By Bob Bestor

Just 35 miles east of Salzburg is the largest lake in the Austrian Alps, the Attersee. Tourists have been coming here for more than 100 years but it is seldom visited by Americans. We found it delightful, inexpensive and a prime location from which to explore the Salzkammergut.

Most North Americans seem hell bent on getting to as many cities and three-star sights as humanly possible in the space of a two-week European trip. The idea of spending an entire vacation in an obscure village like Attersee, on a lake in Austria's Salzkammergut, is not one that's likely to catch on.

But those clever travelers who opt for a long stay in Attersee are in for a treat: Their vacation will be truly relaxing; at leisure they will explore a beautiful and historic part of Austria, and they will discover the meaning and delights of Sommerfrische, an old Austrian expression for the traditional long summer vacations in the countryside. Sommerfrische was a beloved custom in the late 19th century and enjoyed by all classes, from the Hapsburgs to working folk.

A hundred years ago, the aristocrats and the royals spent their summers at Bad Ischl (about 25 miles to the south) or on the Traunsee (10 miles east), but the bourgeoisie and intellectuals including a couple of talented guys named Gus discovered the Attersee. In 1893, composer Gustav Mahler came to Steinbach on the lake's eastern shore and built a small house in a meadow near the water. There he wrote a major part of his second symphony and the entire third. The house still exists and can been visited.

From 1900 to 1916, Gustav Klimt spent every summer on the lake. During this period he completed about 50 Attersee landscapes, some three dozen of which can be viewed in nearby Unterach.

With reasonable prices and unpretentious accommodations, the lake still attracts middle-income vacationers. Yuppies may feel somewhat adrift by Attersee's lack of fashionable shops and Michelin-starred restaurants but they will soon be won over by the area's charm and beauty, by a great variety of available activities and by the lower numbers on their monthly credit card bill.

So, what's to do?

• Take a day or two to visit Salzburg. It's only 35 miles away by Autobahn; or a little train runs frequently from Attersee to Vöcklamarkt with connection to Salzburg.

• Board the Attersee-Schiffart for a lake tour. Have lunch aboard the ship and stop at villages along the way. Adult fares range from about $6.50 to $14, depending on the trip. Or, try a dinner cruise with on-board live music.

• Spend a day in Bad Ischl, the summer headquarters of Emperor Franz-Josef. See his Imperial Villa and the villa of composer Franz Lehar, whose operettas are still performed virtually every night somewhere in Austria.

• Drive half an hour east for lunch or dinner in Gmunden, a swankier resort town on the Traunsee. Walk the Esplanade and visit the Ort Chateau on an island.

• At the tourist office, pick up the little flyer Wandertips and select one or more of the dozen suggested walks/hikes in the region. Use the lake boat to get to your starting point, or to return to after your stroll.

• Visit Hallstatt, a town perched on a steep hillside above the Hallstätter See where salt has been mined for 3,000 years and which rates two Michelin stars. Tour the mines, see the Museum of Prehistory and don't miss the collection of skulls and bones at the Chapel of St. Michael.

• See Mahler's house in Steinbach and the Klimt house in Seewalchen (10 minutes by car).

• Take the kids to the beach in Attersee. There is a large, lakeside swimming pool and water slide.

• Rent a 22-foot sailboat for about $150 per day. Take sailing or windsurfing lessons.

• Play a round of golf across the lake in Weyregg, tennis at the Attergau Leisure Center or go fishing (licenses are inexpensive and easy to obtain).

• Attend a concert of the Orchesterinstitut Attergau in nearby St. Georgen (5-10 minutes by car).

• Find a comfortable chair by the lake and read a book.

Attersee is pretty, restful and proof that two weeks in Europe doesn't have to cost as much as two weeks in your local hospital. And it's much more fun.

Hotels/Apartments

Accommodations described include private bathroom facilities unless otherwise noted. Breakfast, too, is included in rates unless noted.

Hotel-Seegasthof Oberndorfer

(Editor's Choice)

We headquartered at this hotel based on the enthusiastic recommendation of subscriber Frederick Hoffman (see Readers Forum, January 1996). "Superb" is how he described the hospitality provided by innkeeper Josef Oberndorfer and family.

We agree. Seldom have we found a more agreeable and welcoming staff. From the young woman who waited on us at dinner, who had recently won an Austrian competition for waiters, to Herr Oberndorfer himself, we and other guests we noted were treated with an informal friendliness that made us feel comfortable and at home.

