Bad Gastein

Though it traces its roots all the way back to the 15th century, this resort, one of Europe's leading spas, gained renown only in the 19th century, when VIPs from emperors to impecunious philosophers flocked to the area to "take the cure." Today Bad Gastein retains much of its allure. The stunning setting—a mountain torrent, the Gasteiner Ache, rushes through the town—adds to the attraction. Much of the town has a solid though timeworn elegance, and some of the aging buildings are in need of a spruce-up. But the old buildings still dominate the townscape, giving it a wonderful feeling of substance and history. The baths themselves, however, are state-of-the-art, as evidenced by the massive Felsentherme Gastein and the nearby Thermalkurhaus.

A special tradition in Bad Gastein is the old pagan Perchtenlaufen processions in January. People wear huge and intimidating masks and make lots of noise to chase the winter away, bringing good blessings for the new year. However, it can be an excuse for excessive drinking by some costume-wearing youths, who often, sadly, cross the line to unruliness.

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