An ice world and a salt cathedral: gems on the outskirts of Salzburg
alzburg can only be truly understood through music and, of course, its surroundings. An imposing mountain range forms a great framework for the city of Mozart’s birth. And the twin peaks of Untersberg and Gaisberg offer the perfect escape from the city.
Just over 20 kilometres from Salzburg is Mount Untersberg. The panoramic view from its summit is one of the best in the whole region. It can be reached by the Untersberg cable car, an institution in its own right. Since 1961, it has taken hikers and visitors to one of the most popular recreation sites around Salzburg. Every year, some 100,000 passengers ride the transport system connecting the valley station in Grödig/ST Leonhard (south of Salzburg) to Geiereck, rising more than 1300 metres in just 10 minutes. The trails starting at this mountain station (at 1776 m) are perfect for the warmer months.
Reaching Gaisberg is less of a climb. At 1287 metres above sea level, it is even closer to Salzburg (about 12 kilometres) and accessible all year round. Here, cycling and paragliding replace alpine and cross-country skiing when the warm weather arrives. The climax of the season in Gaisberg is the much-anticipated vintage car race, which dates back to 1929. This year it runs from 29 May to 1 June.
The Untersberg and Gaisberg are hard to miss, but other treasures in the Salzburg region are more concealed. About 40 kilometres south of the city, in Hochkogel-Westwand, lies one of the biggest cave systems in the world. A whopping 30,000 square metres and 40 kilometres long, Eisriesenwelt Werfen (Giant Ice World) is an underground walk that takes around two hours to complete (a pathway and wooden stairs have been constructed to make the walk easier). It opens to visitors from May to the end of October and remains closed during the winter due to the low temperatures. Located just outside Werfen, the cave system was not discovered until the 19th century, when the explorer Anton von Posselt-Czorich penetrated some 200 metres inside one of the caves. In 1880, he published a detailed report on what has now become one of the area’s major tourist attractions and an incredible surprise to anyone unaware of its existence.
An excursion into the local mountains reveals the white gold that has meant so much to the region. Starting with the name and going on to the economic benefits, salt is one of Salzburg’s greatest riches. Find out where it comes from and how it is extracted by visiting the salt mines of Hallein, Berchtesgaden or Bad Reichenhall.
In Hallein, just 20 kilometres from Salzburg, you can follow in the steps of the Celts who extracted salt here some 2500 years ago. The entrance to the mountain is by a train which takes visitors along the mining tracks as far as Lake Salzacchsee.
Visitors to Berchtesgaden learn about the work of the miners from the mascot, Salzi. Here, you can visit SalzZeitReise (Journey to the Salt Era)—a 36-metre long miners’ slide into the depths of the Salt Cathedral. The third option is Bad Reichenhall, considered one of the world’s most beautiful salt mines. It has a museum, several galleries and a system of tunnels where you can closely follow the trail to the white gold of Salzburg.