The next stop on our trip was Hallstatt, described by some as “the pearl of Austria.” So, imagine all the beauty that that phrase implies in your mind…think about it…conjure up visions of complete gorgeousness…and multiply it by two. Seriously, multiply it by two. Only now can you truly imagine what Hallstatt is like. It’s breath-taking. It’s stunning. It’s quite literally a jewel nestled in the middle of the Alps. I tried taking pictures, but the result is so much less awing than the physical reality of the majestic peaks rearing their snowy heads high above the small, shimmering lake embraced tightly on every side by the dramatically steep slopes.
Hallstatt itself, which claims to be the oldest still-inhabited village in the world – or at least in Europe, I can’t quite remember – clings to a sliver of the shoreline, backing up right into the solid rock of the mountains. The little cobbled alleys, the quaint and colorful buildings, and the gentle lapping of the water along the walks and quays all combine to create a sort of paradise in miniature.
One of my favorite parts of this village though was the smell. I fell in love with the scent of Hallstatt. I guess my nose had become accustomed to the strange combination of the myriad smells of the big city, so when it sniffed the pure and magical air of the Alps, it was a moment of sweet and unadulterated joy. That may sound a little strange, but let me explain by delineating the distinct elements of this wonderful scent:
It smelled of the crisp, pristine snow on the surrounding peaks;
the pure aquamarine waters of the lake gently ebbing and flowing in an eternal cycle;
the rich earthiness of wood smoke rising from a dozen family chimneys;
the distinct hominess of our hotel, which reminded me of my grandparents’ house;
the moist greenery of the forest as we hiked up the mountain;
the dashing, splashing waterfall that tumbled down the slope;
the subtly fragrant freshness of the local fish we had for dinner;
the sunshine warming the land.
It smelled free, clean, pure, wild, and quite simply amazing.