Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves & Hohenwerfen Castle

We saw quite a few castles on our drive, but it was only on the same exit as for our hotel that we saw the signs for the ice caves and the castle that had encouraged us to come out to Werfen. 

The hotel is very easy to find, just off the Autobahn and the valley it is in is quite lovely. A single mountain stands in the distance on one side of the hotel, and tall grassy hills on the other. in front is a racing river. 

The hotel calls itself a Travellers Inn, harkening back to the days of coaching inns and travellers on horseback. The waitresses all wear traditionally dresses, the men once again are in modern clothes. Our rooms were in a separate building and had their own small balcony overlooking the hills. There is not much else to do here other than the ice caves and castle and so we spent the last of the afternoon relaxing in the bar.

I noticed how clear the stars were from our balcony and so decided to do a bit of astro photography. I was using my phone as a torch and dropped it in the dark and felt it hit the mat and slide over the edge of the balcony into the dark garden below.

After last nights disaster, it was hard to concentrate on breakfast, i’d looked over the balcony once it was light, but I’d not been able to see the phone on the balcony below. We stopped and had a look on the ground floor, but didn’t see a smashed phone on the concrete, which was a small blessing. Breakfast was a good spread, but I didn’t eat much of it, i found one of the owners, and explained the situation, they were polite enough to wait until they went back into the kitchen to laugh, but not polite enough to be quiet about it. They’d given me a key to the room below mine and so i searched and was helped by the cleaners. I knew the phone was still working as I’d received a WhatsApp message on my desktop app. I then did what I should have done earlier and used my laptop to do ‘find my phone’ and set it ringing. It was on the ground floor, in the flower beds. It must have had some decent sideways motion to arc out over the concrete floor and reach the flowers. It was no worse for wear for a night out in the soil.

Once we had my phone back, we drove up to the Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice caves in the world. Tourists only get to explore 1 kilometre of them, but there are 42 kilometres of the caves for professional explorers. It takes three days to view them all. Its a twenty minute walk up to the cable car, and then another twenty minute walk from the cable car to the caves. The walk is fairly steep and the sun was blazing so it was fairly tough, especially in my hiking trousers, as the cave would be below freezing! Once we got there, and saw some great views, including the castle we’d be visiting next, we reached the cave and had about a 20 minute wait for the next english tour. 

Our tour guide was a lot like Simon Pegg, in both demeanour and looks, which was great fun, and he took us through the caves. No photographs are allowed, as every time they’ve tried people have ignored the restrictions and caused delays, which impacts their whole day as its a continuous line of tourists going through the cave. Every second person is given an oil lamp, as there are no artificial lights allowed in the cave. When they open the door to the caves, all the lamps blow out as the rush of air due to the temperature difference blows the all out. During winter, the air rushes into the caves instead.

The walk is about a kilometre and has 700 steps up, and 700 steps down and it is cold in the caves. it is hauntingly beautiful, ice forms sculptures and the cave walls themselves are sparkled with hoarfrost. It is big enough my claustrophobia didn’t bother me, other than one small passage through the ice after the tomb of the person who discovered the cave. He died on the front lines of WWI, and his last request was to be laid to rest in the caves, as this was before the walkways and tourists, it must have been hard to get the bricks and his urn there for his tomb. The walkways are a long circle, and so, as the tours are spaced out, it looks a little from the top like a string of fireflies circling the ice. Coming back into the light after the darkness, is a strange feeling, going from below zero to 30 degrees and bright sunlight is a change! But the downhill walk is much easier to manage!

When then drove the short distance to Hohenwerfen Castle, and took the Funicular up the hill to the castle. It is very much what you imagine when you hear the idea of unassailable. Perched along on a steep hill, there is only a single road up (until the funicular was built!) It was lunchtime when we arrived, so we stopped into the medieval tavern for an authentic medieval pizza. The gift shop was full of faux-medieval items, and the staff were all dressed up. It was much like Warwick Castle in the UK, a corporation was running it and they were giving you an experience. I  immediately preferred the castle we’d stopped in at Fenis, as it was less a spectacle. 

We took the tour, which was good, but was in German, and we were supposed to listen along on our audio guides, which is a strange experience. But the guide was enthusiastic and clearly loved the history of the place, even if we couldn’t understand her. We saw the kitchens, torture chamber and pit, various state rooms and the bell tower giving great views across Werfen. 

The tour finished about an hour before the scheduled Falconry exhibition, which I did want to see, but I was aware that the two hours that would add to our day would mean seeing very little of Salzburg as we had to leave after lunch on the following day. We weighed up the options and decided to head to Salzberg. It was good we did as there were quite a few delays on the road and we didn’t arrive until about 5pm