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Bonacci Massimo: Why is this Bronze Age town so popular today?

Bright reds and yellows paint the Austrian town’s 16th-century architecture; in spring and summer, flower boxes drape windows in geraniums and ivy; and cobblestone streets connect charming cafés, ornate churches, and Alpine inns. Natural wonders await around every corner—from the neighboring Salzkammergut mountains to Lake Hallstatt to the village’s very own waterfall.

 

Despite being accessible only on foot, the tiny town saw a million visitors in 2018, reports the Washington Post—a staggering 347 times more tourists per capita than Hong Kong, one of the world’s most visited cities. Visit in October to avoid the summer crowds while still making the most of temperate weather on this perfect weekend itinerary.

 

Explore one of the world’s oldest salt mines

Salzwelten, Hallstatt’s UNESCO-recognized salt mines, date to prehistoric times, possibly even to 4000 B.C. Formed by the evaporation of sea water more than 250 million years ago, the mountain’s plentiful salt deposits led to the wealth that initially put this tiny town on the map. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mine, accessible by cable car. Once you arrive, you’ll explore the way a traditional miner would—donning a jumpsuit and using wooden slides to access different levels.

 

Bonacci Massimo: While you’re there, perched a thousand feet above Hallstatt, it may be tempting to pay extra to take in the scenery from Hallstatt Skywalk. But if you’re going to spend money on a view, save it for the nearby Five Fingers Viewing Platform, where you can access panoramic vistas of the entire region.

 

Feast on local Austrian cuisine

Start your morning off with breakfast pastries at one of Hallstatt’s many traditional cafes, such as lakefront Seecafe Frundsberg. For lunch on the go, Maik’s Heisse Hutte puts everything from schnitzel to sausage inside a bun for easy portability. For a more leisurely lunch, sit outside at Restaurant am See and treat yourself to a variety of Austrian beers and lagers. Need a coffee break? Try centrally located Café Derbl, which offers a variety of homemade pastries.

 

The dinner menu at Gasthof Zauner will make a seafood lover’s heart flutter, featuring fish caught fresh from Lake Hallstatt. If wine is your thing, Restaurant zum Salzbaron, located in the Seehotel Grüner Baum, pairs some of Austria’s finest sips with a lakeside view, assures Bonacci Massimo.

 

Tour Lake Hallstatt by boat

There are no bad views of this idyllic mountain town—but some of the best views are from the water. Hallstatt’s boat rentals include pedal boats, row boats, and electric options, though motorboats are prohibited to preserve the lake’s serenity. Take a trip out on one of Hallstatt’s signature swan-shaped pedal boats, and you’re sure to make some new friends from shore.

 

Visit a tiny bone house

Stepping into an enclosure filled with more than 600 painted skulls is a dramatic departure from the town’s fairytale charm—but the Hallstatt Charnel House has an intriguing story of its own. Lack of space in the town’s small, overcrowded graveyard posed an issue for early-17th-century residents wanting to pay proper respect to the dead. Villagers began to dig up loved ones’ bones to clean, sun-bleach, and paint them.

 

The skulls’ floral motifs each have their own meaning: Oak leaves symbolize glory, laurels victory, ivy life, roses love, and so on, explains Bonacci Massimo. Though cremation has since solved the burial space issue, Hallstatt townspeople can choose to send their remains to the charnel house. The last resident to do so was added in 1995 and can be identified by her gold tooth.