The hotel has been recently refurbished throughout and both public and guest rooms are bright, contemporary spaces that never fail to take advantage of the building's lakeside proximity. At breakfast, dinner, or dressing for dinner in your room, the panorama of water and mountains is there for the taking.

In good weather, a stretch of lawn bordering the lake is set aside for guests who wish to sunbathe, and meals are served on a terrace by the lake. There is a dock for swimming and small boats. The latter can be rented nearby.

The room we occupied, Number 31, has a most pleasant sitting room with wide floor-to-ceiling window and door and is directly on the water with a view of the hotel's little "harbor" and the villages on the opposite shore. Across the coffee table from a narrow but comfortable two-person couch, a small TV with cable connection sits on a blonde wood counter over a minibar and several drawers. This cozy area is lit by recessed halogen lights.

Outside is a large, L-shaped balcony with enough space for a sheltered table for four.

In the bedroom, the double bed faces a glass door to the balcony and the view. The location is very quiet.

Other rooms in the hotel are similarly equipped and decorated.

Reader Hoffman said the Oberndorfer's food was the "best" he had "encountered anywhere in the area." During this off-season, however, with the hotel nearly empty, the chef - one of the Oberndorfer sons - was on his honeymoon. We presume that is why our meals did not match Mr. Hoffman's enthusiastic recommendation. Calves liver was too gamey for us, though Zanderfilet, (white fish without bones) in butter with browned almonds, was much better. Dressings on salads were a bit bland and chunks of fish in a hearty soup seemed to lack freshness. Spargelrahmsuppe (white asparagus cream soup), however, was much better. A dessert of vanilla ice cream rolled in a crêpe and covered with warm chocolate sauce, while not particularly inventive, was delicious. Accompanying beer (Zipfer vom Fass) and a light Austrian red wine, in the Beaujolais style, were faultless examples of their genre.

The award won by our waitress is much deserved. Cheerful, friendly, knowledgeable and quick to sense our every need, she was the perfect server.

World War II buffs should ask to see the book presented to Herr Oberndorfer by surviving members of the U.S. Third Cavalry. It contains a step by step account of the U.S. Army's march through the region at the war's close as it routed German and Hungarian forces. The citizens of Attersee were delighted to be liberated by the Americans rather than the Russians, who wound up controlling much of the territory to the east, including Steyr, until 1955. General George C. Patton addressed Allied troops at Attersee in the spring of 1945 and the text of his speech is in the book.

The Oberndorfer family is remembered by several old soldiers because of the family's hospitality toward the troops. (Last year a group of these WWII vets returned to the Oberndorfer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day) Also in the book is a note from a veteran who had fallen ill in the spring of 45 and had been taken care of by Herr Oberndorfer's mother.

The two overwhelming impressions left by our stay at the Oberndorfer are the top to bottom, genuine friendliness of its staff, and the hotel's perfect location, virtually on top this crystal-clear lake.

• Daily Rates: Low season per person 610 to 1120 AS ($58 to $106), high season per person 650 to 1220 AS ($61 to $115). Add 210 AS ($20) per person for half-board. Six singles, 18 doubles, with radio, direct dial phone, cable TV, minibar, most with lakeside balcony, ample parking, boat dock. Major cards.

Contact: Hotel-Seegasthof Oberndorfer, Josef Oberndorfer, Hauptstrasse 18, A-4864 Attersee, Austria, tel. 07666/7864-0, fax 07666/7864-91.

Rating: 14/20 Above Average G

Gasthof-Pension Haberl

This pension, typical of the region, is in a tiny village in the rolling upland near Attersee. Room Number 303 has a small sitting area with a sectional corner couch and separate rooms for toilet and bath. For families there is also a small adjoining room with twin beds.

• Daily Rates: Low season per person 300 to 360 AS ($28 to $34), high season per person 330 to 360 AS ($31 to $34). 20% discount from children. Add 110 AS ($10.50) per person for half-board Two singles, 19 doubles, three triples with cable TV, telephone. Most with balcony. Ample parking. Restaurant. No elevator. No credit cards.

