Austria has few peers as a year-round holiday destination, with plenty of winter sports in the Alps , some of the most impressive and overblown architecture in Europe and an unrivalled musical tradition that even The Sound of Music couldn't sully.
The cities have plenty to engage visitors. Vienna is the capital, hub of the country's musical life and littered with beautiful buildings. Music, art and architecture reach baroque perfection in Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace. Innsbruck's snow-capped peaks frame its fascinating historic buildings.
Throughout Austria, you'll find the rhythm of daily life has a musical beat; music festivals fill its calender. There's also a wonderful range of outdoor activities, from lounging on lakeside beaches to paragliding from mountains. The skiing is some of the best in the world.
Culture of Austria
Austria is home to an enormous confluence of cultural riches from architecture to classical music, philosophy and literature. Its hills are alive with the sound of music and its tables are overflowing with wiener schnitzel, strudel and fine wine. Its cultural stereotypes persist, especially in alpine areas and Austrians take cultural refinement very seriously - just don't mention Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There's plenty of beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art in Austria's churches. Biedermeier, which is more well-known as a furniture style, also had its day in the gallery - and Biedermeier artist Moritz Michael Daffinger even found his way onto the AS20 note. The most famous Austrian painters were probably Gustav Klimt (Art Nouveau ) and Oskar Kokoschka (Viennese expressionism), but the most outrageous publicity was reserved for Viennese Actionism. This offshoot of abstract expressionism emerged in the late 1950s and sought access to the subconscious through the frenzy of direct art - read pouring paint over canvas and slashing it with knives; using blood and excrement as 'paint' and human bodies as 'brushes'; psychological endurance tests, self-mutilation and other nice Sunday school activities.
City & Destinations
Salzburg : Salzburg's old town, on the south bank of the river, is a Baroque fiesta of churches, plazas, courtyards and fountains, oozing the waves of charm that you would expect from this Mozart Mecca. Museums, houses, squares, chocolate bars, liqueurs are all part of one giant homage to Wolfgang.
Salzburg is picturesquely sheltered by surrounding mountains and straddles the Salzach River near the border with Germany. From its quaint old town nestled below the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress to its baroque palace and manicured gardens, the city presents one perfect view after another.
Vienna : Grandiose Vienna was the showpiece of the all-conquering Habsburg dynasty. Monumental edifices line the city centre, world-class museums burst with treasures, white stallions strut their way down mirrored halls and renowned orchestras and angelic choirboys perform in lavish concert halls.
Most of Vienna's main sights are crammed into the Innere Stadt (inner city). The district is adorned with the outstanding Gothic heights of Stephansdom, the massive Hofburg (Imperial Palace), the cultured history of the Jewish quarter (Judenplatz) and a scattering of historic streets and squares.
Eisriesenwelt Caves : Set at an elevation of 1640m, the Eisriesenwelt Caves are the largest accessible ice caves in the world. They comprise more than 40km of explored passageways and 30,000 cubic m of ice. Entry to the caves is regulated and a 75-minute tour takes in several immense caverns containing elaborate ice formations and frozen waterfalls.
Gurk : Gurk's exquisite cathedral is one of the finest examples of 12th-century Romanesque architecture in Austria. Inside, the 72 statues and 82 angels' heads on the altar will help you clarify your love or hate relationship with the Baroque. The cathedral's pillared crypt is the building's highlight.
Built between 1140 and 1200, its plain exterior is dominated by two huge onion domes that cap square-sided twin towers. The interior has Gothic reticulated vaulting on the ceiling, and most of the fittings are Baroque or Rococo. Gurk is in central Carinthia, north of Klagenfurt.
Mauthausen : The Nazis picked the small town of Mauthausen in upper Austria as the location for a concentration camp because of its reputation as a quarrying centre. Prisoners toiled in the granite quarry and all too often perished on the so-called Stairway of Death leading from the quarry to the camp.
St Anton : The Arlberg region comprises several linked resorts and offers some of the best skiing in Austria. St Anton is the largest and least elitist of these resorts, but even here budget travellers can kiss their savings goodbye amid the easy-going atmosphere and vigorous nightlife.
St Anton has good, medium-to-advanced runs as well as nursery slopes on Gampen and Kapall. The resort went down in skiing history as the place where Hannes Schneider pioneered the 'Arlberg method' (basically just having your legs glued together) in the early 20th century. more...