St Wolfgang/Lake Wolfgangsee: Where The Sound of Music was born

We were greeted warmly by Weisses Rössl Hotel owner Gudrun Peter in traditional Austrian dress in St Wolfgang on Lake Wolfgangsee in Austria.

She was keen to tell us about the market square hotel, the town and Lake Wolfgangsee situated on the other side of the hotel.

There is no shortage of spa hotels and resorts that specialise in saunas, steam rooms, jacuzzis, hydrotherapy, beauty care, relaxation suites and swimming pools, but what makes the Weisses Rössl Hotel extra special is the heated lake pool and the world’s first floating jacuzzi, surrounded by staggering peaks, thick forests and the sparkling lake.

Lake Wolfgangsee stretches for nearly seven miles and is surrounded by the Salzkammergut mountain range.

St Wolfgang and the lake are named after Saint Wolfgang who, according to legend, threw an axe down the mountain, it landed on the edge of Wolfgangsee and the town was born.

Today it is a great place to relax and spend days lazing around by the lake and wandering the promenade and town eating at many traditional restaurants.

A stay in the mountains isn’t complete without conquering the peaks and most resorts provide trains and chairlifts for an easy ride to the top.

Sheep Mountain

To get the best views over the area take the historic cog railway up to the top of Schafberg ‘Sheep Mountain.’

The train has been in operation since 1893, it’s the steepest steam powered track railway in Austria that runs from St Wolfgang to the mountain top.

It’s impossible not to feel an air of excitement as the train slowly climbs higher (it takes around 40 minutes) passing through alpine forests.

The top of Schafberg at 1190 metres offers a panoramic view of the Salzkammergut Mountains, various villages and eight lakes. It is also the site of the Schafbergspitze Hotel, which is the perfect picture postcard location for lunch and of course an Austrian beer. It’s in these mountains that The Sound of Music was filmed.

St Gilgen

The most efficient way to get a round Lake Wolfgangsee is by ferry. Ferries have been transporting locals and visitors since 1873 when the paddle steamer the Kaiser Franz Josef I was launched.

The vintage ship and a new fleet of ferries stop off at various villages the most notable being St Wolfgang to St Gilgen, the birth place of Mozart’s mother and Strobl with its delightful promenade.

There is no guarantee that Mozart even visited St Gilgen, but his mother was born in the village and his sister later lived in the same house ‘Mozarthaus.’

The house has an excellent exhibition about the great composer and is the perfect place to learn a lot more about his short life.

The town now proudly calls itself ‘The Mozart town on the Wolfgangsee.’ Mozart’s sister was married in what is now the Hotel Zur Post in the main square.

We did not stay in the hotel, but asked the proprietors for a tour of the hotel rooms and wine cellar and highly recommend it. Rather than minibars in each room there’s a fridge filled with beer and other alcoholic beverages for hotel guests, situated on one of the corridors.

We enjoyed deer carpaccio for lunch and drank fine Austrian wine at an outside table overlooking the hustle and bustle of St Gilgen. By that I mean the odd motorbike going past and the sound of children’s chatter buying ice cream from the local gelateria.

Zwölferhorn Mountain

This isn’t all that St Gilgen has to offer, be sure to take the cable car to the top of Zwölferhorn Mountain. The ride takes around 15 minutes and the views of the beautiful snowy peaks of the Alps, Lake Wolfgangsee, St Gilgen and the surrounding mountains are spectacular.

There’s plenty of space at the top to take a good walk a round and benches to enjoy the smells of the forests, the smell of wild garlic and take advantage of the free WiFi available. Of all the places you’d expect to find WiFi I bet this isn’t one of them.

The cable cars are going to get replaced in 2018 for much bigger and more modern cars, so our advice is to get there now before the nearly 60 year old cable cars are no more.

Our final stop was Strobl which we reached by e-bike. E-bike stations are located all over the area, so we picked up a bike in St Wolfgang, cycled around the lake to Strobl, dropped the bike off, wandered around and took the ferry back to the village.

