The next stop in my Austrian explorations was Zell am See, a very popular holiday destination both in summer (for the glorious blue lake and associated water sports) and in winter (for the abundance of mountains and associated skiing / snowboarding).
Even though it would have allowed me to explore further afield, I decided against hiring a car during this next part of the trip because a) it snowed frequently and this is not a driving condition familiar to native West Aussies; b) having to learn – very quickly – to master driving on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD IN THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR; and c) Austrians as a whole drive terrifyingly fast – think Michael Schumacher zipping around in Honda Jazz and you’ve got the picture…
I stayed at beautiful Schloss Prielau, which is a vision of everything I want in my dream house one day.
My trusty Lonely Planet guide sums it up best: ‘A once-upon-a-dream fairy tale of a hotel, this sixteenth-century castle set in mature grounds was once the haunt of Bavarian prince-bishops. Wood panelling and antiques a touch of romance to the rustic-chic rooms, many with lake and mountain views… this is luxury all the way.’
Now owned by the Porsche family and converted into a hotel in 1987, the estate is also home to small, pastel-coloured chapel, spa / sauna cabin and prestigious Mayer’s Restaurant.
The castle interior is furnished plentifully with wood, stone, leather, thick rugs and reindeer pelts, making it reminiscent of a cosy hunting lodge.
But this slightly primitive notion is entirely offset by luxurious touches, such as the heavenly collection of herbal beauty products in the bathroom and the fresh yellow tulips adorning the dining room tables each morning.
The food from the in-house restaurant was superb (they served the best wiener schnitzel and apfelstrudel I ate during my whole trip).
I also enjoyed a hearty, bone-warming soup – kaiserknödel – which consisted of a clear beef broth over a bowl of fried cheese dumplings, as well as Wagyu beef knödels (dumplings) served with warm potatoes in a creamy chive sauce.
As in Hallstatt I was lucky to get the best of both worlds (weather-wise) – bright, sunny mornings for long walks and exploring, and evenings of long, silent snowfall.
The castle is located just outside central Zell am See, diagonally across the lake from the town and cluster of lakeside resorts.
As it’s current ski season the town was packed with holiday crowds, so it was lovely to have the peace and quiet of Schloss Prielau and its surrounding grounds.