Set in the mountains of Upper Austria – just under two hours west of Vienna and an hour and a quarter from provincial capital Linz – this town of just over 14,000 (first of photos at top) dates back to at least the mid-13th century and was an important producer of salt for hundreds of years. But Bad Ischl´s heyday truly started in the 1820s, when brine (which after all is salt water) became chic in upper-class circles as a health treatment, and the town turned itself into a spa resort, attracting the crème de la crème of Europe, particularly that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Emperor Franz Josef himself summered here for nearly 70 years. All this has left a magnificent legacy of architecture and culture, complemented by spectacular surrounding scenery including some 70 lakes. Landmarks besides various spa resorts such as the Eurothermen Resort include the emperor´s summer residence Kaiservilla and Imperial Park; the Marble Castle, a two-story Tudor built for the Empress Elisabeth (aka Sisi); the Kongresshaus, opened in 1875; Lehár Villa, the former residence of the composer Franz Lehár (today a museum), the iconic, historic  Hotel zur Post; and the 14 century Sankt Nikolas Church, whose current incarnation was finished in 1780. There are also museums devoted to local history, antique cars and photography, and you can take a cable car up nearby Mount Katrin, as well as hike, bike, swim, climb, and go horseback riding in the beautiful natural surroundings.  Also interesting is a day trip to visit the Altaussee Salt Mine, one of the backbones of the area´s pre-spa prosperity.

Re its year in the ECOC limelight, Bad Ischl together with 23 surrounding municipalities in the Salzkammergut region are programming some 150 projects and events from classical to very avant-garde, from across Austria and the world,  with four themes: “Power and Tradition,” “Culture in Motion,” “Sharing Salzkammergut” (the name of the region in which the town is located) and “GlobalLokal.” Furthermore, harking back to the distinguished past that first put the region on the map, all these are further connected by the overall theme of salt and water. More info:

Read more in my post European Capitals of Culture 2024: Bad Ischl, Bodø, and Tartu.




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