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Austria’s National Parks – overview

When you hear the description „National Park“ you may think of the USA and Yellowstone Park, but it’s not widely known that Europe now boasts its own collection of National Parks. Austria alone has six completely different nature reserves, in which you can ramble, cycle and explore.

In contrast to America’s national parks, which are now well over a hundred years old, Austria’s parks, which cover at least three percent of the country, were declared as nature reserves only recently. The path to creating these ecological buffer zones was not always easy, because in some cases the territory had to be clawed back from other planned projects. In some cases major construction was imminent, such as a huge reservoir in the Hohe Tauern Mountains or a hydro- electric power station in the Hainburger Au district. It was dogged determination by a number of action groups that prevented such projects from being realised.

Grossglockner (3.797m)

Grossglockner (3.797m). Flight picture / Nationalpark Hohe Tauern / Kärnten. © Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Markowitsch

The majority of National Parks are located in sparsely populated areas and provide a habitat for a vast number of indigenous flora and fauna species, some of them endangered. The protection of this eco-system has ensured the long-term survival of such flora and fauna, but the National Parks’ pristine environment also benefits people in search of some quality rest and recreation. It goes without saying that visitors must keep to sign-posted paths and only enter the sensitive eco-system if accompanied by a trained National Park ranger.

Donau-Auen National Park

The Danube floodplain meadows between Vienna and Bratislava, which were saved at the eleventh hour from destruction threatened by construction of a hydro- electric power station, represent one of the few remaining floodplain landscapes in Middle Europe. Now the river can continue to characterise the landscape and sustain a huge variety of plants and wildlife: more than 60 species of fish, kingfishers, eagles, beavers, pond terrapins, rare orchids and countless species of insect thrive here.

Donauauen bei Stopfenreuth / Nationalpark Donau-Auen

Donauauen bei Stopfenreuth / Nationalpark Donau-Auen. © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Popp G.

As a result, insect protection is therefore recommended in the summer months! With a length of 38 km and a width of 4 km, this „green wilderness in the stream“ is a delightful natural environment that can be enjoyed not only on foot, but very pleasantly on a cycle tour along the Donauradweg or indeed by boat.

www.donauauen.at


Gesäuse National Park

The Gesäuse is Austria’s third largest and also newest National Park. It lies between Admont, the site of a famous Benedictine Monastery and noteworthy Art Museum, and Hieflau, a former mining town. Gesäuse National Park is characterised by steep mountain slopes and gorges, in a valley formed by the River Enns. The altitude ranges from 490 m at its deepest point up to 2,370 m at the peak of the Hochtor. This is a natural habitat for 90 species of breeding birds, marmots, chamois, deer and roe deer and around 50 different wild orchids can be admired.

Moedlinger Huette im Gesaeuse / bei Johnsbach / Steiermark

Nationalpark Gesaeuse. © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Jezierzanski

Trained National Park rangers organise guided tours during which they share their knowledge of the habitat and its complex interaction with nature. You can stay in hotels and pensions, on an organic farm or in mountain huts directly in the National Park.

www.nationalpark.co.at


Hohe Tauern National Park

The largest National Park in Middle Europe covers territory in the provinces of Carinthia, Salzburg and Tyrol. With mighty mountain peaks such as the Grossglockner (Austria’s highest peak) and the Großvenediger, vast glaciers and the spectacular Krimmler waterfalls, the Hohe Tauern National Park is a many- faceted natural wonder. In the Park’s central zone the natural environment is left totally undisturbed while in the outer zone there is a harmonious combination of natural habitat and sustainable management by Alpine farmers.

A network of hiking trails gives access to this unique world, which you can explore on your own or accompanied by a qualified National Park ranger. A shrewd motto for guided rambles is „you only see, what you know“. Between July and September a choice of 26 rambles are on offer every week from Monday to Saturday – on themes such as „observing wildlife“, „the origin of glaciers“, „everyday life on an Alpine farm“ and „on the trail of smugglers“. A ramble from the valley up into the land of eternal ice is the geological equivalent of a journey to Antarctica. In addition, five special excursions are organised on fixed dates, for example with an overnight camp by a mountain lake, a wildlife photographic tour or to observe the rut of the stags.

