2024 European Capitals of Culture: Bad Ischl, Austria

03 Feb 2024
Where to begin with Bad Ischl? Logically, we’d focus on the “spa” element of this spa town, located 30 miles or so east of Salzburg. That would make the most sense, but what of the history? Bad Ischl is intricately linked to Emperor Franz Josef I, and every room in the town’s stunning Kaiservilla contains stories of love, loss, and empire. What is it going to be? Spa or history? Wellness magic or the undeniable wonder of an ageing emperor’s moustache? 
2024 European Capitals of Culture: Bad Ischl © Chris Rie / Unsplash
In 2024, Bad Ischl will follow in the footsteps of Graz (2003) and Linz (2009) in becoming an official European Capital of Culture (along with Bodo, Norway and Tartu, Estonia, if you were curious). This imperial spa town is every bit deserving of the honour, representing a return to its glory days as a fashionable spa resort in the 19th century. Its origins go back even further, to the middle of the 15th century when Emperor Frederick III (no moustache) declared it a market town. A century later came the salt mine and the salt evaporation pond. Not long after came the throngs, searching for relaxation and rejuvenation in its healing waters. 

Among them, you see, was Emperor Franz Josef I. Bad Ischl was his summer residence, no great surprise when considering he referred to it as “Heaven on Earth,” and the Kaiservilla mansion played host to Franz, his wife Elisabeth, and many friends for many summers. The villa was actually a wedding present from the emperor’s mother (sure beats a toaster).
2024 European Capitals of Culture: Bad Ischl © Alin Andersen / Unsplash
On the opposite side of the cheery scale, it was there that Franz signed the declaration of war against Serbia in 1914, making World War I inevitable. He left the next day, never to return. More fool him, clearly, because Bad Ischl is the sort of place you should never leave. The wellness offer is as good as anything on the continent, and the history of the place is lovingly extolled in museums, buildings, and whispers. There is also a famous pastry shop (Konditorei Zauner), which, yes, sent its sweets to the royal family. 


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