On Saturday (Samstag, in German), my boyfriend and I decided to take an excursion and be tourists for the day. We went to Untersberg, which is a mountain located on the border of Austria and Germany, in Salzburgerland. It’s one of the many mountains located in the Berchtesgaden Alps, which spread throughout Germany and Austria. Strangely, my boyfriend has lived in the same town in Austria his entire life and had never been to Untersberg before, despite having seen the gondola going up the peak as he drove by that section of highway a million times. However, to his credit, he has hiked many times up to the highest peak in the range, Hochkoenig, which is virtually in our backyard now. Despite being so close, the Untersbergbahn is one of those things that is so close and accessible but as a local you don’t always take advantage of those types of places. Possibly because you think it will always be there and can go whenever you want. Even still, on Saturday we finally decided that it was the beautiful day we were waiting for to go up there.
To get to Untersberg, you exit highway A10 heading to or from Salzburg and then follow the directions on your GPS. Once you arrive in the village of St. Leonhard, you will see the signs to the Untersbergbahn. Bahn translates to several words in English but commonly “way” or “track” and is used in a lot of complex words in German. For example, Autobahn, which refers to a highway, and Sommer Rodelbahn, which is a summer sled track. Hence, the Untersbergbahn is the gondola that you will take up to the top of the peak. Being that it’s Austria, it is of course possible to hike up to the top on your own and I think it takes about 2.5 hours. Once you arrive at the parking area for the Untersbergbahn, you will buy a ticket to ride the gondola up to the top. When we went, there was a gondola going up every 30 minutes and it’s about a 9 minute ride to the top. It’s a very scenic and you get a sneak peak at the beautiful vistas you will see when you reach the top.
Once we arrived at the top, we decided that we were hungry and wanted to get a bite to eat before hitting some of the trails that are up there. There were several small restaurants to choose from up there. We ended up going to Hochalm, a small place a short walk up passed the gondola station. As it was a gorgeous Saturday, it was pretty crowded. Nothing crazy like Disneyworld of course, but when we arrived at Hochalm, all the tables outside appeared taken up. Not to worry though, because in Austria, it is very common to sit with other people at a table and enjoy your meal while sitting with strangers. It was no surprise that the inside of the restaurant was totally empty, but we, like everyone else, wanted to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful view and weather. So, we ended up sitting at the end of a table with a group of four people, a young couple with her parents.
The alm had a small but simple menu of Austrian specialty entrees and deserts. We were pretty hungry by the time we got to order but our dreams of eating more food were dashed when we notice on the menu that they didn’t accept cards for payment. I am still surprised and peeved about this fact but it seems to be very common in Austria. Businesses a lot of time prefer cash (for reasons you can probably figure out on your own) so you must make sure you carry cash while traveling around. This is something I need to get used to coming from the States where hardly anyone deals with cash anymore. We all usually pay by some sort of card method or more recently with a mobile app. Luckily my boyfriend had some euros (he is a local after all!), albeit not much, and were able to order one meal and drink to share. We ordered Kasnocken, a traditional Austrian dish, and a Hollersaft to drink. Kaseknocken is a dish usually served in a cast iron skillet, or pfandl, as it is called in German. It’s basically like mac and cheese. It’s a noodle similar to spaetzle and is prepared with melted cheese and topped with chopped chives and crispy onions. ìt is delicious. We shared that meal and a hollersaft to drink, which is a refreshing juice made with holler syrup and water. Holler is a flowering bush found locally from which they make a light syrup that can be added to water to make a nice summer drink. We enjoyed our meal and the company of our table mates, who, once they realized that my boyfriend was speaking American English to me, began to talk to him about their trips to America and show us pictures of the Grand Canyon and beaches.
Once we finished our meal, we started on the trail that went up to one of the peaks. Untersberg is the name of the whole mountain, and there are two named peaks. One is on the German side, which is called Berchtesgadener Hochthron and is 1,973 meters high, the other is on the Austrian side and called Salzburg Hochthron at 1,853 meters. We hiked up to both and there are crosses at each, which is very typical to see. The trail to Berchtesgadener Hochthron was short, only about a 15 minute walk but pretty technical as it was a mix of uphill, downhill, rocks, and mud. There was still some snow patches up there which was really cool to see, especially since it was late May and it was a warm day. Even though it was noticeably cooler up there, down in Salzburg it was probably in the high 70s degrees Fahrenheit. The gradually melting snow made the path a bit muddy in parts. Nevertheless, anyone and everyone was on the path- old, young, people who looked ready to hike for the day and people who were clearly just making a stop off the highway wearing flimsy sandals. The views up there were absolutely stunning. You can see the entire Berchtesgaden Alps which is comprised of more than eight mountains in both Austria and German, the whole city of Salzburg including a clear view of the airport and castle, as well as the surrounding towns and rivers, and more mountains in the distance.
Big surprise, after we were done hiking around on the top and enjoying the views, we were hungry again. Especially since we had only shared one meal earlier. We still had some time to kill before the last gondola went down at 5 pm so we sat down at a different restaurant close to the station. Again, very simple menu of Austrian dishes but this place accepts cards so we were in luck! However, we found out after ordering that they were out of pretty much everything (because ì guess it was just a busy day), except, you guessed it, schnitzel! Schnitzel is definitely one of the most popular dishes here in Austria, and I had yet to try it. It’s basically meat, normally veal, which I would never eat, or in this case turkey, that they pound very thinly, lightly bread and then fry. It’s pretty light as it’s very thin and not soaked in grease like the fried stuff in America. I normally don’t eat much meat but I was so hungry and decided to try it. My boyfriend and I both ordered the turkey schnitzel with a side of potato salad and I have to say it was quite yummy! They serve it with lingonberry jam (made from lingonberries) which adds a nice sweetness to each bite.
We had a great time on this excursion and had a perfect clear day with barely any clouds in the sky and it was very sunny. The air was fresh, the flowers blooming and birds flying. It was a great excursion and it was special that my boyfriend and I got to share the experience together for the first time.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” – J.P. Morgan