Huettschlag im Grossarltal / Nationalpark Hohe Tauern
Hüttschlag im Grossarltal / Nationalpark Hohe Tauern. Salzburger Land© Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Weinhaeupl W.

The hiking network and system of Alpine via ferrata extends to around 1,200 km. More than 80 mountain refuges and snack stations form the perfect infrastructure for extended hikes and excursions to the south side of the Tauern chain, where 240 peaks soar more than 3,000 metres high.

The Hohe Tauern range is in fact the cradle of Alpinism: The 3,251 m high Ankogel peak was the first Alpine glacier to be conquered by climbers in 1761. Nowadays mountaineers – ideally accompanied by a mountain or skiing guide – can climb a vast choice of routes in the rock and ice. In poor weather conditions a visit to the Nationalparkwelten in Mittersill is a good alternative. This nature museum, which opened in 2006, is a complete multi-media experience. The imaginative exhibition of natural experiences with titles such as „Alpine summer“ or „at the bottom of the mountain stream“ is definitely worth a visit.

Nationalparkwelten Gerlos-Straße 18 5730 Mittersill

www.hohetauern.at


Kalkalpen National Park

Kalkalpen National Park is home to the largest uninterrupted forest in Austria. Spruce, fir and beech trees cover four fifths of the terrain, where trees are left to Spruce, fir and beech trees cover four fifths of the terrain, where trees are left to grow, mature and die as nature decrees, because the fallen trunks are an important habitat for countless species ranging from beetles and woodpeckers. And while the new generation of trees grows on decaying trunks, insects and micro-organisms break the remains down to produce fertile topsoil. This cycle of nature can be very well observed in Kalkalpen National Park. There are also spectacular canyons and gorges dug deep into the rock, picturesque waterfalls and lakes to admire.

The whole family can explore the National Park: a hike to one of the many inviting mountain inns makes for a great day trip, or you can join a guided adventure ramble with a forester in the early morning light or watch the rutting of the deer in autumn.

Nationalpark Kalkalpen
© Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Popp

For experienced walkers, the Ebenforst-Alm (Alpine farm with rooms and restaurant) located on one of the forest-free high plateaus, is a good starting place for hiking in the surrounding mountains. A two-day trek across Hohe Nock in the Sengsen massif (1953 m) is a fantastic adventure.

Ennstal Visitors’ Centre can tell you everything you need to know about the National Park. Located between Reichraming and Großraming it is also an ideal starting point for all excursions into Kalkalpen National Park.

Ennstal National Park Visitors’ Centre, Eisenstraße 75 4462 Reichraming

www.kalkalpen.at


Neusiedler See National Park

This national park, which opened in 1993, crosses the border into Hungary and has a distinctive steppe landscape. It is one of the most fascinating natural environments in Europe, featuring reed beds, marsh meadows and saltwater lakes, which periodically disappear and reappear. The reed belt around the Neusiedler See is, after the Danube Delta, the second largest of its kind in Europe.

Lange Lacke bei Apetlon im Burgenland / Nationalpark Neusiedler See
Lange Lacke bei Apetlon im Burgenland / Nationalpark Neusiedler See. © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Popp G.

