|Country Information & Lifestyle|
The Hills are Alive
In Central Europe Austria is a country of startling contrasts from the Austrian Alps in the west to the Danube Basin in the east, it is one of the world's premier skiing regions, famous for its historical buildings, world-class museums, breathtaking scenery and magnificent mountains.
Throughout Austria there are numerous reminders of the once powerful Hapsburg's who dominated Central Europe for seven centuries, and Austria bears the hallmarks of its past Emperor-ship beautifully.
Austria is politically stable, has a diverse culture, strong economy and the Austrians have a high quality of life. Austrians are formal, reserved, value their privacy, and observe good manners at all times, but they can also be warm and friendly and are fun-loving people.
Austria is a largely mountainous country and the Tyrolean people love their mountains, the Alps, which are renowned for their beauty and splendor, and for the Tyro-leans they are a symbol of their beloved homeland.
Austria’s great sons and daughters have left their mark all across the centuries. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johann Strauss, Joseph Hayden, the list goes on.
The hills are still alive when you travel through Austria’s countryside. Follow in the footsteps of the von Trapp family and experience “The Sound of “Music”and visit the movie locations.
Vienna, the capital, is situated on the western edge of the Vienna Basin, on the gentle slopes of the Vienna Woods, a branch of the foothills of the Alps. In 2005, the Vienna Woods were also designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO – a designation for areas with a special cultural and natural landscape. A world city partially situated in a Biosphere Reserve is not only something special, but also unique anywhere in the world!
Vienna is ranked among the most beautiful cities in the world, noted to be the center of Austrian culture with art exhibitions, museums, music, theater and it is the home to the Spanish Riding School with their magnificent, majestic dancing horses, saved by General Patton during the Second World War. A must visit place is the Schobrun Palace and also visit Figarohaus located in Domgasse 5, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived and composed some of his popular masterpieces, now a museum packed with memorabilia.
Innsbruck in the Austrian Tirol is a beautiful timeless place to relax at any time of the year and the night time is a particular fun time, whilst a cruise on the romantic River Danube is simply magical.
The Donauinsel(Danube Island),is a very long, narrow artificial island in the Danube and divides the river into the main course Danube and Neue Danube. It was built to provide a barrier and create a kind of basin.
Herrnbaumgarten is a small village just an hour’s drive from Vienna near the Czech border and behind the wine village of Poysdorf. The village is home to some very idiosyncratic inhabitants. The showpiece of the this quirkiness is the Nonseum, a museum full of exhibits invented by eccentrics – from a heated garden gnome to finger nail guillotines and high heel protectors!
The gentle climate, excellent soil and centuries of wine-growing tradition are the key to the works of art produced in Burgenland`s cellars. The vineyards around the Neusiedler See produce excellent dry wines. Unique species of fauna and flora, and rare and exotic birds, are a source fascination to scientists and nature-lovers. It is with good reason that a quarter of Burgenland has been made a nature reserve.
The region of Burgenland is as fresh and green as the name promises. Dense forests, tranquil lakes and peaceful places, where you can find some inner harmony and revel in nature’s treasures. The Burgenland is a land made for leisure and pleasure tucked between the Alps and Puszta you can expect a warm welcome in every corner of this land. Traditional vineyard taverns and stylish star-rated restaurants aplenty on the shores of the stunning Neusiedler See where the water is always clear and cool.
The emerald green shimmering Achensee is the largest mountain lake in Austria, nestled between the Karwendel and Rofan mountain ranges. The fjord like Achensee is accessible from all sides and well-known for its beautiful public beaches in Eben and Pertisau. Sailors, surfers and scuba divers will find perfect conditions here. Around the lake you can play golf, take the Karwendel cable car up the high mountains or take a nostalgic ride with the oldest operating steam locomotive with a sprocket track railway.
Kalchkendlam Austria's most unusual school can be found high on a mountain pasture above the mountain village of Rauris admist lush green meadows. From the pastures you have breathtaking views of snow-capped mountain peaks, toy town houses down in the valley, thick forests and craggy cliffs.
Upper Austria is located in the northern part of the country, between Munich and Vienna, Prague and Salzburg. The region offers a highly-developed cultural life and urban infrastructure, as well as a long history and breathtaking natural scenery. Upper Austria has the best to offer – crystal-clear lakes, the rugged mountains of the Alps, thermal springs and untouched forests.
In the UNESCO World Heritage region of Hallstatt the oldest salt mine in the world stands alongside ultra-modern attractions such as the Ars Electronica Center, and the Lentos Museum of Modern Art located on the Danube. Linz, the cultural capital of Europe in 2009 has the world-renowned museum of the future in Linz.
Bad Ischal was the summertime retreat of the Habsburg emperors and the picture-perfect backdrop of Gmunden on the Traunsee lake with its lakeside castle of Orth are the world-famous treasures of the Salzkammergut region. The romantic city of Steyr, which is over a thousand years old, and the city of Wels, which has Celtic origins and today is an internationally-known location for trade fairs. Hagenberg Castle is in a picturesque setting in this idyllic town set in the hilly landscape of the Muhlviertel.
Niederösterreich,(Lower Austria), is known as "The Cradle of Austria's History". The state is bordered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Styria and Upper Austria. It lies on Vienna’s doorstep and can easily be visited from there.
This historic area was once heavily fortified, as some 550 fortresses and castles testify -- many are still standing, but often in ruins. The medieval Kuenringer and Babenberger dynasties had their hereditary estates here.
At the foothills of the Alps is Wiener Neustadt, the former imperial city. Along the Danube, Dürnstein, with terraced vineyards, was where Richard the Lion-Heart was held prisoner. Many monasteries and churches, from Romanesque and Gothic structures to the much later baroque abbeys, are also found in Lower Austria. Klosterneuburg Abbey dates from 1114, and Heiligenkreuz, founded in 1133, is the country's most ancient Cistercian abbey. The province is filled with vineyards, and in summer it booms with music festivals and classical and contemporary theater.
Some 60% of Austria’s grape harvest is produced in Lower Austria, from the rolling hillsides of the Wienerwald to the terraces of the Wachau. The Waldviertel-Wienvierel is one of Austria’s most celebrated districts and contain thousands of miles of marked hiking paths and many mellow old wine cellars.
Driving through Lower Austria is either immensely beautiful or shockingly dull and ugly. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Semmering/Rax/Schneeberg area is certainly beautiful and the Wienerwald or Vienna Woods on the outskirts of the Alps. This is where Vienna’s nobility and aristocracy found a soothing spot for their summer vacations.
Outside the Wachau are the Schallaburg Castle, Schloos Grafenegg, and the ancient town of Pochkarn, as well as the town of Scheibbs. Carnuntum has extensive Roman excavations and an archaeological park, and the pretty town of Tulln is where Egon Schiele was born.
The Marchfield area and Eastern Danube is known for both scenic landscape shaped by the river and cultural highlights due to the many castles in the region. The North of Lower Austria is the least touristy area of the province. There are several small towns that are worth being explored in their remoteness: Waidhofen an der Thaya, Zwettl, Retz, Hardegg and Drosendorf. Weitra has the National Park Thayatal and nearby is the Rosemburg Castle. Eggenburg is a good stopover on the way to the Czech Republic. Waidhofen an der Ybss guards the picturesque Ybbs valley and Lilienfeld has a monastery.
Wachau is a region which straddles the banks of the Danube, rich in history, blessed with a mild climate and outstanding white wines, the UNESCO cultural heritage site of Wachau is a magical land in every season. Gently rolling hills, almost completely striped with vineyards, the medieval character of its villages and the picturesque banks of the Danube combine to make this area really delightful.
Due to the mild climate excellent wines are produce here appreciated by connoisseurs the world over. The 33 km stretch along the Danube from Melk to Krems has a wealth of historic buildings, atmospheric towns, vineyards and orchards. The Wachau also boasts a high density of restaurants and inns, where you can enjoy top quality regional cooking.
The town of Durnstein is where Richard the Lionheart, King of England, was kept prisoner for years after a crusade. Today Durnstein is famous for its Baroque monastery sitting on forested granite cliffs. Melk Abbey will take your breath away. This Benedictine masterpiece and the surrounding town of Melk was the center of intellectual life in the Middle Ages.
The town of Weissenkirchen is a popular stop-over for the many cycling tourists who come to the Wachau to follow the Danube, and the ruined Burg Aggstein castle is among the most photographed sites in the country.
The rural province of Carinthia has two seasons. It is popular in the winter for skiing and in the summer for its scenic lakes and mountaineering opportunities. The capital Klagenfurt is not very big and ideal for a stopover. It does have a number of old buildings including the cathedral.
Outside of Klagenfurt Lake Worthersee and the cities of Velden and Worth are popular holiday resorts in the summer. The ancient market town of Gurk has a Romanesque cathedral, Ossiach and Villach are nice towns by a lake and best viewed from Landskron Castle where people in medieval costume display how the nobility of the Middle Ages used to hunt through falconry. The Burg Hochostrwitz Castle is famous for its long row of gate towers that could be defended one after another. Nearby is the National Park Nockberge.
The town of Spittal an der Drau is often used by visitors as a gateway to Lake Millstätter See, the second largest lake in Carinthia, and only 4 km from the town. You can enjoy a boat trip on the lake and in Millstatt see the famous Seeboden Bay monastery which has a farm dating from 1638 where the fishermen could smoke the catch of the day. It is now a museum.
Spittal an der Drau has one of Austria’s most impressive Renaissance castles, Schloss Porcia castle, built in the 15th century by Gabriel de Salamanca. Legend has it that she killed a peasant and since her death she has haunted the castle. In the summer concerts and theater performances take place. Take the “goldeckbahn” cable car or chair lift up Goldeck Mountain, which operates for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer.
The town of Friesach transforms into a medieval market every August with knights and ladies strolling the cobbled streets. Story has it that Richard the Lionheart traveled via Friesach on his way back from the Crusade in 1192 before he was imprisoned by the Duke of Austria. Strolling around the town you will find many buildings from pre-1500 as well as parts of medieval fortifications.
In the Nock mountains, located in Carinthia, grows a worldwide unique medical plant. Its special scent and its exceptional healing power can be discovered by hikers strolling in the mountains. Those who are looking for the “Speik” have to climb high in the mountains leaving the tree line of the Carinthian Alps far behind. It can be found at 1800 meters above sea level in the Biospharenpark Nock mountain. Starting from Bad Kleinkirchheim are guided “Speik” exploring walks and eleven traditional mountain huts offer “Speik” feet soaking bathes in wooden buckets. In former days the plant was actually bought for its weight in gold because the beneficial “Speik” relaxes without making you tired and revives body soul and mind.
Welcome to Styria the greenest state in Austria. The land of mountains and forests, wine and gardens and of towns and encounters. In the north Steiermark has might mountains where the almost 3,000 m Dachstein arises. Where the Salzkammergut lies. Where some of the best mountain hut bars in the Alps are waiting, and where cross-country skiing is increasingly becoming the most popular sport in the 15 award-winning resorts.
In the south, the gentle hills of the vineyards offer a wide range of walks and wine taverns invite you to stay a while. Vulcano ham and pumpkins await and warm springs call you to enjoy relaxed bathing. Or in the orchards where Styrian apples grow. Cycling, hiking, walking - treat yourself to Styrian warmth.
However, Styria is also the land of encounters and of towns: Graz is the epicurean capital and city of culture. "Conquer" the Schlossberg with its clock tower, which is steeped in history, marvel at the famous red roofs from above, a world heritage, visit the opera or one of the many local pubs.
The "Trachteninsel" ("traditional costume island") presents itself festively with outlets in Altaussee, Bad Aussee and Grundlsee. Every year, people flock from all over Europe to visit theNarzissenfest (Narcissi Flower Festival).
But there is much more to the Salzkammergut. In the south, it nuzzles the almost 3000 meter high Dachstein. The peaks of the Totes Gebirge (Dead Mountain range) are proudly enthroned in the north. Hikes, walks and mountain bike rides, all in the middle of wildly romantic countryside.
The Ausseerland-Salzkammergut region is known as the "Vital Region" because of its climate, salt and moor mud. In Bad Mitterndorf, you can relax wonderfully in the Grimming Thermal Spa. In the winter, the cross-country skiing trails go directly past, and the new cable car, which is the longest in Styria, takes you to the Tauplitzalm. Just around the corner is the largest ski flying jump in the world, the Kulm.
Graz can be introduced quickly: epicurean capital, the town of red roofs and of the clock tower with its varied history. Baroque buildings, idyllic courtyards and futuristic art, such as the Kunsthaus gallery on the River Mur and the Murschnecke (Mur Snail), the steel café in the middle of Styria's main river.
The Rettenbachklamm (Rettenbach Gorge), which is practically in the middle of the town, will enchant you with its little torrents and steep tracks leading to the top. The Murradweg also runs through Graz and takes you to the south of the state. To wine and thermal spas. To Maribor, Graz's sister town.
Upper Styria is THE water region. It is the sate in which the mountain springs provide water for the whole of Vienna and half of Graz. Have their source Winter or summer there is plenty to do. Visit Mariazell and its basilica, visit the forest home of the poet Peter Rosegger and the Stuhleck – the first peak in the Alps to have been ascended on skis.
The peaks of the Tauren, the Zirbitzkogel, the Seetaler and the Seckauer Alps and the gentle curves of the Nockberge guarantee an excellent holiday expefrience. In summer hiking, in winter skiing, wonderful pistes await you on the “8 Murtal ski mountains”.
The Gesause National Park Alpine region in the Enns valley is Austria’s newest park. Gorges, torrents, beautiful hiking trails, wonderful mountain pastures and climbing await you along the Styrian Eisenwurzen Nature Park. Outdoor camps in the Enns and Salza rivers offer adventures with kayaking, rafting and high-wire parks. In winter the Kaiserau, a small ski resort invites you to visit. Or maybe you fancy having your own igloo, a ride in a dog sledge, a ski tour or snow-shoe hike?
The tiny province of Vorralberg in the very west of Austria is the only region with an Alemannic population. Their accent is barely understandable to the rest of the country. Vorarlberg has a reputation for its dramatic mountain scenery, tidy cities and access to Europe’s biggest lake, the beautiful Bodensee or Lake Constance. Bregenz, the capital of Vorralberg is a market town and very historical place. During the Middle Ages the counts of Uldarchinger shaped the city and many buildings from this period are still preserved.
The Bregenzer Wald Forest is said to be the most scenic in Austria. The center has a monastery. During the summer the Bregenz Festival is performed on a stage that is built directly on the surface of Lake Bodensee, with the scenery for the lake and mountains this is an unforgettable experience. Lake Constance is in the very west of Austria and is shared between Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
There are eleven islands of varying size on the lake, Reichenau is home to the Monastery of Reichenau, which is famous for its three medieval churches, and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The island of Mainau is private and the owners have transformed it into a blooming garden and tourist attraction. Schwarzenberg is a popular destination for hiking into the picturesque Bregenzerwald Forest. It is considered among the nicest villages in the forest with many old farm houses with wooden roofs in traditional, local style having survived.
Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, has stunning Baroque churches against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. “Altstadt” is the biggest UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site – essentially all of the old town is part of it. You will not find a similar place anywhere in Europe. The elaborate Salzburger Dom cathedral, the Hohensalzburg Castle, and the scenic hills on the northern edge of the Alps.
Dozens of Baroque churches and Europe’s oldest nunnery, Stift Noonberg, that was in constant use, other monasteries like the Capuchin, one of the ancient Benedictine Abbey St.Peter, the Mirabell Palace and its beautiful gardens and more than a dozen palaces and castles
just in the city itself.
But there’s more, Mozart’s birth added another friendly commercial touch to the city, he’s everybody’s darling in Salzburg. Hike over the hills to the tune of The Sound of Music, go for a cool beer in one of Austria’s traditional beer halls, and visit the Hallein salt mines, the National Park Hohe Tauern or Burg Hogenwerfen.
In the south of the Salzkammergut there is access to the spectacular Großglockner Hochalpenstraße, the city of Zell am See and the Alpine resorts of Bad Gastein in the Gasteinertal and Radstadt as well as the waterfalls of Krimml.
Zell am See is in the heart of the mountains and a traditional holiday resort famous for its ‘fin de siecle’ atmosphere, the scenic setting by Lake Zeller See and direct access to the mountains and the nearby glacier of Kitzsteinhorn, where you can ski all year round. The region has some of Salzburg’s premier skiing resorts and for those non-skiers the lake offers opportunities for skating.
In summer explore the cobbled-stoned alleyways, the lakeside promenade and the nearby mountains, or try the water for swimming, sailing and windsurfing. To learn more about the history of the place, you should go to the "Heimatmuseum" or town museum inside the Vogtturm Tower.
This is also a good place to learn about the remaining pagan traditions of the mountainous regions here in Salzburg, such as the Perchten and Krampusse - wooden masks carved from wood that are used in ancient fertility rites in the days of the winter solstice. Take a boat to Thumersbach the pretty village that faces Zell from the other side of the lake. Or take one of the three cable-cars that go up the mountains.
The Bregenzerwald valley was once completely covered by forest and lies between Lake Constance and the Arlberg. It is the haven for anyone seeking peace and relaxation off the beaten track in dreamy landscapes. Summer is for hiking trails through the forest, playing golf and a host of alpine dairies that welcome visitors, while in winter the scenery is transformed into fabulous ski pistes.
The focal point of this wide, mainly densely wooded valley is the Almsee and there are numerous wide trails and circular tours to be explored. The region also conceals other smaller lakes, ancient spiritual sites and beauty spots where you can take a break.
Mysteriously hidden in the wild and romantic landscape of the Feistritzklamm is located one of Austria’s most famous castles, Castle Herberstein. The castle tells an interesting story of more than 700 years of Styrian history and aristocratic family tradition. The enclosed wildlife park is an added attraction along with the historic garden and two museums.
More than 50 million people have crossed over the Grossglockner High Alpine road throughout its history. It is a breathtaking nature and driving experience of about 30 miles. Built between 1930 and 1935 this famous alpine road connects the Austrian counties of Salzburg and Carinthia and goes across the main alpine ridge. Going up the mountain from Bruck at Salzchtal passing the so called Hochtor to Heiligenblut to the highest mountain of Austria, the Großglockner.
North of Salzburg the town of Oberndorf is a good day-trip destination, it was where the Christmas carol “Silent Night” was written in 1818. Another day-trip could be to Großgmain which has an open-air folk museum on traditional rural life.
To the south of the province towns like Obertauern, St.Johann im Pongau or Saalbach-Hinterglemm have some of Austria’s best skiing areas. For remote days in the Alps try the Lungau and villages like St.Michael or Tamsweg.
Cafes are an everyday part of city living and in Vienna in particular they are at the heart of city life. Around 1900, a visit to a Viennese cafe was a spectacular experience, newspapers were displayed on custom-made stands waiters wore tailcoats and ceilings were decorated with elaborate chandeliers. Today the coffee house business are booming as more and more people seek a place to work rest, eat or socialize in busy cities. No visit to Vienna would be complete without a visit to a coffee house, sample one of the dozens of different specialty coffees and enjoy Viennese pastries and cakes.
The Austrian food is highly influenced by other European foods and in Vienna in particular there is a wide variety of foods from different countries and times in history with the famous "Wiener Schnitzel", German for veal slice, a popular traditional food.
The legendary "Gemutlichkeit" - a relaxed enjoyment of life - is evident in the numerous cafes where the taking of coffee, often with a piece of Strudel, has given coffee drinking another meaning. Whether it is in the morning after shopping, or a lazy afternoon get together with friends, it is now considered to be a daily philosophy of Austrian life.
It is famous for its well-balanced variations of beef and pork and countless variations of vegetables. There is also the "Mehlspeisen" Bakery, which created particular delicacies such as Sachertorte, "Krapfen" which are doughnuts usually filled with apricot marmalade or custard, and "Strudel" such as Apfelstrudel filled with apple and "Topfenstrudel" filled with a type of cheese curd called "topfen".
Typical Austrian dishes include Wiener Schnitzel, Schweinsbraten, Kaiserschmarren, Knodel, Sachertorte and Tafelspitz. Potatoes, herbs and peppermint which are boiled and served with a butter sauce. Austria is also famous for its Mozartkugeln and its coffee tradition.
The renowned essayist Alfred Polgar once said "Too often man handles life as he does the bad weather, He whiles away the time as he waits for it to stop", this is indeed a brilliant description of life in Austria.