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