The hills are alive with the sound of… lesbians in lederhosen? Not exactly, says Anna Maria Espsäter, but there’s still plenty to entertain the Sapphic traveller in Austria.
I kicked off a very pleasant stay in Austria with an early morning wander round Mozart’s birthplace. Salzburg, city of dubious lederhosen and the ‘Mozartkugel’, a celebrated type of chocolate truffle, definitely lived up to my expectations. Quaint, old-fashioned, picturesque charm assailed me at every step as I ambled towards Salzburg Castle, towering high on a precarious-looking cliff.
Unfortunately, the walk to the castle proved a bit too arduous, so I ended up abandoning it halfway and opted instead for exploring the more accessible parts of town. The old parts of Salzburg, dating from as far back as the 7th century when the city was first founded, truly are a step back in time – shops that have been serving customers for generations, ornate churches and quiet backyards, seemingly lost in time. I got pleasantly lost myself, arriving at St Peter’s Cemetery and Catacombs, in the heart of the Old Town. This beautiful cemetery from 1627 boasts stunning catacombs carved out of the sheer cliff face.
Feeling peckish after my exertions, I paid a visit to Café Fürst, where confectioner Paul Fürst invented the original Mozartkugel, or Mozart truffle, in 1890. This pistachio, nougat and chocolate concoction proved so popular that it’s become almost as synonymous with Salzburg as the great composer himself. Stepping through the café doors, I was warmly greeted by the owner, Norbert Fürst, great-grandson of the first “kugel man”.
A lovely glass of schnapps was the only thing I could possibly consider washing that down with, so I headed for Sporer Wine & Spirits, housed just down the road in a narrow building dating from 1407. There, to my delight, I found a huge selection of liqueurs and schnappses available to be sampled by the glass on the premises or bought by the bottle to take home – or, in my case, to take on the train to Zell am See, my next stop.
The small Alpine train quietly chugged into the station right on the lakeside, high mountains dwarfing the little town on all sides, with fluffy white clouds surrounding some of the peaks. Picking up my bags, I made my way to Grand Hotel, right on the waterfront – my home for the next few nights. The hotel really is a grand dame as far as classy places to stay go… and its spa is heaven. By now a slight feeling of guilt was starting to announce its annoying presence – some virtuous behaviour seemed to be long overdue.
So, the following morning, I was up at the crack of dawn, positively itching to get out into the fresh mountain air and take on the peaks – anything to work up a sweat and feel I’d actually done something to deserve all this lavish luxury and blissful relaxation.
I took a gentle stroll right around Lake Zeller See itself – a distance of some 11 km with no uphill patches and plenty of picturesque villages and stunning scenery to check out along the way. There are also numerous stopping-off options around the lake in the form of tea rooms, cafés, beer houses (as if I would) and restaurants (I never). A nice five hour outing and I was fully restored to my guilt-free self and ready for some serious pampering at the Grand Hotel Spa. There are many different treatments on offer, from the signature “Wiener Waltz” massage to the Hawaiian temple massage, and the panoramic vistas from the hotel’s balcony take in the lake and surrounding mountains in all their glory.
After my long trek, I felt I’d really earned my pummel from Doris the massage therapist, who poured warm, fragrant oils over my back, neck and shoulders, squeezing, rubbing and stroking until I was in absolute heaven. “Surely an 11-km hike counts for something,” I told myself that evening as I headed down to the bar for a post-massage, pre-dinner pinecone-flavoured schnapps. And pinecones undoubtedly count towards one’s five-a-day… Probably.
Austria is rather more conservative than other parts of Europe and the gay scene can be a bit subdued here, with most women’s bars found in Vienna. The Roman Catholic church has quite a strong presence across the country and although gay and lesbian couples are unlikely to meet any overt discrimination, attitudes, particularly in smaller mountain communities can remain very traditional. In other words, careful where you snog, unless you happen to be on a secluded Alpine peak with only mountain goats as witnesses. Salzburg, city of waltz, Sound of Music and schmaltz, does have a selection of gay venues, but sadly these mostly cater to men. Although Austria has a lot of offer the gay and lesbian traveller, it’s not a destination to visit for ‘the scene’ alone.
Austrian tourist board, www.austria.info
Flights to nearby Munich airport with Lufthansa: www.lufthansa.co.uk
A place to stay in Salzburg, the Rosenvilla: www.rosenvilla.com
A good place to pig out near Salzburg, the Pfefferschiff restaurant www.pfefferschiff.at
For some quality lederhosen, Jahn-Markl Lederhosen: www.wildlederbekleidung.at.
For chocoholics, Mozart truffles: www.original-mozartkugel.com
To wash down said truffles, Sporer wine & spirits: www.sporer.at
Luxury and spa bliss, Grand Hotel, Zell am See: www.grandhotel-zellamsee.at
By Anna Maria Espsäter
First UK Rights