Austria sits neatly in Europe’s heart, with a foot in both east and west. The road corkscrews east from Bregenz on Lake Constance’s banks to the undulating Bregenzerwald mountains and up to the rugged Alps. Tyrol draws skiers to its superb slopes and shoppers to Innsbruck’s medieval lanes. A step further west reveals the baroque fantasy of Salzburg and the majestic Hohe Tauern National Park’s glaciers and waterfalls. Edge east to Carinthia’s bath-warm lakes, the cutting-edge galleries of Linz and the red-roofed city of Graz. The River Danube meanders past tumbledown castles and sloping vineyards to the imperial splendour of capital Vienna.
Winter’s big freeze lures visitors to Tyrol and Salzburgerland for winter sports holidays in Austria. Daredevils leap into the unknown on Mayrhofen’s Harakiri black run and slalom St Anton’s legendary slopes. The high-altitude Grossglockner Road snakes past some of Austria’s most dazzling glaciers and snow-dusted mountains. Follow the road to reach Hohe Tauern National Park, the Alps’ largest nature reserve. It’s home to the 380m-tall Krimml Falls, Austria’s highest peak Grossglockner, and mile upon joyous mile of hiking trails. Wrap up warm for a subzero adventure in Eisriesenwelt, the world’s largest accessible ice caves.
The hills are alive with sounds of Mozart symphonies in his birthplace Salzburg, where Schloss Mirabell stages first-rate lunchtime concerts. Culture buffs take in evocative Klimt masterpieces in Vienna’s world-class MuseumsQuartier and renowned orchestras in the opulent State Opera. The Viennese dress up for the winter’s glittering ball season in the city where Strauss taught the world to twirl. Forward-thinking Linz, European Capital of Culture 2009, showcases Warhol and Schiele in the Lentos Art Museum. Classical music lovers flock to Lake Constance’s Bregenz Festival in August for opera under the stars.
No Austrian holiday is complete without a slice of cake. Devour chocolate-rich Sachertorte in chandelier-lit Viennese coffee houses, redcurrant-filled Linzertorte in Linz and flaky apple strudel in Salzburg. Wiener Schnitzel (breadcrumbed veal), fried to golden perfection, is Vienna’s speciality. Spilling down to the Danube, the Wachau Valley’s terraced vineyards yield citrusy Rieslings and Grüner Veltliner wines, while the Mostviertel’s apple orchards are cider country. Buy creamy Alpine cheese from dairies on the Bregenzerwald’s Käsestrasse (cheese road). Seafood lovers sample trout plucked fresh from Salzkammergut’s crystal-clear lakes, and Felchen (whitefish) from Lake Constance.
Vienna Natural History Museum’s Venus of Willendorf statuette may be tiny but she’s 24,000 years old. Be catapulted back to Neolithic times in Ötzi Village, close to where 5400-year-old mummy Ötzi was found embedded in ice. Revisit the Roman Empire at Aguntum archaeological site in Lienz, or the Austrian empire in the Hofburg palace’s exuberant state apartments in Vienna. Perched high above the Danube, Dürnstein’s ruined robber-knight castle is where Richard the Lionheart was locked up in 1192 for insulting Duke Leopold V.