Eastern and Western European flora and fauna come together here to produce an extraordinary display. Species from the Alpine, Pannonian, Asiatic, Mediterranean and Nordic regions live in harmony in the steppe landscape of this National Park: the Balkan frog croaks while the Danube warty newt hunts for earthworms and slugs; Austrian mugwort thrives alongside Hungarian astragalus. Furthermore, the lake’s shores form one of the most important bird sanctuaries in Europe – a paradise for ornithologists, but also for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders.

www.nationalpark-neusiedlersee-seewinkel.at


Thayatal National Park

Due to many decades of life under the Iron Curtain, this valley on the border with the Czech Republic has remained virtually undeveloped. Due to its marginal location and inaccessibility, 90% of the forested territory in Thayatal National Park and in the Valley itself has been spared disturbance by the forestry industry. Nearly half of all plants indigenous to Austria grow here in a relatively small area: In other landscapes of Austria you must travel some distance to observe a visible change in the forest’s tree stock. In Thayatal you can just follow a river bend and find yourself in completely different kind of woodland. Overgrown castles and ruins are reminders that times were not always as peaceful as today.

Ruine Kaja bei Merkersdorf
Ruine Kaja bei Merkersdorf. Nationalpark Thayatal. © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Hahn F.

And what was unthinkable just a few years ago is now simple: Part of the National Park lies in the Czech Republic and can be explored on a frontier-crossing hike or cycle tour.

www.np-thayatal.at

Kaunertal nature conservation area

The Kaunertal valley in the Ötztals Alps is dominated by the high mountains. Here stringent environmental regulations have preserved a natural landscape that is guaranteed to take your breath away.

At Kaunertal you can experience several seasons in a single day: for example, the depths of winter in high summer if you seek out the Weißseeferner glacier. With the motto of „Touch and Feel“ the path leads into an illuminated crevasse, where which visitors can learn interesting facts about the exciting world of glaciers amidst eternal ice.

The Kaunergrat nature reserve stands out with its unspoilt landscapes like the Piller Moor, one of the most beautiful upland moors in Central Europe, the slopes of the Fließer, where in summer up to 1,100 different species of butterfly can be spotted, or the protected forest of Arzler Pitzeklamm, in which deciduous and mixed woodland invite visitors to explore.

Flanked by three-thousand meter peaks, the cultural landscape of the Kaunertal is today often farmed with organic agricultural methods And people who love winter sports can indulge their passion here out of season: The lifts on the Weißseeferner glacier allow them to enjoy alpine skiing from autumn to early summer.

www.gletscherpark.com/en

Salzburg – Countryside

Baroque nudges up against mountains, modern engages classical, and a whole lot of nature invites visitors to hike, bike and discover. In the summer—and in wonderfully different ways in the winter—Salzburger Land’s charming contrasts inspire and delight.

Salzburg countryside

Petals of gentiana and Edelweiß find their way every so often into everyone’s pockets. One “grows” on the Austrian 1-cent Münze, the other gleams on the 2-cent piece. Even the 5-cent coin bears the alpine primrose. But to enjoy the real botanicals, hikers can simply venture out to Salzburger Land’s Grossarltal, where a true carpet of flowers is all around. Colorful swaths of lush green become reliable companions over the course of a hiking day. There’s the Arnika with its remarkable healing powers, Turk’s-cap lilies and magnificent orchids—the vanilla orchid, for example, and the moorland-spotted orchid—that dazzle next to chalk-white pack-mules. And in the middle of this unspoiled mountain environment, those who can tear themselves away from the spectacular views may be lucky enough to discover a rarity that captivates hobby-botanists: namely, the extremely rare white-petaled alpine rose.

Almsommer

Welcome to the wonderland that is Salzburger Land’s Almsommer—a celebration of our mountain pastures. And welcome to the Valley of Pastures, the Grossarltal, where hikers are sure to traipse over a few flowers, as it counts among the wildest regions in the entire eastern Alps. With every step, hikers in the Grossarltal leave behind a little bit of the stress of daily life and enjoy a romantic idyll, much like the good ol’ days. The hiker and the nature lover encounter all of these experiences in this undisturbed alpine environment, where they’ll remember not only the delights of Salzburg’s Almsommer, but also diverse insights into the secrets of its creation. Add to that the smell of homemade cheeses and fresh bread just out of an old-fashioned oven—these sensual experiences infuse the aroma of Salzburg.

