Belgian hermit on Austrian mountain awaits visitors with schnapps


VIENNA (Reuters) - A 58-year-old former surveying technician from Belgium has taken up his new post as the official hermit of Saalfelden, living in a hut-sized chapel built into a cliff in the mountains of western Austria.

Stan Vanuytrecht was one of about 70 candidates from the United States, India, Australia and several other countries who applied for the unpaid position at one of Europe's last hermitages.

The job advertisement specified the candidate must be at peace with oneself" and "a connection to Christian belief".

The 350-year-old Roman Catholic hermitage, in the province of Salzburg, has no power, no running water and no heat. But it does have stunning views of a snow-covered glacier.

The 431 square foot dwelling is carved into a steep rock face 1,001 meters above sea level.

In his new life, Vanutrecht must climb down and then back up an elevation of 820 feet to fetch water.

But sitting on a bench in the early summer sun in front of his chapel, he radiated the serenity of a man who has found all he wants.

Puffing on a tobacco pipe and looking out across the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, he said the job ad changed his life.

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Alois Moser, Saalfelden's Catholic priest, and Mayor Erich Rohrmoser, who posted the vacancy, said the idea was born out of necessity.

Usually, the Saalfelden hermit lives in the chapel for many years and finds a successor himself. But the most recent hermit unexpectedly decided to leave after only an eight-month season last November, Moser said.

"We seriously considered seven or eight candidates we talked to and to whom we showed the hermitage," Moser said. "But when we saw Stan, we knew that he is the one. He was so calm and settled."

The applicants were told not to expect complete seclusion as many visitors come to the hermitage to enjoy the view, to pray and to talk.

Vanuytrecht is prepared, with a glass of schnapps for hikers and a piece of cake for children always on hand. In his hut, behind the little kitchen, he has a small chapel to which he can lead people wanting to confide in him in private.

"I enjoy talking to visitors during the day," he said, scratching his dog Jeanne. "At night and early in the morning I have enough time for myself."

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Angus MacSwan)