If someone were to ask you to describe a perfectly picturesque Austrian town, there's a fairly good chance you would, without even knowing it, paint a picture of Hallstatt. Sitting serene on the edge of a perfectly still lake, with wood-clad houses looking over the water, flower-lined cobbled streets, and a church spire peeking out above the roofs, it ticks every box. Densely forested mountains provide a spectacular backdrop, their peaks sometimes covered by the clouds, at other times jutting dramatically into clear blue skies. If you want to escape the real world, this is the place to do it.
Considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited village in Europe, Hallstatt and its surrounding landscape is classed by UNESCO World Heritage List as an area of Outstanding Universal Value. It is believed that human activity here started in prehistoric times, with the exploitation of its natural salt resources - its name literally means 'salt settlement' - a trade that would eventually lead it to significant wealth. Fittingly, the Hallstatt Salt Mine, the oldest in the world, is among the main attractions here; among other things, it contains the oldest (and fairly recently discovered) wooden staircase in the whole of Europe.
In early spring Hallstatt will still be chilly and taking a bit of downtime, so not all businesses will be open and you'll need to wrap up warm. Still, it's a great time to catch some peace and quiet before everyone else arrives. By the summer months it has filled up once more, but you'll be able to swim in the lake, go rock climbing and hike in the luscious woodland to your heart's content.
It's in October that the area really excels, however, as it's one of the best places in Europe to see autumn colours, when the luscious woodland that surrounds the lake erupts into an almost violent outburst of oranges, yellows and reds. In the winter, the village is coated in thick snow and turns into a frozen fairy tale scene; aside from the in-village activities, such as the ossuary, there's also skiing not too far away. In early December the fairy lights go up and the Christmas markets open - could really you think of a better setting for it?
Despite Hallstatt looking like it should be somewhere in the far flung wilderness, it is actually very accessible by car, regardless of where in Austria you're coming from. From May to October the centre is completely car-free between 10am and 5pm, but the walk from the parking area to the village centre is only 10 minutes or so.
Getting from Salzburg to Hallstatt by train can be a bit more tricky, but it's also an adventure. First you'll need to take a train to Attnang Puchheim and then switch and board the train to Hallstatt station, before getting a ferry across the lake to reach the village itself. The ferry costs just a couple of euros, but only leaves once every hour, so get there a little bit early to ensure you can squeeze on.