By Jane Goldsmith
THE Austrian national anthem paints a pretty picture of its national character.
The elegant tune, written by home-grown composer Wolfgang Mozart, details a land of mountains, streams, fields and cathedrals; a nation “blessed with beauty”.
Its wealth of natural and cultural features – including the stunning Alpine landscape, classical music, Baroque architecture, and The Sound of Music – have hoisted this small, landlocked nation onto the world stage, making it one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations.
Attractive for travel at any time of the year, Austria provides a contrast of natural beauty with charming urban hubs.
Major cities Vienna, Graz and Salzburg are packed with history and winding cobblestone streets, as well as exciting contemporary museums and shopping, lively food scenes and nightlife options.
For a taste of the great outdoors, Austria’s scenic wilderness provides a dramatic backdrop for adventure sports and historic villages.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Salzburg is one of the best preserved hubs in the northern Alps.
Salzburg – directly translated to ‘salt fortress’ – lives up to its name with plentiful castles and sparkling salt mines nearby.
A walking tour of the Altstadt (Old Town) provides an introduction to the city’s main sites, including Mirabell Gardens (known for the iconic ‘Do, Re, Mi’ montage in The Sound of Music), Mozart House, Nonnberg Abbey, St Peter’s Monastery and Salzburg Dome Cathedral.
A stroll down Salzburg’s shopping street Getreidegasse inter-mingles contemporary culture with aged architecture, while offshoot alleyways hide Austria’s famed coffeehouses and fine patisseries.
The stately Hohensalzburg Castle, overlooking the majestic Untersberg and the River Salzach in the town centre, is also a booming attraction.
Accessed by foot or via funicular (a cabled railway), the castle offers visitors the chance to dine or view some of Austria’s finest musicians in concert.
The ‘Salzkammergut’ Lake District
The star of Austria’s Alpine hinterland, the Salzkammergut Lake District encompasses the mountain ranges across the Northern Limestone Alps.
Also UNESCO World Heritage-listed, the region provides exciting prospects for summer or winter travel, as day trips or extended adventures.
In the winter, Mt Dachstein – the second highest mountain in the region – is a hotspot for the free-rider scene, with its powdery snowfall, cross-country open runs, rocky ridges and deep evergreen forests.
The Mt Dachstein terrain covers a full 1500m altitude and more than 30km of track for snowboard and ski-enthusiasts.
For hikers, the Mt Dachstein glacier and massif trails feature abundant lakes and ice caves – including Mammuthöhle (Mammoth cave) and Eisriesenwelt ice cave – to explore on foot.
Visitors are recommended to explore this hilly region in a guided tour, particularly across the colder months.
In summer, the Salzkammergut lakes provide refreshing, drink-quality water for swimming, boating and water-skiing, sailing, surfing and fishing. Mondsee – a picturesque train ride from Salzburg – hosts one of the biggest Alpine lake-beaches in the region and is popular for its grassy, sun-filled picnic areas.
With several piers, a diving tower, water slides, sandy banks and a water-park, Mondsee Alpine beach is an ideal holiday destination for children and grown-ups alike.
The national dish Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) is a traditional Viennese dessert of flaky pastry layered with apple-nut filling and dusted with powdered sugar.
The delicacy is enjoyed carved into thick slices with ice cream or vanilla sauce, often with a warming mug of coffee or an indulgent Viennese hot chocolate.
For those who prefer chocolate desserts, Sachertorte is a dense chocolate cake and the ultimate in decadence.
Invented by baker Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich, Sachertorte is usually flavoured with apricot confiture (a type of preserve) and smothered in thick chocolate ganache.
The torte is served in customised wooden boxes or paper-lined tins and celebrated nationally on its birthday, 5 December.
For a warming dinner, visitors can rarely go past the Wiener schnitzel.
Veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried, this Austrian classic is delicious with potato puree or cheesy spätzle noodles – its massive size often exceeds the size of the dinner plate.
Getting to Austria
Airlines across Europe offer regular flights to Austria’s main hubs, making entry to this central country particularly convenient.
Eurail’s comprehensive network also offers high-speed and overnight trains as an alternative entry option.
Austria’s entry conditions (such as visa, currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly.
Contact the nearest Austrian Embassy or Consulate for the most up-to-date information.
For more holiday and travel tips, visit www.austria.info/au.