This Austrian Town’s Art Scene Making Waves Alongside its Hiking and Skiing Reputation

Nestled in the Hohe Tauern mountains of Austria lies the picturesque town of Bad Gastein. As I approached the town, it felt like stepping into a Wes Anderson film, with its Belle Époque buildings, Art Nouveau houses, and the majestic Bad Gastein Waterfall as the heart of it all. The former Grand Hôtel de l’Europe even resembled the iconic Grand Budapest Hotel.

Bad Gastein has a rich history dating back to the Celts in the fourth century B.C. It was known for its thermal springs, attracting intellectuals like Sigmund Freud and artists like Gustav Klimt. Over the years, it evolved into a popular destination for royalty and ski enthusiasts, hosting the World Ski Championship in 1958.

However, by the mid-1970s, Bad Gastein’s charm started to fade, and the town faced economic hardship. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when architect Ike Ikrath and his wife Evelyn moved to town and began revitalizing the area. The couple transformed the historic Haus Hirt Hotel & Spa, breathing new life into the once-desolate town.

In recent years, Bad Gastein has undergone a renaissance thanks to a burgeoning artistic community. Artists from across Europe have flocked to the town, creating site-specific art projects and injecting creativity into the alpine destination. The town has redefined itself as a winter sports destination where art takes center stage.

One of the highlights of the town is the art:badgastein fair, a weeklong event showcasing contemporary art from around the world. This fair, along with the art walking tour curated by local artists, has made the art scene in Bad Gastein interactive and engaging.

During my visit, I explored the Kaiser Wilhelm Promenade, enjoyed coffee at Café Schuh, and discovered intriguing installations by up-and-coming artists. The creativity and spirit of innovation were palpable throughout the town, from abandoned power plants turned into exhibition spaces to mountain lodges hosting art celebrations.

As I dined at Bellevue Alm with the lively crowd celebrating sommer.frische.kunst, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful for the future of Bad Gastein. The curator, Andrea von Goetz, expressed her vision of creating a sustainable art community that preserves the town’s unique charm while embracing the future.

In a world where many art hubs have succumbed to commercialization, Bad Gastein stands out as a beacon of authentic creativity and community. Surrounded by optimistic creators and art enthusiasts, I left Bad Gastein inspired by the potential of this mountain city “ready for the future.”

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