I love Austrian food. There, I said it!
Not just sophisticated saddle of lamb, or pan-seared fresh trout. I am talking about wurst mit sauerkraut, fried and breaded chicken with potato and cucumber salad, and wienersnitchel or chicken “cordon blue” with boiled potatoes and mixed salad with slaw. Deep-fried, hot, crispy, and delicious. Screw the health concerns—these people look fine to me.
Well, perhaps a little context would be useful. We have traveled via train from the mountain town of Bolzano in the Italian Dolomites across the Alps to Salzburg. There is a great supermarket in the train station at Innsbruck for grabbing rolls, cheeses, and yogurt trinken to sustain us for the next leg of viewing brilliant vistas from our train window.
Given the transition to all things Germanic, we pick up our sleek Opel “station wagon,” a popular body configuration here, a la SUV’s in California. We now cruise with beefy Audis and sleek Bimmers over perfectly maintained Autobahns, and the familiar lanes leading to Moosstrasse 156c, Frau Steiner’s tidy Gasthaus, at the edge of “salt town”.
Arriving on Sunday, we eased behind a church-going carriage, drawn by two classic Haflingers, trotting up Moosstrasse to the traditional local church.
Frau Steiner’s neighborhood is on a flat greenbelt set at the base of a steep mountain that forms the border with Deutschland. We love sunrise walks in this rural, mixed-use, well-planned neighborhood: farms, houses, and light industry. Our favorite stroll starts across the road where Familie Walkner has an impressive domestic undertaking: Gasthof, stables, riding academy and a popular restaurant that overlooks the training ring, homey farm with lots of personal animals, and a tiny family chapel seating six.
We visit the stable grounds every day; is one of the very pregnant horses giving birth during our stay? A spirited black Friesian stallion trains daily for dressage, and a yearling shyly feels its way toward first tiny jumping steps. Tony Walkner, who runs the restaurant, picked up his American dialect working at Disneyworld. Along with nearby Laschenskyhof, these cheerful inns serve hardy Austrian dishes, that are, at first encounter, so hard to resist!
Next to our cozy room at Frau Steiner’s are four Hungarian migrant workers crammed in tight quarters who spend most of their free time smoking cheap cigarettes down to the nub outside our balcony. Part of the price we will pay to keep our door open and overlook fertile pastures and the mesmerizing local peak will probably be a nicotine patch!
Our road-hugging Opel carries us to nearby Sound of Music settings: Hallstatt, a cuckoo-clock of a town, literally plagiarized by the Chinese who built a replica in Guangdong; Berchtesgaden (yes, der Fuhrer’s Eagle’s nest); Lake Konigsee, just over the German border. During afternoon tours of wall-calendar mountains and lakes, we picnic in sylvan delight, and enjoy the surprisingly good music on Austrian FM radio in our Astra — played loud!
Did I say neat and orderly? Cut wood is stacked with surgical precision near every settlement. One unforgettable image on a forest road was the sight of a purpose built road-marker cleaner, working its way past our elfin lunch bench.
Salzburg itself, a fortress community overlooking the Salzach River, provides an afternoon visiting stunning outdoor art, imposing churches, and specialty shops featuring loden coats and lederhosen — common wear for the citizenry.
In the aftermath of the Boston bombing, we spot an abandoned backpack amidst an art installation of gigantic pickles. That sounds like the set up for a punch line. However, we keep our distance across the river, protected by a couple of hot lattes and a divine poppy seed strudel.
Cycling along the upper Danube among Gruner Veltliner vineyards and apricot blossoms (apricots are ever-present here in jams, aperitifs, stews, juices, and pastries) is a compelling memory that demanded a return to fabled Durnstein.
Our base is the Sanger Blondel Hotel, run by the Familie Schendl since 1730. Our accommodation, Room 21, looks out over an exquisite shaded garden in bloom where we delight in a perfect outdoor dinner of fresh trout with wild garlic dumplings, and sausages with spicy sauerkraut and heavenly potato pancakes. The family recipe for apricot Topfenstudel is worth locking in a stone fortress — it is the most delicate and understated pastry in the entire realm.
The adventures we encounter as we fan out from this fairy-tale village include: keeping pace for a couple of meters with a colorful cycling team from St. Polten (“where we make the best beer!”); stopping to smell the flowers left over from a Saturday wedding in a towering church along the route, climbing with unexpected vigor to the crumbling fortress which crowns the town, marveling at the foamy tops of fresh beers and steaming caffe lattes, and joining someone’s Mother for her 75th birthday fireworks celebration along the ramparts of town.
Most of the Austrians we engage are polite, helpful, and enjoy good humor. When Lisa asked for an additional seeded roll at breakfast, our always-correct waiter at the hotel ran out undetected to the Backerei, rather than disappoint a loyal guest. When we return to our room after fruhstruck the smiling, portly maid has lofted and neatly folded the goose-down duvets on our bed.
We return to Austria to travel in the full glory of Spring – Salzburg and Durnstein remind us why.
Click on pic to open photo carousel: