Imperial Pomp in the Salzkammergut - Part II
Being more or less raised on Bad Ischl water, Franz-Joseph became emperor at the age of 18. In 1853, het met the 15-year-old Elisabeth, princess of Bavaria and his cousin, on an inbreeding-friendly matchmaking event. In Bad Ischl, of course. No wonder the emperor was fond of the place, and he came back every single summer until he had eventually turned into the ancient, 89-year-old grandpa that we know from the paintings. Emperor Franz-Joseph I died in the midst of WWI in 1916, and the empire died soon thereafter. So you see how tightly the fate of Bad Ischl and its tourism record is connected with the (almost) last heir of the house of Habsburg.
Approaching Bad Ischl, two things will strike you as unexpected features: Firstly, that Bad Ischl is not directly by the most attractive spots of the Salzkammergut, the scenic lakes and majestic mountains. The key to success was a different one for Ischl. Its central location allowed visitors to access it easily and then use it as a base or starting point for occasional trips to other - possibly prettier places - in the Salzkammergut.
The other thing is the traffic and thick layer of houses around the historic town centre. Bad Ischl is divided into two parts: A proper town on the outskirts that make it alongside with Mondsee, Gmunden and Bad Aussee the most important modern community in the Salzkammergut. And the rather small town centre that is stuffed with old people on vacation or there for treatments.
Discover the Spa-Heritage & Old People
Tourists will stick with the town centre, where the few sights are concentrated. It is also the best place to immerse yourself in the stuffy, pompous spirit of the late 19th century aristocratic culture. Start your trip in the Stadtmuseum ("town museum") which is located in the former Hotel Austria (where Franz-Joseph I and Elisabeth first met). Most of the exhibition is dedicated to the 19th century history of Bad Ischl and its celebrity visitors, but there are also some interesting references to the folk culture of the Salzkammergut.
Having seen enough of the museum, go for the real deal. A short stroll around the town centre will give you a good overview on the Neoclassical villas that popped up in the late 19th century. Walk along the Esplanade (a promenade with a different name), just like I used to do it as a little child with my grandparents who used to spend their vacations in Bad Ischl, too. With no doubt you will encounter many old people here - accumulating in the famous chocolatier and bakery "Zauner" for coffee and tart.
Spa-culture & Operettas
Walk around the "Kurpark" (won′t take long, it matches with the agility of 80-year-olds and thus, is rather small). Check out the Kurhaus, a pavilion where during the summer season the local orchestra ("Kurorchester") stages concerts mostly with music of the four composers mentioned above. Speaking of composers: Cross the River Ischl to get to the Lehar Villa. Franz Lehar, ethnically somewhat Hungarian, spent many summers here in his villa in Bad Ischl with a good view over the river.
His first successful operetta "Die Lustige Witwe" (in English "The Merry Widow") made him a wealthy man and other comic and light operettas followed to make the Viennese laugh and him even wealthier. Lehar bought the villa in 1910 and returned every summer until he died in 1948. The museum in the villa is naturally dedicated mostly to him, but it is also an interesting testimony of the later days of "Kurgast" visitors in post-imperial days.