Many travelers used to think of Bad Ischl primarily as the town where Zauner's pastry shop is located, to which connoisseurs drove miles for the sake of a cup of coffee and a slice of Guglhupf, a lemon sponge cake studded with raisins and nuts. Pastry continues to be the best-known drawing card of a community that symbolizes, more than any other place except Vienna itself, the Old Austria of resplendent uniforms, balls, waltzes, and operettas.
Although the center is built up, the town is charmingly laid out on a peninsula between the Rivers Traun and Ischl. Bad Ischl was the place where Emperor Franz Josef chose to establish his summer court, and it was here that he met and fell in love with his future empress, the troubled Sisi, though his mother had intended him for Sisi's elder sister. Today you can enjoy the same sort of pastries mit Schlag (whipped cream) that the emperor loved. Afterward, you can hasten off to the town's modern spa, one of the best known in Austria.
You'll want to stroll along the shaded Esplanade, where the pampered and privileged of the 19th century loved to take their constitutionals, usually after a quick stop at the Trinkhalle, a spa pavilion in high 19th-century Austrian style, still in the middle of town on Ferdinand-Auböck-Platz.