We spent a few nights in a small Austrian town called Bad Aussee.
There is nothing special about this town. You wouldn’t pick it out on map. Chances are you have never even heard of it. It is incredibly ordinary. And it is perfect.
We didn’t really want to go there. We wanted to go Hallstatt. Cute little UNESCO heritage town on the water, with an adorableness factor of 100. Rick Steves put it on my radar. Which means he put it on everyone else radar. In summary, small adorable town with an excessive number of tourist buses by day, and limited, high-demand, expensive accommodations by night. When I started looking for a hotel room, 9 months before we left for vacation, the whole town was already booked, minus one hotel, that had rooms starting at $300+ per night. We were starved for options.
See, that’s the flip side of the coin to adorable little European towns that have been on one too many top-10 lists….everyone else wants to see them as well. We all want to go. We all want to take the same photos. There is an excess of buses and selfie sticks.
I mean, I could go in that mythical time of year known as the “off-season.” Except what makes it the “off-season” is usually the fact that schools are still in session. Which means I’m working. So there is no such thing as “off-season” in my world. However, I do get to retire in like 25 years, so my time is coming! I’m going to rock Europe in that joy that is spring. May 2038, consider yourself on notice. I’m already on an email list for my 20 minute space flight to London where I will begin my hover car trip across the English Chanel and through the small towns of France. It’s going to be epic.
So when faced with a situation of this kind there are a few options. Firstly, you can bail on the small town accommodations, and day trip it. I’m not really a fan of the day trip. I want to savour the experience. I want to feel like I had lots of time to get to know a place. It’s definitely my preference. (But let me make it clear – there is no “right” or “wrong” choice. Just choice.) The best time to see a small town like this is before and after 8. When all the day trippers have left. When it’s quiet. Day trippers get to experience the town hot, crowded, and elbow-to-elbow with the aforementioned tour bus crowds and their selfie sticks. And on-top of it all, day-trippers spend 2 to 5 hours on a bus or train for the roundtrip commute. So commutes, crowds, and high-prices. I must have really sold you on this experience. Why do people do it again? Why did we?
That’s a totally different post. Let’s get back to the matter at hand.
So given the high prices on one hand, but dreaded tour buses on the other, what was a girl to do?
Settle on a compromise.
I found a hotel/youth hostel (JUFA Bad Aussee – highly recommend – (and no – I don’t get anything by you clicking on this link – just trying to be helpful!)) in a neighbouring town 25 minutes away known as Bad Aussee. I didn’t actually know it was the name of the town when I booked. I found a well-priced accommodation that was close enough that we had flexibility as to when and how to see the town. It was an adequate enough solution to a travel planning problem. Sounds pretty boring, right?
Except Bad Aussee was awesome. Because it was NOT a tourist town.
We arrived to the friendliest staff. We had views of the alps on all sides, and a view of the town below. We were a short walk down the hill into an adorable village with a few restaurants, a bunch of shops selling lederhosen and dirndl’s, and a meandering stream down the middle of it all. It was the quintessential Austrian town. And no guide book or top 10 list would have ever suggested it. We ended here by accident, and it was perfect.
We spent 2 nights here. We landed in Budapest and did a 5.5 hour drive through the Austrian country side (with the most amazing views of sunflowers and alps out the window!), picked up Josh and Vanessa from the train station, and checked in to the hotel. After a good dinner, and good night sleep, we awoke and headed into Hallstatt. I’ll write about that later.
When the sun and jet lag had done their job and worn us down for the day, we came back for a nap, before, RÜSTHAUSFEST! No need to google – I’ll explain (for the record, I had no idea what it was either).
Rüsthausfest is a local festival where the town closes down the streets, sells food and drink, has games and dance performances, and everyone dresses up in their traditional apparel. That’s right – lederhosen and dirndl’s. EVERYONE. One of my favourite things when traveling is engaging events that are designed for the locals, and not the tourists. To experience authentic Austria, as it is. And we did. The town was filled with locals, wandering the streets with a cold brew, cotton candy or pretzel. Each corner had different musicians, with guitars, fiddles and accordions.
Teenagers created ensembles with modern interpretations of the dirndl, and the locals danced every 15-30 minutes at their store fronts. You could play a round of shuffleboard, for free, or as a gamble, or sit at a table enjoying a round with friends, young and old, old and new.
And so we wandered down a decent sized hill, through the forest, across the river, into the town, where we had drinks and snacks, and shopped for dirndl’s and fabric, and enjoyed a feast for the senses.
And after a day of fighting with tourists and selfie sticks (have I mentioned I HATE selfie sticks?), this was just a million times better. Hyperbole for effect.
Now this doesn’t mean Hallstatt wasn’t lovely, or that I didn’t enjoy it. But my favourite moments are the ones that feel the most authentic. The moments where you feel like a traveller, observing how the world works, and not a tourist, playing the world like a theme park. Those are the best moments for me.
So thank you for Bad Aussee, for doing nothing more than being yourself. You are a true gem.