Hallstatt made my top ten list on my 2005 trip. It’s 1500 feet up in the Alps, southeast of Salzberg. The tiny town (over 1000 years old) has been a vacation spot for Austrian royalty for the last 500 years. It’s nestled at the edge of the Hallstatter See, surrounded by mountains, and is reached by ferry. Elese and I spent the first day climbing up to the salt mines above the town, strolling the main (and only) street, and enjoying the local beer at a small bar under a large umbrella (aptly named the umbrella bar). Tourism appears to pick up in June – the town was nearly empty, with only a handful of foreigners. 

We rented bikes on Tuesday (or rather were given a set for free at a local hotel) and pedalled around the lake to Obertraun, a slightly larger town known for its snow caves. The scenery is breathtaking – snow capped mountains, fields of wildflowers, lush greenery everywhere you look. We detoured through the mountains on a hiking trail that overlooked the entire valley. ​

Hallstatt has a small, 12-century chapel that holds the leg bones and skulls of roughly 1200 local inhabitants. The skulls are beautifully painted with flowers and leaves, each labeled with the date of death and the person’s name. It sounds a bit macabre, but really wasn’t – the overall feeling is one of realism about death, respect, and even love for the people that were placed there. ​The whole skull thing came about as a practicality – the graveyard was too small to accommodate new bodies. After twelve years, you were dug up and added to the collection in the chapel. These days (the population is much smaller), you need to specifically request in your will to be placed there.

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