Untersbergbahn or how to carve your way through the Austrian clouds
he interior of Mount Untersberg hides a series of caves that have sparked the imagination of the locals. One legend says that Charlemagne, his court and all his knights are sleeping inside (in other versions, they are replaced by dwarfs), and that the king only leaves his refuge to count the ravens circling the mountain. If all is well, he returns to his lair, where he remains, apparently oblivious to the ascending crowds who escape Salzburg every weekend in search of even fresher air.
Curious minds eager to check the veracity of the legend can reach the caves only on the Untersbergbahn, one of the most iconic cable cars in Austria. Every year, it carries over 100,000 passengers into the alpine sky, and while not the most modern gondola system, it does boast some dizzying facts and figures. For one thing, it climbs a staggering 1,320 metres from the valley station in Grödig / St. Leonhard—just south of Salzburg—to the mountain station of Geiereck.
Untersbergbahn works on a two-cable system. At the beginning of the 20th century, work began on a connection between Salzburg and Untersberg, but it wasn’t until 1945 that the project really began to take shape. Construction started in 1959, a year after the Untersberg Cable Car Society was formed, and it was officially opened in 1961. Today, a return trip on the Untersbergbahn will set you back 25 euros for an adult and 12 euros for a child (children under six ride free). In summer, from 11 July to 30 September, it runs from 08.30 to 17.30, with a shorter schedule at other times of the year.
In just under ten minutes, passengers reach the mountain station of Geiereck, where the view not only overlooks the city but extends to the Berchtesgaden region, the Rosittental Valley and, on a clear day, Lake Chiemsee and other lakes in the Salzkammergut. Mount Dachstein and the High Tauern range are visible with binoculars.
But the breathtaking scenery is a mere appetiser for the many who ride the Untersbergbahn with a backpack and sturdy footwear. For the Geiereck Peak is just the starting point for several hiking trails, especially in the warmer months. Of course, these are high mountain trails; the station itself sits at an altitude of 1,776 metres. A number of mountain inns, such as the Zappezauerhaus, cater to the adventurous and have snacks for those who come just for the view. The Hochalm mountain restaurant serves regional home-made food (sausages, apple strudel etc.) with cold beer or hot coffee, depending on the season.