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If You Have 4 Days
Setting out early from Salzburg or Vienna, head to the core of the Lake District, Bad Ischl. Check out Franz Josef's summer residence and stop in at Zauner in the center of the town for some of the best pastry in Europe. Delicious, but beware: two to a person will be plenty. Spend the night here at this history-rich spa—today it is one of the best equipped in Austria—and the next morning head south on Route 145 toward Hallstatt. After Bad Goisern bear right past Au, then turn right over the bridge to cross the River Traun into Steeg (don't worry about the factory smokestack—it's an isolated affair in these parts). Twenty-nine kilometers (18 mi) from Bad Ischl you'll come to a junction with Route 166. Here you should turn right into the ravine of the Gosaubach river. After heading through very scenic territory framed by steep wooded slopes for some 32 km (20 mi), you'll reach Gosau am Dachstein, which spreads out over a comfortable north-south valley, at the end of which lie the famous Gosau lakes. You have now reached one of Austria's most beautiful spots. There are three lakes here, several miles apart from each other and all framed by the craggy heights of the Dachstein range. After taking in the views, spend the night in the village and awaken to a dazzling dawn glistening over the snow-swept Bischofsmütze peak.
On your third morning, head back to Route 145 and south to Hallstatt, called the "world's prettiest lakeside village." After spending quality time with your Nikon (do your photography in the morning when the village is nicely lit), check out two natural wonders: the salt mines above Hallstatt and, continuing around the southern end of the lake for 5 km (3 mi), the Dachstein Ice Caves at Obertraun. On your fourth morning, leave Upper Austria and head for Bad Aussee along the romantic old road that follows the Traun River. It is still in part covered with hand-hewn paving stones and has at one point an impressive gradient of 23% (sometimes closed in winter). After exploring the town's picturesque 15th- and 16th-century architecture, you should still have time for a stroll around neighboring Altaussee, whose romantic landscape has inspired many artists and poets. Return to Bad Aussee, then catch Route 145 north across the Pötschen pass to Bad Ischl, enjoying spectacular vistas along the way back.
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