National Geographic : 1960 Aug
and virginal air, and for good reason: For centuries the Salzkammergut was virtually off limits to other Austrians. Salzkammergut means "Salt Crown Lands." Before even the Celts and the Romans had invaded these valleys, men were mining salt in caverns hacked out of the high mountains. By medieval times, salt production had be come a close-fisted government monopoly, a rich source of revenue-as long as smuggling could be kept under control. To prevent any illegal traffic, the authori ties simply bottled up the whole area. Trav elers had to have permits to enter; the peas ants were dissuaded effectively from carefree wandering. Not until the mid-19th century, when the young Emperor, Franz Josef, dis covered the delights of Bad Ischl's waters and moved his summer court there, was the Salz kammergut thrown open to outsiders. Even then, large sectors of it remained ver boten. A prodigious hunter, the Emperor sequestered thousands of acres as his private reserve, and woe betide the poacher nabbed in its carefully tended glades. The coming of the Republic in 1918 broke the imperial grip on these forests, but most of them remain even today delightfully free of habitation, a great green mantle linking lake to lake. St. Wolfgang Portrayed in Operetta So neat, so tiny, so perfectly placed are most of the Salzkammergut's towns that they appear almost theatrical, and the most theat rical of all is St. Wolfgang. The lowering bulk of the Schafberg threatens to crowd the village into the water, but the steep-gabled houses cling desperately to their little shelf of land and huddle against the mountain's flank. The cobbled twisted streets dip up and down like goat tracks beneath the overhanging, rose wreathed eaves. If St. Wolfgang smacks of the stage, it comes by the association honestly: White Horse Inn, one of Austria's most successful light operas of the 1930's, was set here in the village. The plot, indeed, revolves happily about an affair between a handsome head waiter and the inn's buxom proprietress and is full of jolly snatches about life on the old Wolfgangsee. I went down one summer evening to the Weisses R6ssl to investigate both the oper etta and the Lungenbraten. The proprietress, alas, was no longer in residence, and the chorus of apple-cheeked Mddchen had fled. But I sat on a balcony projected above the lake and listened while a captive tenor obligingly rip 252 Festive St. Wolfgang Wets Its Feet in the Wolfgangsee On sunny days patrons of the bal conied White Horse Inn dine beneath umbrellas at the lakeside terrace. White Horse Inn, an operetta set in the hostelry, charmed Europe in the 1930's and enhanced St. Wolfgang's reputation as a pleasure resort. Bell tower overhangs the 15th-cen tury parish church. The brooding Schafberg soars in the center. Franz Josef I, a diesel-driven pad dle-wheeler, churns past the inn on its way down the Wolfgangsee from St. Gilgen (page 268). Foothills of the Zwolferhorn loom across the lake.