What to expect on a ride up the Schafberg Mountain Railway

Why the Schafberg mountain railway

The Scahfbergbahn or the Schafberg mountain railway first caught my attention in one of Michael Palin’s travel documentaries and ever since, I’ve harbored an ardent desire to get on that chugging train up the scenic railway built on the Schafberg mountain. This wish finally came true in September 2017, when I visited the famous Salzkammergut region in Austria.

The Schafberg mountain railway first came about in the 1890s, as a result of the desire to replace the use of mules and palanquins to transport nobles and citizenry up the Schafberg that rises from the shore of the Wolfgangsee lake. Evolving over the century to follow, the Bahn used coal powered locomotives and towards the end of the 20th century, replaced them with oil powered steam as well as diesel locomotives.

Once you reach the summit of the Schafberg is where the real magic lies. From the summit, the eyes dart between a panoramic, bird’s eye view of 3 of the biggest lakes in the region – the Wolfgangsee, the Mondsee and the largest, the Attersee.

Of all the railways I rode, though, the most memorable was in Austria: with lakes and mountains of astonishing beauty. From St Wolfgang I took the steam-powered rack railway up to Schafberg (‘Sheep Mountain’). The locomotive is a strange-looking beast, and in 40 minutes it travels just over three-and-a-half miles, but climbs 3,930ft! There’s another surprise at the top. I stood on a sheer cliff, 5,870ft above St Wolfgang. You feel as though you’ve come to the edge of the world – (BBC Michael Portillo’s Railway Journeys)

How to get to the Schafbergbahn

From Salzburg, you can catch Bus 150 and alight at St Gilgen Hollweger, cross the road and walk down to the ferry terminal (map link) where an all-inclusive 48 euro ticket for a ferry will transport you across the Wolfgangsee to a waiting train in exactly 35 minutes. You can use this ticket any time on the same day, for the return ferry as well, but you might have to consider waiting times if you are running short on time. Timetables and prices here.

By road, you can also drive directly to St Wolfgang and hunt for parking space near the Schafbergbahn terminal.

From other locations, you can refer the respective piers to catch the ferry to the Schafbergbahn.

Reserve around half a day to visit the summit and enjoy the views from the top.

Also, read my blog on why St Gilgen deserves a few days on your Salzkammergut trip.

Our day at the Schafberg

Since we are already staying at St Gilgen, we get up in time for the second ferry ride on a Saturday. The weather forecast for the day is sunny and bright in the morning but predicts rain showers post-afternoon and therefore, we quickly make our way to the ferry counter to purchase our combination tickets.

After waiting for half an hour, we soon sight the ferry making it’s way to the St Gilgen pier, right on time. Soon, a queue forms on the pier. We get our tickets checked and board the ferry. Coffee, hot chocolate and drinks are available onboard, but for us, the warm morning sunshine is more than enough, so the upper deck it is. Not long after, the captain blows the horn and we are on our way.

Schafberg Ferry
Majestic sights of the mountains around the lake await us on the ferry. This bright pastel colored building is actually a non-profit that organizes summer camps for kids.
Schafberg mountain railway
Can you spot the bright red mountain train making its way up the Schafberg ?

Pretty soon, we spot the bright red signage of the Wolfgangsee ferry terminal and the adjoining Schafbergbahn terminal. People queue up right away, but we make a mistake joining a queue, as there are apparently entire groups booked for a train ride. We do a course-correct and join the right queue.

Pretty soon, the trains are filled up and we make our way up. For almost the first half an hour, we don’t see much scenery as the mountains are full of forests close to the railway track. The jerking, chugging train incites much mirth among my neighbors, most of whom seem to be above 60 years of age.

As soon as we’ve covered a considerable distance out of the 1200 meters long climb, the left side throws open stunning views of the Wolfgangsee and passengers stick their noses to the windows, our train compartment resounds with the repetitive clicks of cameras and smartphones.

Schafberg mountain railway at the summit
Not long after, we are at the summit and everybody has disembarked. We make our way up the ticket counter and ask for a 2 pm return slot. This is a necessary task, otherwise, we may not be guaranteed a return slot at the time of our choosing, at the last minute.

 

Wolfgangsee from atop Schafberg
From atop, the Wolfgangsee looks even more alluring than from up close. We can see para-gliders prepping to jump off the mountain slopes, as other para-gliders fly past.
Schafberg panoramic view
Climb up a few steps and this time to the North, awaits a panoramic view of the other two major lakes. Seen here is the Mondsee. A lady standing beside us, starts hyperventilating at the mere sight of all this.
Schafberg Attersee
And on the eastern side, a view of the biggest lake in the vicinity, the Attersee.
Schafberg mountain
We walk over gingerly on cowdung bombed paths (yes, cows and dogs are reared here) and see a cross down below, at an edge of the Schafberg, overlooking one of the lakes
Atop the Schafberg
A lot of trekkers use an alternate path up the Schafberg from the Wolfgangsee side, avoiding the railway entirely. Resting and recuperating here, before making their way down.

Eating options atop the Schafberg

There are multiple restaurants and cafes offering all kinds of snacks, drinks, chocolate bars and meals at the top. We decide to lunch at the SchafbergSpitze restaurant atop the Schafberg. Here, the outdoor seating area gets filled up far too quickly. Inside though, there are still a few tables empty and we settle down for a leisurely lunch of Bolognese spaghetti and some drinks. Outside, the smaller shops also have patrons grabbing up the beer and some, the chocolates and ice creams, with a lot of gusto.

Afterwards, we watch an entire crowd cheer a para-glider as he unwraps his parachute and runs off and away down one of the sides.

The Descent

Be sure to have booked your descent train time booked as the descending train also tends to fill quite quickly.

Schafberg mountain railway
Pretty soon, the railway train has made it’s way and transferred to a siding so that departing and awaiting trains wait side-by-side up the summit.
Schafberg mountain railway
Waiting for the doors to open is a test of patience. As it can be too cool in the shadows , and too hot for overalls outside of the shadows.
Schafberg at St Wolfgang
Once we make the trip down, a long winded, pleasant walk on the promenade beside the Wolfgangsee is ours to enjoy, before catching the next ferry back to St Gilgen.

Tips to make the most of the Schafberg

  • Visit the official website to make reservations or look out for untimely closure of the railway line due to maintenance. It remains open from May till the end of September. You can also make a trip in winters, if you’re lucky and the railway line is operational.
  • Be sure to monitor the weather forecast at least one day in advance, as you do not want your views marred by cloud and grey skies.
  • Also, weekdays might be a better day to visit as the place is touristy and tends to get crowded with the weekend crowd in the summers. If visiting on a weekend, you can also try to catch the first train up to avoid the crowds.
  • If you are up for it, hike up the mountain. It is an arduous 3 hour+ hike but most hikers up the mountain seemed to love it.
  • Layered clothing is advisable as the windchill made shaded places a bit uncomfortable
  • Washrooms are available at the Schafbergspitze !

A great video from InspiringWorld on what to expect on the train ride uphill.


 

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