Europe is pretty much known for having picture-perfect small towns, the type that contain no more than a thousand or two people, and whose residents seem to be sanitized to the idea of the town’s population multiplying by 5 during the day when hordes of daytrippers make way to their local squares, churches and cafes.
my snapshot of the town of hallstatt in austria
Of the small towns of Europe that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, none have impressed me as much as the villages of Hallstatt in Austria and Perast in Montenegro. Despite being several hundred miles apart and having vastly different origins, I couldn’t help but associate both towns together. Hallstatt may trace its identity to other alpine villages across Austria and Switzerland while Perast has this undeniable Venetian look with its monochromatic stone houses but there is something uncannily similar about the overall appearance of both towns. For one, there is the stunning lakeside location and mountains in the horizon. There’s also the ubiquitous pointy church spire that dominates the skyline of both towns that perhaps drive the similarities home.
Both make for worthy day trips and excellent overnight stops. Staying at least a night is the preferred choice to enable one to witness the daily exodus of the day trippers that fill these towns with so much life during the day. Nightfall is when these villages return to their original serene state.
Getting to Hallstatt
I visited Hallstatt as a day trip from Salzburg. From the bus terminal, I took bus # 150 which brought me to Bad Ischl, where I transferred on to another bus (#542) that drove us to the lakeside where a van was waiting for that final stretch to Hallstatt itself. The whole journey took about 2.5 hours.
The weather was not ideal when I arrived at Hallstatt but just the same, the postcard-perfect town looked majestic no matter where I looked. Just as I had seen in magazines and in pictures throughout the web, Hallstatt seemed to be a dream come to life. I didn’t think it was possible that a real and functioning town would be situated in a place like this.
first view of hallstatt as our bus entered the town
With a population of less than a thousand, there isn’t really that much to do in a place like Hallstatt aside from the simple pleasure of admiring such a wonderful – and almost unreal – backdrop. I grabbed a leisurely lunch at the lakeside Cafe Bachts Polreich, a place I would recommend only because of the view. This, as well as the cheerful staff, made up for the mediocre meal I had.
To be honest, I consciously did nothing in this town except to wander its streets. In a place as picturesque as this alpine town, doing nothing was surprisingly satisfying. That’s not to say that there is really nothing to do in Hallstatt. Those wishing to pack their itineraries with activities can opt to see the salt caves or ice caves and take a boat ride around the lake. But I preferred to take it easy this time, just like the village’s 800 other residents.
The Night I Got Stuck in Perast
Slightly more than a week after my sedated trip to Hallstatt, I found myself in the Bay of Kotor at the start of a sizzling summer season. As the bus criss-crossed Europe’s southernmost fjord, I caught glimpses of cruise ships that were seemingly bigger than any of the towns by the bay. It truly seemed as if the hordes were following me wherever I went.
Disappointed by the crowds I saw, I decided to spend the night in a small village, one of the dozens or so lining the bay. The pictures I saw on the web fascinated me and I thought it was a great idea to escape the crowds for a while.
The town of Perast has less than 500 people – even fewer than Hallstatt – yet traces its origins to more than a thousand years back. Having been under the control of various powers, Perast is recognizable today for its stone buildings that date back from the Venetian period. It has the same look as other towns across the Adriatic coast, and that includes not just Dubrovnik but even cities as far as Venice itself.
For dinner, I settled on Cafe Armonia where I feasted on fantastic grilled calamari. Despite being a tourist town, my meal was reasonably priced and more importantly, deeply satisfying.
I quickly fell into the spell of this rather understated town, not realizing how late it became. People were so friendly and eager to talk. Eventually, it became too late that buses were no longer passing through the town on the way to Kotor, where I was staying for the night.
It soon became clear that I had two choices left – either to sleep by the public square or walk for 2.5 hours down the dark, winding and dangerous highway lining the bay.
As the idea of being feasted upon by mosquitoes wasn’t exactly one that I could sit with, I grudgingly started my walk. I was just a few steps to the town limits when I chanced upon a car approaching. By this stage, I no longer gave a damn on the possibility that a serial killer might be behind that windshield. I put out the hitchhiking sign and to my relief, the car stopped, asked me where I was going, and mentioned that they were going to Kotor as well!
To top it off, my suspected “serial killers” turned out to be no more than a family of Italian vacationers.