Gosau am Dachstein

Lovers of scenic beauty should not leave the Hallstatt region without taking in Gosau am Dachstein, considered the most beautiful spot in Austria by 19th-century travelers but often unaccountably overlooked today.

Instead of driving around the area, it's worthwhile to take a serious walk (about 2½ hours, depending on your speed), departing from the tourist information office not far from the crossroads known as the Gosaumühle. Passing by churches, the road follows the valley over the meadows. From Gosauschmied Café on, it's a romantic way through the forest to the first Gosau lake, the Vorderer Gosausee (Front Gosau Lake), which is the crown jewel, some 8 km (5 miles) to the south of the village itself. Beyond a sparkling, almost fjordlike basin of water rises the amazing Dachstein massif, majestically reflected in the lake's mirrorlike surface. Aside from a restaurant and a gamekeeper's hut, the lake is undefiled by man-made structures. At the right hour—well before 2:30 pm, when due to the steepness of the mountain slopes, the sun is already withdrawing—the view is superb. Then you may choose to endure the stiff walk to the other two lakes set behind the first and not as spectacularly located (in fact, the third is used by an electric power station and therefore not always full of water, yet it remains the closest place from which to view the glittering Dachstein glacier). Hiking to the latter two lakes will take about two hours. You can also take a cable car up to the Gablonzer Hütte on the Zwieselalm (you might consider skiing on the Gosau glacier); or tackle the three-hour hike up to the summit of the Grosser Donnerkogel.

At day's end, head back for Gosau village, settle in at one of the many Gasthöfe (reserve ahead) overhung with wild gooseberry and rosebushes (or stay at one of Gosau's charming Privatzimmer accommodations). Cap the day off with a dinner of fried Schwarzrenterl, a delicious regional lake fish. To get to Gosau, travel north or south on Route 145, turning off at the junction with Route 166, and travel 36 km (20 miles) east through the ravine of the Gosaubach River.

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