increasing amount of snow coats the peaks and tallest slopes.
There’s a chance of more snow – much to our delight.
We’d love to see the white Salzberg region shown on the postcards sold by the thousands.
Yesterday, we wandered into Salzberg’s Old Town, braving light drizzle to see the well-preserved castle; the Salzberg Dom cathedral; and the the general fairytale charm of the Baroque city.
Hohensalzburg Castle is one of the biggest medieval fortresses in Europe and dates to 1077.
The cathedral is also an imposing sight, linked by three ‘cathedral arches’ to St Peter’s Abbey and Salzberg Residenz, the former palace of the Archbishops who ran the city in years gone by.
We made our way to Salzberg Museum, largely to see a 360 degree panorama of Salzberg, painted by Johann Sattler, over three years in the 1820s.
At over 1,300 square feet, the huge panorama portrays Salzburg and the surrounding areas in detail as seen from the top of Salzburg castle.
In today’s age of ‘Pano’ settings on cameras and many smart phones, this painted version was fascinating in its detail and craftsmanship.
Off to the salt mine
Today, we had an extraordinary experience, travelling 210 metres below the Alps, down what’s said to be Europe’s oldest salt mine.
The mine, at Mount Durrnberg on the Austria-German border, was used by the Celts to mine salt more than 2,500 years ago.
After donning white overalls (not exactly a fashion statement) we first rode a miners train 400 metres down the mine shaft.
We then followed a guide and walked to a lower level, before going even deeper on the ‘miners slide’ – which was rather like giant wooden slippery dips.
Next came brine tasting, before we went on a boat ride across an underground salt lake.
As we travelled through the mine we crossed into Germany – and our guide and multi-media presentations explained how the wealth, splendour and even the name of Salzberg came from the mining and sale of salt – known as ‘white gold’.
Tomorrow, we will explore the beautiful St Wolfgang area of Austria. Follow our journey!