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Austria: A pocket guide

Austria is the perfect destination for both thrill seekers and culture lovers. Encircled by Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy, Austria is the very epicentre of Europe and Mitteleuropean culture; her rich history derives from the central role played throughout the centuries by the Hapsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; from Gothic through Baroque to Art Nouveau, Austria boasts a cultural heritage rivalled only by the immense natural beauty of its breathtaking snowy peaks, hills, woods, lakes, orchards and vineyards.

One of Europe’s top winter holiday destinations, the Austrian Alps are dotted with charming towns and premier ski resorts. After a day on the slopes in the exclusive resort of Lech, relax at your cozy luxury chalet to the views of the snowcapped mountains. This quaint village, with its Rococo-style St. Nicholas church, offers phenomenal skiing coupled with excellent dining and nightlife. Families can feel at home in neighboring St. Anton. With aerial tramways and chairlifts going up as high as 2,811 m (9,222 ft), it’s ideal for the extreme adventurer and a popular destination in summer among hikers, trekkers and mountaineers. A stop at Innsbruck, the host of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, can provide a good break from your ski-boots. Young and old alike will love ambling its scenic streets lined with shops and colourful historic houses, such as The Golden Roof, a house built for the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, and decorated with of sparkling gilded copper tiles, giving the illusion of gold. Visit Maria Theresia’s Imperial apartments, and complete your afternoon of sightseeing by tucking into a Wiener schnitzel and Apfelstrudel at a nearby country hotel like the Gruenwalderhof.

The rolling hills descend from the Alps east towards one of the country’s best-known cities: Salzburg. The birthplace of Mozart and backdrop of the film “The Sound of Music,” the delightful city woos and wows visitors with its medieval buildings, baroque churches and luscious landscape. Climb up to the commanding Hohensalzburg Fortress where you can discover the city’s fascinating history as well as enjoy gorgeous views of the old town district. Music-lovers flock here two times a year- January for the Mozartuem, and Aummer for the  glamorous “Festspielen” –  Austrian ladies wear long evening “dirndls” and the churches and halls are filled with world class opera and concerts. Fans can follow the footsteps of Mozart at the house where he was born or learn more about the musical genius at Geburtshaus Museum. Children will be enchanted by the city’s entertaining toy museum or the exotic animals of nearby Hellbrunn Zoo. The surrounding area has many wonders such as the refined Hellbrunn Palace and the lovely lakeside town of Mondsee. This quaint town also featured in the Sound of Music, the cloister church of its historic abbey serving as the setting of Maria and Georg von Trapp’s wedding. It’s also home to the curious UNESCO World Heritage prehistoric settlement of pile-dwellings. Take your time exploring the area by staying the night in a plush lakefront villa where you’ll be able to savour dazzling sunsets reflecting on the water.

A visit to Austria wouldn’t be complete without at least a day in its regal capital city Vienna. Wander the cobblestone streets of the centre and stop for a coffee break at one of the city’s glamorous art nouveau cafés.  Breakfast at the Hotel Sacher has to be seen to be believed. Admire the works of Rubens, Raphael and Rembrandt on the walls of the Kunsthistorisches Museum or 20th-century masters like Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere Museum. Sample contemporary Austrian cuisine at Michelin-starred restaurants like Steirereck im Stadtpark or Silvio Nickol at Palais Coburg. Your trip to Austria can be crowned at one of the country’s best attractions: the vast Schönbrunn Palace. With more than 1,400 rooms, the residence of Emperor Leopold I is one of Europe’s most sumptuous palaces and an amazing place to delve into Austria’s hundreds of years of Imperial grandeur, leaving you with special memories and a desire to come back to this exceptional country to make more.

Beautiful view of Salzburg skyline with Festung Hohensalzburg and Salzach river at blue hour, Salzburger Land, Austria iStock/bluejayphoto
Austria

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