The Pongau, the middle Salzach valley, extends southward from the gap between the Hagengebirge in the west and the broad limestone massif of the Tennengebirge in the east to join the Gasteiner Tal. The scenery varies between green expanses of open valley and narrow canyons in which the rock faces on either side draw close together. Some tributary streams form deeply slashed gorges, such as the Gasteiner Klamm and the Liechtensteinklamm. To the southwest the Pongau merges into the Pinzgau.
Pongau Transportation - Getting there by way of Werfen
The motorway from Salzburg now runs to the west of the Lueg pass (562m/1,844ft), a defile (fortified in 1630) high above the gorge of the Salzach. Here the gorge cuts its way through between the Tennengebirge and the Hagengebirge into the Pongau. The wild gorge known as the Salzachöfen was first traversed in a collapsible boat in 1931. A smaller road and the railroad go through Werfen, from which a detour (strongly recommended if the weather is good) can be made to the Eisriesenwelt ("World of the Ice Giants") cave.
6km/3.75mi east of Pfarrwerfen is the winter sports area of Werfenweng (901m/2,956ft), with several skilifts and a chairlift via the Strussingalm (1,530m/5,021ft) to the Bischlinghöhe (1,836m/6,024ft). From there it is a two hours' walk through the beautiful Wengerau at the head of the valley to the magnificently situated Dr-Heinrich-Hackel-Hütte (1,531m/5,023ft). From here the surrounding peaks of the Tennengebirge can be climbed: e.g. the Eiskogel 2,321m/7,615ft; two and a quarter hours), to the north, with an ice cave 4km/2.5mi long, or the Bleikogel (2,412m/7,914ft; three and three quarter hours), also to the north.
The resort of Bischofshofen (547m/1,795ft; pop. 9,000; mountaineering school) at the mouth of the Mühlbach valley attracts large numbers of winter sports enthusiasts (ski jumps; final jump of the Intersport Four Jumps Tournament in Jan.). The parish church of St Maximilian has some fine 15th and 17th C. frescos; the marble tomb (1462) of Bishop Sylvester of Chiemsee (d. 1453) is also of interest. The Romanesque St George's Chapel, on higher ground, has frescos of 1230 in the apse. The tower in the courtyard dates from 1250. The Tauern motorway turns off here towards Radstadt.
Mühlbach am Hochkönig
From Bischofshofen a minor road runs 10km/6mi southwestward up the Mühlbach valley to Mühlbach (853m/2,799ft), a beautifully situated mountain village with a copper mine; good skiing terrain. From there a steep mountain road climbs a further 6km/4mi to the Arthur-Haus (1,503m/4,931ft) on the Mitterberg Alm, a popular skiing area with many ski lifts. From the Arthur-Haus it is an hour's climb to the summit of the Hochkeil (1,779m/5,837ft; to the northwest (five hours, with guide) rears the Hochkönig (2,941m/9,649ft), with the Franz-Eduard-Matras-Haus (accommodation) in a grand rocky setting.
10km/6mi southwest of St Johann is Schwarzach (591m/1,939ft; pop. 3,600), a little holiday township at the western end of the Pongau, dominated by Schloss Schernberg (now a nursing home). In the Rathaus can be seen the "Salzleckertisch", a table at which the Protestant peasants formed a league in 1731, as a result of which 30,000 Protestants were banished from the province of Salzburg.