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Austrian Alps: A pocket guide

Panoramic view of idyllic summer landscape in the Alps
Panoramic view of idyllic summer landscape in the Alps

For centuries Austria, at the heart of Europe’s history, has charmed travellers with its unique combination of fairytale features, fabled landscapes, rich cultural heritage, gastronomy and friendly welcome. With pride this country calls itself the “Alpine republic” – and with good reason! Home to some of the world’s most breathtaking mountains and luxury ski resorts and chalets, The Austrian Alps are an ideal destination for a luxury ski holiday in Europe.

Phenomenal World Class Ski Resorts

Almost the whole of Austria is part of the Alpine region or at least the Alpine foothills. Only the area of Vienna in Lower Austria and Burgenland doesn’t share any mountains!  Especially popular for the beauty of the mountains, hills lakes, forests and rivers, the Alpine provinces of Austria are world-famous as much for their first-class winter skiing, the vast variety of summer activities and, uniquely in mountainous countries, the fabulously rich cultural heritage and events on offer.

The legendary ski resorts need barely an introduction – in West Tyrol just Kitzbuhl, Lech and St Anton alone offer between them some of the best skiing, Nordic activities and apres-ski entertainment in the world, in settings whose traditional architecture and history have been fiercely protected. No matter where you go in the Austrian Alps, their Christmas markets are world-famous, the food outstanding and the gluhwein, well, an essential component of any ski holiday!

A Gastronomic Haven

The Sud and East Tirol, bordering Italy, may be less glamorous, however, they are stunning and are a more family-friendly choice with a host of charming gasthofs and mountain inns to stay in. The Sud Tyrol draws its charm not only from the surrounding Dolomite mountain range but also, due to its location, is fusion of Austrian and Italian cultures. Wild mushroom risotto and Kaiserchmarrn – a buttery Austrian pancake served with jam and caster sugar – are devoured fresh off the grill amid clutches of pine trees and the majestic peaks of the Dolomites. South Tyrol is something of a Mecca for gourmands, with award-winning vineyards and no less than 18 Michelin stars spread across 15 restaurants. Alpine grasslands peppered with purple and yellow wild flowers spread out as far as the eye can see, Medieval and Renaissance castles should be checked out, happy cows are grazing in the fields and there’s often a lingering smell of wood smoke in the air.

A Spectacular Summer Holiday Destination

In fact, the Austrian Alps aren’t solely a winter holiday destination. For travelers looking for an alternative to overcrowded and expensive seaside summer holidays, Austria’s Alpine regions offer unparalleled choices of things to do, see, listen to, eat and drink in some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Hiking, rafting, walking, canoeing, all manner of watersports on the lakes, fishing, golfing, biking, hot-air ballooning – the list is almost infinite in number and variety, often combining both activities and gastronomy, such as the famous Bregenzerwald Cheese trail with special facilities for wheelchair-users!  In mountain inns one can eat delicious snacks of sausage and cheese on extraordinary rye breads, local salads or thick soups, fresh raspberry juice and giant glasses of cold beer. Organic farming makes up 30% of the region’s agriculture. The two values of Nature and Culture have been uniquely intertwined in Austria for centuries in all seasons, and the Alpine provinces are certainly no exception.

A Mix of Culture, Cuisine and Nature

For those seeking a little more culture, lesser-known but equally spectacular is Carinthia, tucked nicely between Slovenia and Italy. Graz, Austria’s second city, is like Vienna without the pomposity. There is the sweep of architectural styles – from gothic to Renaissance to baroque. But it is less traditional than the capital and the vibe is more relaxed, thanks partly to the fact that nearly one person in five is a student, and partly because it hosts the oldest avant garde festival in Europe.

Visitors to the Austrian Alps go home enriched by the multitude of experiences that, whatever their interests are, will send them home with a greater understanding of the rich European history and cultural heritage, uplifted by the glorious and spectacular scenery, won over by the charm and hospitality of the people, a huge sense of achievement in climbing mountains, fording streams and, perhaps, most important of all, a spring in their step and a waltz in their heart.

Meet the Experts for Austrian Alps