The magical phase of lockdown restrictions easing.
With the World in different stages of lockdown and re-opening, I found myself and my family in the fortunate position of being able to visit “The most Instagramable Town in the World”. A place that Travel and Leisure magazine call “A beautiful European village straight out of a fairytale” , but now without the usual hoards of tourists.
Last Summer we made the picturesque city of Salzburg, Austria our home. However with most of my business located in the USA until I get more established here, I found that I was traveling every month to the US to fulfill my commitments to clients. Therefore didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to travel within Austria. At least until now.
We did go to the bigger cities such as, Vienna, Graz and Linz and even went up into the mountains in Winter to visit Krimml on a vintage steam train. But one place that we knew was a “must see” was Hallstatt. An absolutely beautiful village only an hour and a quarter drive from our home here. But we haven’t visited Hallstatt up to now due to the fact that it is well known for “Overtourism” or “Tourism Saturation”. The village is rumored to have been the inspiration behind the village of Arandelle in the movie “Frozen”.
The Curse of Instagram Fame
It was also known across East Asia as the most Instagramable town in the World. For those reasons the Town, which has a population of less than 800 was inundated with a number between 10,000 and 30,000 tourist per day, the majority being from Asia. Some places would love to be known as the most instagramable town in the World, but that virtual award comes at a price. Even the Mayor has begged tourists to stay away.
So at this point you can probably guess where this blog is going. With Coronavirus lockdown restrictions easing, we thought that this would be the perfect time to visit a place that usually suffers from tourism saturation. I hope that wherever you are, that you too have the opportunity to visit a place you normally wouldn’t due to the number of tourists that would normally spoil the day for you. I also managed to get some great shots of Salzburg without tourists at the beginning of the lockdown. You can see those images here if you’re interested.
We went up to Hallstatt last week, arriving at the edge of the Town through a long tunnel. Emerging to find a multitude of car parks with an abundance of free spaces. There were other people who had the same idea as us. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and a perfect temperature. I would say there were roughly between 100 and 200 visitors to the town that day. All of them Austrians, with the odd exception. There were a couple of shops open so you could get a coffee to go, or an ice cream. But we decided to take a picnic.
This got me thinking about other places to go to that would be as nice without the usual hoards of tourists. So I’ve started a list of places. Then I started thinking about the people that live close to other equally important tourist destinations in the World. The locals will now be able to truly appreciate their own towns, cities and treasures. I remember when I was growing up in London, I didn’t appreciate the buildings I was walking past every day. It was only once I left England and moved to another country that I started to appreciate what London had to offer.
It is so nice to think that the people of London will now be able to enjoy their city in a similar way. Especially after a long period of time stuck inside their homes. Then there’s Venice, Rome, Athens, Jerusalem and all the other places in the World that locals usually don’t get to enjoy. So this is an opportunity to be snapped up right on our doorstep.
Back in Hallstatt, we walked through the Town’s narrow and winding streets, past the old houses that seem to be stuck to the side of the hill. We had a picnic down by a church overlooking the lake. Only to be serenaded by a lone trumpeter in a boat on the lake. That was an extra little treat.
After lunch we wandered the streets a little more and then started the accent up to the scenic viewing platform, which protrudes 12m from the mountainside and is 360m above the town below. The walk up also has some historic points of interest including an entrance to the old salt mine, which was fascinating. Unfortunately the Salt Mines were still closed to the public, but should be opening up again in a couple of weeks.
Once at the top we encountered a few other people (only 6 people in total) sitting on various benches spread around, but we had the whole observation deck to ourselves for quite some time. Something, which I’m sure wouldn’t happen in normal times.
Overall it was a day of making memories and experiencing what I agree could possibly be the most instagramable town in the World. It will be interesting to see how tourism comes back and to see if authorities can take this opportunity to re-think their tourism to make it more sustainable.
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Steven Graffham, photographer of hotels throughout Europe, Middle East, USA and the Caribbean.