Contact: Gasthof-Pension Haberl, Altenberg 17, A-4865 Nussdorf am Attersee, tel. 07666/8114-0, fax 07666/8114-44

Rating: 10/20 Average

Pension Alpenblick

(Editor's Choice)

Very pleasant welcome. Older guest rooms are similar to those found elsewhere in the region in hotels of this category; simple but clean and comfortable. The Hurlers, however, have added a new wing and room Number 210 is now the hotel's largest. its best feature is a turret-like alcove with five double windows affording a sweeping view of the countryside and the lake in the distance. At a high season double room price of $33 per person, it is a great value. Be sure to ask for a room in the new addition.

• Daily Rates: Low season per person 300 AS ($28), high season 350 AS ($33) per person. Half-board add 70 AS ($6.60) per person low season; 80 AS ($7.50) high season. Three singles, 17 doubles, three triples, with telephone and radio, many with balcony. Ample parking. Restaurant. No elevator. No credit cards.

Contact: Pension Alpenblick, M. & A. Hurler, Abtsdorf 56, A-4864 Attersee, tel. 07666/7543, Fax 07666/7471

Rating: 10/20 Average G

Gasthof-Pension Hemetsberger

Another country pension with plain small rooms; clean but without sitting areas. If you choose the Hemetsberger, ask for Number 209 on the top floor of the guest house, a corner room with beams, slanted ceiling and balcony.

• Daily Rates: Low season per person 270 AS ($25), high season 340 AS ($32). Add 80 AS ($7.50) in low season for half-board; in high season add 90 AS ($8.50). Four singles, 19 doubles, 2 triples; most with balcony. Ample parking. Restaurant. No elevator. No credit cards.

Contact: Gasthof-Pension Hemetsberger, Abtsdorf 16, A-4864 Attersee, tel. 07666/7716, fax 07666/7716-6

Rating: 9/20 Average

Gästehaus Schmiding

This substantial three-level building is on a hillside with good view the lake (about 2 km away) and mountains. The walk to the Attersee railway station is about 10 minutes.

The larger apartments (#2, #3, #5, #6) are particularly comfortable and well furnished; with lots of dark wood built-ins and paneling. For four persons they are an excellent value.

If one considers both location and quality, these are the best of the three apartment properties we saw in Attersee.

• Daily Rates: Low season per apartment, per day 590 to 830 AS ($56-$78); high season per apartment, per day 760 to 1090 AS ($72-$103). Seven fully equipped apartments with kitchen, accommodating from two to four persons. All with radio, TV (cable end of 96), safe, direct dial phone. Larger apartments have balconies. Facilities: sauna, indoor pool, exercise room and bike rental Ample parking. No elevator. No credit cards.

Contact: Gästehaus Schmiding, A-4864 Attersee, Neuhofen 24 & 29, tel. 07666/7793-0, Fax 07666/7793-21

Rating: 14/20 Above Average

Pension-Ferienwohnungen

Heidi Leitner

(Editor's Choice)

Three pleasant, airy double rooms with balcony, toilet and shower for 210 AS ($20) per person, low season and 235 AS ($22) per person high season make the Leitner the best bed and breakfast value in Attersee and one of the best we've seen in a long time.

A pair of two-bedroom apartments are also excellent. Both are light and cheery, have balconies with lake views (2-3 km distant) hardwood parquet floors, blonde wood trim and skylights. The combination sitting room/dining/breakfast room in each features a polished, light wood built-in banquet in the style of the region, and comfortable sofas and chairs. The small kitchens are almost nautical in their clever use of space and are equipped with all the necessities including coffee-maker, microwave oven and dishwasher. The fully-tiled bathrooms are spacious and each has a separate toilet room. Number 1 is 60 square meters, Number 2 is 65m2.

These are excellent accommodations at very good prices.

• Daily Rates: Low season per apartment, per day 600 AS ($57) for two persons and 850 AS ($80) for four persons. High season per apartment, per day for two persons 800 ($75) and 990 AS ($93) for four. Double, single and triple rooms per person per day 210 AS ($20) low season and 235 AS ($22) per day high season. Two apartments, one single, three doubles and one triple. Most with balcony. Facilities: outdoor pool, apartments have cable TV, skylights, dishwashers, balcony with lake view, swings and slides for kids, microwaves, tiled bath (no shower curtains). Ample parking. No credit cards. No elevator.

Contact: Pension-Ferienwohnungen Heidi Leitner, Abtsdorf 6, A-4864 Attersee, tel. 07666/7661, fax 7030.

Rating: 14/20 Above Average G $

Ferienwohnungen Huplhof

Direct access to the lake for boating and swimming creates a strong demand for most of Huplhof's better apartments making them virtually unavailable to occasional renters. The one free unit we inspected was in need of some refurbishment.

