Pilgrimages in Austria:
Hiking with a Purpose - Part I

Hiking to churches and other kinds of pilgrimages are very popular in Austria

Pilgrimages were a big deal first in the Middle Ages and later in particular after the Turkish Wars and the counter-reformation. Important centres of pilgrimage in Austria are Mariazell (the ultimate destination in Central Europe) and dozens of basilica, monasteries and churches all over the country.

Beyond that, there are the four big pilgrimages of the Catholic tradition: To Jerusalem, to Rome, to Santiago de Compostela and to your true self with god. The publication of Paolo Coelho′s book on his journey to Santiago de Compostela sparked a new interest in this ancient travel tradition, and so plenty of old routes were "re-discovered" and refurbished in recent years.

A pilgrimage is traditionally called a "Wallfahrt" in Austria. In the following, I would like to give an overview on particularly significant routes. Many of them run through very scenic parts of Austria, which certainly helped to increase their popularity. Let′s start with the big one.

1.) The "Jakobsweg": Route to Santiago de Compostela

This route is actually a dense network of paths and roads that covers essentially all of Europe. What is considered the modern Jakobsweg are specifically three main routes that go from East to West mostly through Salzburg and Tyrol. With various buildings, written documents and archaeological findings, these main routes were marked in recent years and co-operations of pubs and guesthouses together with tourism authorities and the church formalised them.

The Jakobsweg typically includes monasteries, churches and other sites of worship. However, many pilgrims come with no religious intentions, but rather with an urge to find peace, a cultural interest or simply for the hiking experience.

2.) St Rupert Pilgerweg

One very nice part of the new St Rupert Pilgerweg (not to be confused with the Rupertiweg in the northern part of Salzburg) runs between the Salzkammergut and the mountainous areas of Southern Salzburg.

Starting at St Gilgen, pilgrims visit the Europakloster Aich, the town of St Wolfgang, Strobl, a mountain cabin, the towns of Abtenau and St Martin, cross the Larzenbachtal Valley, Hüttau and finally arrive in Bischofshofen. The hike takes approximately five days at a convenient pace, can be done in both directions and there is supplementary information available - for example, guesthouses en route that welcome pilgrims or cheap eats, as well as historic and religious information.

3.) Via Nova: The New Route

The Via Nova was only recently established - following the boom in pilgrimages in the past few years. It connects Metten in Bavaria with St. Wolfgang in the Upper Austrian parts of the Salzkammergut. Thereby, it stretches over two countries. The Via Nova runs from sites where the saints Rupert and Wolfgang worked and that are partly long established sites of pilgrimage, with more recent ones. This includes in particular references to Franz Jägerstätter, who refused his military service for religious reasons and was executed by the Nazis. Jägerstätter was recently beatified.

Continue with "Pilgrimages in Austria - Part II"

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Further Reading

Hiking Gear Checklist

Guide to Pilgrimages in Austria

Pilgrimage Trails through Austria