As we skirted Salzburg to enter Austria from Germany, the landscape altered considerably and we experienced a peculiar sensation as we climbed quite steeply onto what felt like a Lost World plateau. Everything seemed to be, in estate agent’s parlance, “laid to lawn” as if some omnipotent Godlike hand had simply rolled green baize over gently undulating hills. Toytown roads wound across the landscape and the lack of fencing, hedging or other boundary markers around the quaintly scenic timber houses imparted a curious openness to the landscape.
It therefore felt a little odd that on this unusual verdant plateau, life appeared to be carrying on as normal – with busy villages, light industrial units and even upmarket car showrooms peppering our route. Slightly disappointed that no Conan-Doylian dinosaurs were wandering aimlessly about, we headed onwards – still metaphorically limping on our ancient spare wheel – but anticipating our not-too-distant destination.
Our closing route for the day took us past the touristic lakeside delights of Hallstatt, which we avoided as we passed through since the town is bypassed by a huge tunnel which filters most of the traffic away from its picturesque, narrow, lake-side, tourist-thronged streets.
Just over 5 hours late, we thus edged ourselves gingerly into the charmingly unpretentious village of Obertraun to find Landhaus Lilly, nestling four-square and dominant within an impressive amphitheatre of towering mountains amidst the Austrian Alps. Our friends Liz & Paul, expats from the UK, were now long-established and highly-regarded hosts of this sublimely-located and welcomingly well-run B&B establishment. They were, of course, also looking forward to our (delayed) arrival as they were really quite keen for us to turn their impeccable forecourt into a downmarket travellers’ encampment for a couple of nights – probably costing them two of their many preciously-earned tourist stars into the bargain.
Pub! Where else shall you be taken after a long and tedious day on the road? Their local hostelry – Gasthof-Pension Hoellwirt greeted us warmly, fed us exceptionally well with local dishes alongside which we accidentally drank too much beer, so much so that we forgot to leave a tip – entschuldigung!
The following morning, we cycled into Hallstatt – a UNESCO heritage site and tourist mecca set exquisitely on the edge of Lake Hallstatt – and seemingly already, at 10:30 am, teeming with tourists. On our arrival, we were greeted with the bizarre sight of thirty or so diminutive Asian men and women all dressed identically in what I can only describe as creamy-grey rice-picking outfits: baggy trousers tucked into white ankle socks; same-colour flowing tunics; white cravats and floppy-brimmed hats – all milling around and eventually boarding a coach before we were able to turn OUR tourist cameras on them!
It’s reported that Hallstatt is so popular with Asian tourists that the town has actually been replicated – building for building – on a lake-edge somewhere in China. Given that we’re unlikely to get that far in the Travelling Knumptywagen, we’ll make do with the Austrian version, thanks and instead ran a gauntlet of carelessly-wielded selfie-sticks (some as long as fishing rods, I kid you not); found a lakeside café where we enjoyed a slightly standardised pre-packaged ‘tourist breakfast’ made more palatable by the addition of crisply and freshly fried eggs on top – and then got the hell out of there.
Another rendezvous with our hosts back at Landhous Lilly was this time fulfilled on time as they finished their combined guesting duties/household chores and we set off together, they on rather flash and envy-inducing electric-bikes; us on our slightly more decrepit versions, for an exclusive trip round the locals’ side of the lake.
A delightful cycle-ride allowed us more distant (and safer) views of Hallstatt across a crystal clear lake, in which we were also able to pause-a-while-and-paddle before celebrating our achievement with coffee & kuchen at a local café. The Surprise & Delight feature of our homeward journey was revealed by loading our bikes onto a passing train which returned us with Austro-Germanic efficiency to Obertraun station, and the anticipation of a Rather Special Austrian In-Van Supper For Four.
So, prior to drinking too much beer again, our hosts bravely joined us for corned-beef hash and baked-beans, cosily served in the van, parked on their drive and assumedly at the amusement of their neighbours – who will never quite get round to fully understanding those strange Brits and their very odd social habits.
If you fancy a visit (which you should) you can find more about B&B in the Austrian Alpine Lake District here: www.landhauslilly.com