Two new apartments, however, were under construction during our visit and promise to be more appealing. The smaller, for two persons, will be priced at 800 AS ($75) per day.

• Daily Rates: Low season per apartment, per day 520 to 1170 AS ($49-$110); high season 980 to 1410 AS ($92-$133). Seven apartments with kitchen. Facilities: TV, sauna, solarium, game room, beach access, boat dock, sun terrace, volleyball. Free parking. No elevator. No credit cards.

Contact: Ferienwohnungen Huplhof, Mühlbath 1, A-4864, Attersee tel. 07666/7788, fax 07666/7788-8

Rating: Not Rated

An Attersee Restaurant

1er Beisel (pronounced EYENzer BYEsl) carries the reputation of being Attersee's best restaurant. A small building, right by the lake, it has wide windows whose lower quarters are lace curtained. Inside, the dozen or so tables are set with pink linen, fresh flowers, sparkling glassware and hanging over each is a pull-down ceramic lamp. Navy blue cushions trim the dark wood banquets. For better weather there is a lakeside terrace for outdoor dining.

To begin, we were served bread with that combination of fried-down pork fat with bits of meat and seasoning that one is offered as a spread from time to time in Europe. Were there to be a competition to find the food with the highest concentration of cholesterol, a little pot of this would no doubt win easily. Nevertheless, it's quite good.

The dishes that followed ranged from good to excellent. Our server, a middle-aged woman, was cool but efficient and the courses were well-timed. Only three other tables were occupied on this chilly April evening.

A man who perhaps was the owner or maître'd took our wine order, 1993 Blaufrkisch, a red wine from Mittleburgenland for 355 AS ($33). The red wines of Austria are not much prized by connoisseurs but this one served its purpose well, to accompany the strong taste of roast duck and grilled pork fillets.

In the "good" category were slices of duck breast in a reduction sauce flavored with orange and thyme. But accompanying the slightly chewy duck was an extraordinary concoction that consisted of a dumpling-like dough rolled rather like a jelly-roll with bits of bacon, herbs, onion and garlic, then sliced after having been either marinated or boiled in a rich broth.

The three grilled pork fillets were served with pan juices and "riced" potatoes fried in bacon fat and herbs. Also on the plate were sautéed flowerets of broccoli and cauliflower and whole garlic cloves.

A salad of Schafkäse (sort of a cross between feta and mozzarella cheese), sliced tomatoes, and various greens, including frise and radicchio, got a lift from an excellent Balsamic vinegar and oil dressing.

A string of very enjoyable dishes ended with surprisingly flavorful fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream drizzled with a honey-based syrup and sprinkled with green peppercorns and powdered sugar.

But, with the bill came a bit of confusion. Neither it nor the menu made mention of the customary inclusive service charge. Having heard stories about European restaurants that no longer include the charge for service, we asked the waitress about it and were told service was not included. Thinking she might have misunderstood, we asked again pointing out that the tax was broken out on the bill but no service. She remained firm, we had not been charged for service. With misgivings, we left more tip than we would have had we been confident service was in fact included in the price.

Later that evening over a beer at our hotel, Herr Oberndorfer assured us 15% for service is always included in Austrian restaurant prices. The tip, however, is not. A nice bit of sleight-of-semantics by our waitress. She gets the 15% service and our 15% tip.

Nonetheless, we recommend 1er Beisel for a bit of a splurge meal. The bill for two persons was 1063 AS ($100) including the wine, a beer, a mineral water and bread (40 AS/$3.77).

Café-Restaurant 1er Beisel, Landungsplatz 6, A-07666/(7877)377. Rating: 13/20 Above Average

Attersee Info

Tourismusverband Attersee

* A-4864 Attersee am Attersee

* Phone: 07666/7719 Fax: 07666/7919

Activities - 1996

* Music Week: July 20-28, Schloss Kammer

* Bicycle Day: Sept. 22, Ride a bike around the lake. The road is closed to cars.

* Attersee Step-by-Step: Guided hike around lake (70km/44 miles) in five days. Luggage is carried to each overnight. 1996 start dates are May 13; June 10; Sept. 9 and Oct. 7. Price per person is 2,950 AS ($278).

* Lake Swim: 17th annual lake-crossing is July 20.

* Mountian Bike Race: Sept. 21, Steinach to Weyregg

* Fishing: May 15-November 20.

April 1996