It was great to experience Lake Wolfgangsee from lower ground and mingle with the people who live in the land where The Sound of Music was made.

The St Wolfgang cable car
The St Wolfgang cable car

The Weisses Rössl hotel

The Weisses Rössl by Lake Wolfgangsee is world famous thanks to the 1896 romantic comedy The White Horse Inn ‘Im Weisses Rössl,’ about the head waiter falling in love with the hotel owner, by Oskar Blumenthal and Gustav Kadelburg. In 1930 the piece was reworked and turned into an opera.

It premiered at the Great Theatre in Berlin and was immediately hailed a great success. Owner Gudrun Peter is the fifth generation family member to run the hotel.

Together they have transformed the former operatta hotel into the five-star success that it is today. It is also known as The White Horse Inn.

The hotel has stood in one form or another for more than 500 years. In 1878 The White Horse Inn was formed by combining three houses.

Over time nine houses going back to the 16th century have been joined with a bridge and doorways over a number of stories to make it the remarkable piece of architecture that it is today, lovingly restored with original character, high ceilings, wooden flooring, fireplaces, antique furnishings and paintings of years gone by, and combined with more modern features such as marble floors and paintings by Thomas Selinger.

The Weisses Rössl hotel
The Weisses Rössl hotel

He was once the head waiter and sommelier at the Weisses Rössl, but today he works as a freelance artist from his studio in nearby Salzburg. Selinger sells paintings all over the world, but he hasn’t lost touch with his roots and every year he creates a new painting to represent each year’s Rössl wine collection.

The building has a magnetic pull for guests from either side. The front approach is impressive as the red coloured hotel dominates the main square in St Wolfgang next to the church.

Around the back is Lake Wolfgangsee with its crystal clear waters and dramatic mountain backdrop of the Salzkammergut, making it the perfect place to relax, watch the boats, swimmers and nature go by.

The Weisses Rössl is perfect for couples wanting a bit of romance, newlyweds, adventure seekers and those who enjoy good food and wine and value comfort, the beds are exceptionally comfortable. The hotel is extremely family friendly, although I saw no children on my visit.

There are 94 rooms at the hotel and a selection of apartments with Austrian twin beds, a large bed frame with two single mattresses with separate duvets and linen sheets. This style of bed is very common throughout Central Europe.

The rooms are spacious with separate bathrooms and balconies. My room overlooked Lake Wolfgangsee on the second floor.

The bathrooms are stylish with a bath and shower option and various toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and hairdryer to see you through your stay. All rooms have cable TV, free WiFi, minibar, umbrella, a fleece jacket for the cold and other amenities.

St Wolfgang
Looking over St Wolfgang

The highlight of the hotel is the wellbeing area and all-year-round heated 30°C bathing lake that is in the actual lake itself and the world’s first floating jacuzzi and large sun terrace.

You should also not miss out on the sauna with views over Lake Wolfgangsee. Inside the hotel there’s an indoor pool, gym and the brine steam bath and relaxation area.

It’s impossible to fault the food and drink served by attentive and fast serving staff at breakfast, lunch or dinner in the lakeside view restaurant. The food is excellent, using seasonal ingredients and local suppliers.

There is also the Kaiserterrasse restaurant headed by Chef Hermann Poll and Chef Patissier Gerhard Spreitzer on site for a more romantic and gourmet experience. The team has achieved 14 Gault millau points and one toques award.

Don’t leave the Weisses Rössl without trying mouth watering confectionery by Katharina Haslinger. She was trained at the hotel and is in the final rounds of the Pastry Chef of the Year contest. She is the only female to have won the open prize for best chocolate in the competition.

The sommeliers in both restaurants serve up top quality wines, all wines are from Austria and the whites are divine.

Facts and figures

Thomson Lakes & Mountains (www.thomsonlakes.co.uk, 020 8939 0740, offers a week’s half board at the five-star Hotel Im Weisses Rössl in St Wolfgang from £903 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Gatwick and transfers departing in September. Direct flights are available from all major UK airports.