Known for being somewhat of a winter wonderland, with its many ski resorts and guaranteed snowfall, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Austria is home to the world’s largest ice cave – a sprawling set of winding, glittering caverns, and tunnels, with icebergs hanging down from the roof like daggers and rivers seemingly stuck in time. Read on to find out more about this unique natural wonder, known locally as ‘the world of ice giants.’
The entrance to this frozen labyrinth is inconspicuously located in the Tennengebirge mountains above the town of Werfen, in the province of Salzburg. The caves are believed to have formed during a geological time known as the Tertiary Period. However, they were only discovered much, much later in 1879, by an Austrian explorer, Alexander von Mörk, who was one of the founders of the Salzburg Cave Explorers. Years later, after research had been conducted, the caves become more well known to visitors to the area, and various structures were installed to make exploring the interior easier, including a visitor’s lodge.
How did it form?
Stretching across for about 40 kilometers (25 miles), the dramatic cavern appears to have been expertly crafted by inventive architects, rather than being an entirely organically produced structure. The interweaving hallways and crevices are formed so that air can pass through, making it possible for water to trickle through during the warmer seasons and then freeze under colder temperatures to form the dramatic, natural sculptures.
Exploring for yourself
Lamp-lit tours of the incredible subterranean ice palace can be taken between May and October – however, be sure that you’re warmly dressed, even if visiting in the summer months, for reasons that we shouldn’t need to explain. A local guide will take you through the tunnels, beginning at the Posselt Hall that contains the Posselt Tower stalagmite (a special kind of rock formation), then you’ll move to the area known as the Great Ice Embankment, which is a spectacular formation that staggers over you at about 75 feet (23 meters). You then pass through the Hymir’s Castle and end up at the resting place of the ashes of the cave’s discoverer, Alexander von Mörk’s, where the tour ends.