As if rising from Swan Lake itself, the town of Hallstatt is the subject of thousands of travel posters. "The world's prettiest lakeside village" perches precariously on what seems the smallest of toeholds, one that nevertheless prevents it from tumbling into the dark waters of the Hallstättersee. Down from the steep mountainside above it crashes the Mühlbach waterfall, a sight that can keep you riveted for hours.
Today, as back when—Emperor Franz Josef and his Elisabeth took an excursion here on the day of their engagement—the town is a magnet for tourists, and accordingly a bit too modernized, especially considering that Hallstatt is believed to be the oldest community in Austria. More than 1,000 graves of prehistoric men have been found here, and it has been such an important source of relics of the Celtic period that this age is known as the Hallstatt epoch.