Although touring Hallstatt when in Austria is a must…
The surrounding region known as the Salzkammergut is Austria’s hidden treasure in the Austrian Alps.
Normally when places in the Austria Alps are mentioned, you hear of Tirol, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Kitzbuhel, St. Anton and such but, not Salzkammergut, which by the way translates to something like “Salt Chamber Place”.
The “salt” comes from the fact that salt mining has been a major staple of the area going back 5,000 years when it was discovered, and has been mined for over 3,000 years. Some 230 million years ago the area used to be an ocean floor. Nature sure does wonders over the eons.
Salzkammergut is not a specific town, village or state, rather it is an area situated mostly south and east of Salzburg that takes in parts of three Austrian states – Salzburg, Styria and Upper Austria. It’s a beautiful Alpine region with numerous large mountain lakes, meadows, hot mineral springs, little quaint villages and just great outdoors. There’s the Wolfgangsee, Fusslsee, Hallstattsee, Wolfgangsee and Grundlsee (lakes) among others.
One of the quaint villages in the Salzkammergut region is Fussl, which also happens to be the home of Red Bull. And unless you know what to look for, you’d never guess that a set of totally discreet single level glass enclosed structures that sit on a pond and blend beautifully into the surroundings, were Red Bull’s world headquarters. The village itself, which sits on the shore of the Fusslsee (lake), is a place that invites one to spend some time in and soak in the setting.
Nearby is the village of Hallstatt, which is bound by a cliff on one side and Hallstattsee on the other. The colorful boathouses at the edge of the lake make one of the most photographed settings of Alpine Austria. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that photographs don’t capture the full essence of the setting. It’s a village where you’d definitely would want to spend some time at. Numerous guest house (Gasthof) accommodations are available.
The Salzkammergut area is also known for its spas and hot mineral springs, with villages such as Bad Goisern, Bad Ischl and Bad Aussee, the latter used to be a health retreat for the Vienna aristocracy of the past. Today, these facilities still serve as retreats for guests from all over the world.
Besides the recreation available at the lakes, the hiking, and just plain relaxing, here you’ll also find Salt mine tours, such as in Hallstatt, ice cave tours and a two leg gondola ride to the top of Krippenstein, where the view of the surrounding area, the Hallstattsee down below, the Dachstein glacier and the southern Alps is truly magnificent. While on Krippenstein, step out on one of “Five Fingers” platform and look a thousand feet straight down.
There’s much to see and do in the Salzkammergut region and it’s definitely worth spending a few days, or more, exploring and just taking in the surroundings. A good base for such a visit is the village of Gosau, with its Gosausee and glacial backdrop. The setting is idealic, with the green meadows, roaming sheep, cows and plain unspoiled country side.
BTW, the wearing of tracht (local traditional wear), which varies from village to village and personal preference, is fairly common in the Salzkammergut region. It’s almost worn as a badge representing people’s individuality as well as association with a particular area or village. There’s definitely a lot of pride shown in one’s heritage and village.
And then there are the local residents that greet you with a “Gruss Gott” and some with a MOOOOO!
Swarovski and fine crystal are synonymous and when in Austria and the Tirol area, do take the opportunity to visit its facilities and Kristallwelten (Crystal world), located in Wattens, a small town just east of Innsbruck. Drop by on your own or take a tour out of Innsbruck – Kristallwelten, beginning with the fountain at the entrance, will amaze you.
Swarovski Crystal had its origins in Bohemia, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and is now part of the Czech Republic. Daniel Swarovski, its founder moved manufacturing from Bohemia to Watten, Austria in 1895 to take advantage of the hydro-electric power required by his newly patented precision crystal cutting and polishing machine. In fact, the fine gem quality of the Swarovski crystal products are a direct result of its precision cutting and polishing expertise.
Today, the Swarovski Crystal products, are known for their fine jewelry quality and the creations include; crystal glass sculptures and miniatures, jewelry and couture, home decor, and chandeliers. The Swarovski Group, of which Swarovski Crystal represent a major portion is a multi-billion dollar international corporation, with production facilities in 18 countries and distribution in 42.
To this day the company is still family owned and operated. Although Swarovski has ventures in quite a number of related (glass, crystal, cutting) products, including some of the finest binoculars and rifle scopes available, we’ll focus on the crystal end of the business.
First, let’s take a quick history tour of glass and crystal production and development in the region. Bohemia, has a long history with crafting glass and crystal, which dates back to possibly the 5th and 6th century when it was believed to have been brought to the area by the Celts. Bohemia’s expertise in producing crystal works was established throughout Europe during the 17th century when the formula for clarity, brilliance and rigidity of its crystal was developed and perfected. To this day the method and formula remains a carefully guarded secret. Swarowski’s contribution to crystal was the invention of a machine that allowed very precise cutting and polishing of the crystal. To this day, the process is a closely held secret. In fact the machines used are manufactured internally by Swarovski.
Let’s take a look at some of those products.
In 1931 it launched sew-on crystals studded ribbons, which was a huge hit with the fashion and accessory industry of the time, although new lines of shimmering ribbons continue to adorn many special gowns and coats today. Remember Liberace?
In 1956 together with Christian Dior, Swarovski launched the “Aurora Borealis” effect, which created a shimmering rainbow finish that enhances the sparkle of cut crystal. To this day, this continues to be a major product.
In 1965 Swarovski launched its crystal lines for chandeliers, with takers such as the Palace of Versailles and the Metropolitan Opera in NY. In 2007 it acquired Schyonbek Worlwide Lighting Inc. in the US, the market leader in premium crystal chandeliers. Just a note; Schyonbek, the same as Swarovski, also had its beginnings in Bohemia.
In 1965, Swarovski also started the manufacture of precision cut gemstones. Today Swarovski produces an extensive range of precision cut gems, from Sapphire and Rubies to Topaz and Mozambique Garnet. Also in the mix is Zirconia, a synthetic stone. The foregoing is just a sampling of Swarovski’s extensive collection.
1976 saw the introduction of decorative crystal figurines and the following year its jewelry collection is launched. Remember the mood stone (1972), that changed color as your mood changed?
The fist figurine created was a stylized mouse, which today along with many others has become a true collectible. In fact a replica version is still available today. Other popular figurines include the ladybugs and the limited edition Disney Collectibles. In all, the collection contains over 200 figurines, many of them limited edition and available to Swarovski Crystal Society (See below) members only.
1987 saw the launch of the Swarovski Crystal Society, a community for crystal enthusiasts. VIP treatment when in Watten, discounts and limited edition products are available to its members. And believe me, when visiting Crystal World, as a member, you do get treated well.
In 1995 the Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal World) was opened. This is a must see when in the Tyrol area.
Today there are close to 2,000 Swarovski and partner operated boutiques and product outlets world wide, along with its On-line Store.