Lakes and cakes

Aimée Smith, 06 June, 2018
Inntravel’s Aimée Smith on how to make the most of rainy days in Austria’s Salzkammergut region.

It’s all my own fault, really. If only I’d kept my thoughts to myself, then things could have turned out so differently. Not that I meant to say it, of course; it just kind of slipped out…
If you’re wondering what this terrible utterance was then let me explain… When it comes to weather and work trips, I’ve always had more than my fair share of good luck. Greece, Porto, southern France – wherever I’ve travelled, an unseasonal heatwave has followed. Which is all very well, but why did I feel the need to articulate this to a colleague? I knew as soon as the fateful words passed my lips that it would only be so long before those heavy black clouds caught up with me, and catch up with me they did in Austria’s Lake District.

Stepping off the Postbus in Abersee, a tiny village resting on the shores of Wolfgangsee, I could see that I’d been right to worry. The surrounding peaks were cloaked in a thick, cloudy haze and the lake’s famously turquoise waters were distinctly off colour. Deciding the best course of action was simply to embrace my long-overdue fate, I set myself a new challenge for the week: it was all too obvious that I wouldn’t be returning to the office with photos of Austria’s sunlit peaks and glittering blue lakes, but there was nothing stopping me from capturing the country’s cakes in all their sugary glory.

So, purely in the name of work, I ate my way through one obligatory cake after another, in search of the perfect Austrian dessert – it’s not all about Strudel, you see…
1) Kirsch-Marmor-Schnitte
The marble cake is one of Austria’s classic desserts, and is normally prepared using a circular Bundt mould to create a distinctively angled bake known as the Gugelhupf. My rather less shapely helping of Marmor-Schnitte was nevertheless a delicious introduction to Austrian confectionery – flavoured with chocolate and vanilla and containing whole cherries, it was light, sweet and refreshing. The perfect pick-me-up after a long journey!
2) Marillenknödel
It’s easy just to see Austrian cuisine as traditional, regional fare, but many of the country’s most iconic dishes can actually trace their roots beyond its current borders. Take the Marillenknödel, for example – these sweet bread dumplings originate from Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic), while their stewed apricot centres are native to Asia. Today, many of Austria’s apricots are grown in the Wachau Valley, just a couple of hours from the Seehotel Huber in Abersee, where I enjoyed the sugary, cinnamon-sprinkled dumplings.
3) Tiramisu
Yes, I was pretty surprised to see this next item on the menu, too. In all other respects, the Hotel Föttinger in Steinbach is resolutely Austrian – it’s the only place where a knock on my hotel door has ever come from two maids wanting to fix a flower box to the balcony – so what is it doing serving up Italy’s most beloved dessert? After a little post-cake research, I found the answer – not only did tiramisu originate in the very north of Italy, close to the current Austrian border, but this area was once part of the Austrian Empire. We’ll let them off, then…
4) Bananenschnitte
It didn’t take me very long to pick out this next cake from the counter of the Seecafe Johannsberg in Traunkirchen – the sight of sponge layered with apricot jam, bananas, cream and chocolate proved too tempting for a self-confessed banoffee pie addict. In fact, I was so keen to tuck in to my slice of Bananenschnitte that I almost forgot to take a photo first! In my defense, I had just cycled all the way from Steinbach and sugar levels were at an all-week low...
5) Apfelstrudel
I know I said that there’s more to Austria’s dessert scene than Apfelstrudel, but I couldn’t leave the Salzkammergut without at least trying this classic pudding once. The perfect opportunity arose when cycling through the elegant spa town of Bad Ischl – the former summer capital of the great Austro-Hungarian monarchy and home to the exquisite Konditorei Café Zauner. Appointed in 1832 to be Hoflieferant or imperial purveyor to the monarchy, it still bears the National Coat of Arms as a nod to its excellence in business. As expected, the apple strudel was divine.
6) Sachertorte
My final sweet treat came in the form of the most famous cake in the world. Created by 16-year old Franz Sacher in 1832 (a good year for cake!), the Sachertorte is a dense chocolate cake with a wafer-thin layer of apricot jam on top, and glossy, dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. Refined and elegant, this understated cake even has its own National Day (5 December, in case you’re wondering). Unfortunately, by this point in the trip my lycra was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable and so I had to admit defeat just halfway through my slice. Plus, the sun had just come out, and I was keen to get on my way, hopeful of seeing the lakes in all their glittering, sunlit glory after all.

Further information

Salzburg's Lake District
This wonderfully relaxed cycling holiday leads you past several of Austria’s most spectacular lakes, and features charming, traditional hotels in picturesque towns and idyllic villages.
More about our cycling holidays in Austria's lake district >
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