Sommerfrische – it’s a German concept and summer vacation in the Salzkammergut is its model.
Literally, Sommerfrische means summer-freshness; figuratively it might be translated as summer vacation. But any way you interpret it, it’s an excellent activity.
In my mind, the word Sommerfrische still conjures images of tourists coming to enjoy the clear lakes, tall mountains and green forests of my home country.
It means getting up late, and then taking your beach towel and lawn chair to spend a long afternoon at the lake. There you would swim till you’re too cold and lie in the sun till you’re roasted. When you were bored with lounging, you might get into a sailboat and enjoy skimming over the lake in a light breeze. Or, for something different, you could take a basket and stroll into the woods to hunt for chanterelles and porcini. During the long evening hours, you’d stroll along a promenade in light clothing, and listen to a band playing at the pavilion. Or if you felt really ambitious, you could take in a festival performance in Salzburg or an Operetta in Bad Ischl.
Once it was the privilege of emperors and kings, until it made its way to the merely rich and from there to anyone who could afford a vacation. The practice probably originated in the Salzkammergut, and now talk of Sommerfrishe has become almost a cliché.
The first tourists to put the idea into practice, and perhaps the inventors of Sommerfrische, were the imperial family of the Hapsburgs. In the summer they left the hot stifling atmosphere of Vienna behind and moved their entire court – jesters and all – to Bad Ischl, where they did all of the things I just described, only in the style of royals.
The last emperor, for instance, was an avid hunter and outdoors-man. He’d roam all over his favorite holding, the Salzkammergut, in search of stags and other game, sometimes on foot. But he would also ride around in a sedan chair with a team of porters who would carry him up and down mountains and over hill and dale for as long and as far as he wanted. And in the evenings he attended galas and concerts, along with other members of the court and all sorts of dignitaries.
That’s how Austrians started to appreciate the benefits of Sommerfrische. And tourists have been coming to the lake districts around Salzburg, including the Salzkammergut, ever since.
When I was young, I did all of the things tourists did. True, sometimes I envied that they could afford to sit on restaurant terraces, sip iced coffee and eat ice cream from crystal bowls, but they in turn didn’t have my range of enjoyment. I swam where ever I wanted and when I wanted, sometimes I crewed on sailboats, and I roamed the hills and montains. I collected chanterelles and berries, and best of all, I had my mother to cook them. I strolled the promenades, too, and I found summer romances with girls who came with their parents on vacation.
I was neither a royal nor of noble blood – one of my distant ancestors lost his title in a card game – I just loved summer. And I don’t think the royals had it any better, nor can I think of a single tourist who enjoyed it more.
The lake country north of Salzburg, and at times the Salzkammergut, were my playground. Its lakes, mountains and forests make it a most congenial place for a summer vacation.
You don’t have to be a royal, or even rich, to enjoy it.