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Top 5 extreme experiences in Salzburgerland

Discover the region's top 5 extreme experiences, from the world’s biggest ice caves to the lofty views from Austria’s highest road

Top 5 extreme experiences in Salzburgerland
Großglockner High Alpine Road. Image: Alamy

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1 // Highest waterfalls in Central Europe // Krimml Waterfalls
The Krimml Waterfalls are a highlight in a region with no dearth of jaw-dropping natural beauty. At a height of 1,247ft, the Krimmler Ache glacial river plummets down three tiers of jagged rock in the Hohe Tauern National Park. A well-maintained path makes it an accessible hike for visitors, but don’t underestimate the walk; it takes at least 90 minutes. The falls are at their most powerful in spring and early summer. However, winter brings diminished flows and limited access to the area although on rare occasions the waterfall has been known to freeze completely, transforming it into a towering, cathedral-like ice sculpture. 

2 // Biggest ice cave in the world // Eisriesenwelt
Meaning ‘world of the ice giants’ in German, Eisriesenwelt is a fitting name for the world’s largest ice cave. Before its first ‘official’ discovery in the late 19th century, locals refused to enter this natural limestone and ice cavern as they believed it was an entrance to hell. What lies in wait is an icy and otherworldly chasm extending for 26 miles where ice formations hang from the ceiling of the cave. A 20-minute walk from the cable-car to the entrance followed by an uphill hike of 440ft, and below-freezing temperatures, make it a challenging but rewarding adventure. Access is only possible with a guide and tours run from the beginning of May through to the end of October. 

3 // Oldest restaurant in the world // Stiftskeller St Peter
Dating back to 803, Stiftskeller St Peter is purported to be the oldest existing restaurant in Europe and, possibly, the world. Situated within the walls of St Peter’s Abbey, past diners have included Christopher Columbus, Mozart and, more recently, Bill Clinton and Clint Eastwood. Eleven distinct dining rooms make up the restaurant, the newest built in the 1600s and the oldest carved out of the stone cliffs under the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The setting may be ancient, but the menu features a combination of traditional and modern Austrian fare. Enjoy one of the weekly Mozart dinners presented by musicians wearing period costume, and don’t miss the famed Salzburger nockerl — a sweet souffle that’s a speciality of the region. 

4 // Oldest nunnery in the German-speaking world // Nonnberg Nunnery
Founded in 712 and purported to be the world’s oldest nunnery, Nonnberg Abbey is as much a pop culture pilgrimage as it is a magnet for the religious, thanks to The Sound of Music. It’s at this Benedictine abbey that the real-life Maria Augusta Kutschera (later Maria von Trapp) intended to become a nun, laying down the origins of one of the world’s best-loved musicals. Even if you’re unlikely to be humming Edelweiss while ascending the church steps, you can expect some great views once you get to the top, as well as baroque, late-gothic and Romanesque architecture, each element hinting at a different part of the nunnery’s long and storied history.

5 // Austria’s highest mountain road // Großglockner High Alpine Road
This 30-mile stretch of winding mountain road takes in springtime meadows and imposing Alpine landscapes. Reaching its apex at Edelweißspitze at a height of 8,435ft, the Großglockner High Alpine Road was completed in 1935, despite plans for a pass to attract motorised tourism being initially ridiculed in the impoverished post-First World War country. The road attracts more than 900,000 visitors a year and is a vital artery into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, connecting the picturesque village of Heiligenblut at one end and the municipality of Bruck an der Großglocknerstraße at the other. The road also takes you to the foot of the Großglockner, Austria’s highest peak, from where hiking routes branch out into the dramatic surrounds. Explore the massive Pasterze Glacier or park your car for a multi-day trek such as the Alpe-Adria Trail, which runs from Austria to Italy via Slovenia. 

Published in the Salzburgerland guide, distributed with the December 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)