Blick auf das Dachsteinmassiv / von der Reiteralm bei Schladming Steiermark © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Lamm
© Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Lamm

Out and about in the Valley of Pastures More than 40 working huts give the Grossarltal the catchy name “Tal der Almen” (Valley of Pastures) and refer to a general specialty of the region. Around 1,800 grazing pastures take up a quarter of the area, giving SalzburgerLand the highest density of mountain pastures among all of Austria’s provinces. Those who pass through the Darfgarstein Kögerlalm on the shortest night of the year, June 22d, will be served the finished product: Pongau meat fritters, for example, and fresh butter churned by hand from fresh milk. But that can only be served after the end of the cow- milking competition. Countless Alm festivals take place in SalzburgerLand during the summer months. The original summer solstice celebration and the cattle drive to and from the pasture are special treats. Another must-see is the Jakobi wrestling event that takes place on the Hundstein on the Maria Alm. Historically, it was a ring competition between alpine herdsman and dairymen that used to determine the borders of the pastures. Today, it’s living proof of old farming traditions.

How to recognize Almsommer huts Vacationers seeking new heights can experience alpine culture firsthand. While unique, SalzburgerLand’s huts make up an unmistakeable microcosm, one in which visitors can count on amenities that meet quality standards. Certified Almsommer huts in SalzburgerLand must adhere to strict criteria. The hut must be original and in SalzburgerLand must adhere to strict criteria. The hut must be original and in SalzburgerLand must adhere to strict criteria. The hut must be original and in SalzburgerLand must adhere to strict criteria. The hut must be original and authentic and must not be accessible by public roads. There must be animals grazing in the area, and hygiene and drinking water must meet strict requirements. We already mentioned the taste of the alpine experience, therefore it’s fortunate that making their own regional products is also a requirement. An impressive 142 huts meet these criteria and provide tired hikers with a variety of sleeping accommodations, whether in fragrant “haylofts” or rustic bunk-beds, comfortable guest rooms or even a honeymoon suite. All guarantee a romantic night. And a peaceful oasis spans a second network of trails: the 350-km (217-mi) Salzburger Almenweg goes through the Pongau from start to finish in 31 stages. Take a little walk in advance online at www.salzburger- almenweg.at to learn about each of the stages, see 3-D views and aerial shots, and even load trip details to a GPS navigation device.

Hiking

By E-Bike through the wilderness Without a doubt, places like the Grossarltal and the hiking paradise of Pongau rank among the world’s special places—standouts, even in the richly diverse alpine world, for their extraordinarily stunning landscapes. However, the scenic appeal is in no way limited to the region’s tightknit network of incredibly intact alpine pastures. The SalzburgerLand area has so much more in store. Spectacular gorges and canyons like the Liechtensteinklamm at St. Johann, the Kitzlochklamm or the Lammeröfen at Abtenau are held in high regard as much by extreme-adventure travelers as by nature lovers. The marvelous Zellersee—one of more than 70 lakes around SalzburgerLand where visitors can swim, dive, row, sail, or simply hang out—is likewise a good base for excursions to the Kaprun glacier. It offers even more nature experiences that step it up a notch, and all can be reached through SalzburgerLand’s impressive network of trails. That’s 7,200km (4,474mi) of marked hiking trails, from family-friendly to challenging high-alpine. Nearly a third of the province is protected as a nature preserve, and more than 50 cable-cars (eight of which designated for summer use) provide easy access to the mountain experience. In car-free valleys, environmentally friendly buses bring vacationers to the starting point of their tour.

Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße
Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße Photo by M. Bertulat

Ever since the construction of the Grossglockner Highway and the Glockner-Kaprun power station, the trails are easier to reach than ever before. The largest protected area of the alps, the Hohe Tauern National Park is the crowning achievement of this natural landscape—on which it is best to tread lightly. Guided hikes with National Park rangers, thrilling animal sightings, perhaps a glacier crossing or a tour on E-Bikes through the wilderness before coming to the end at the world-famous Krimmler Waterfalls. That’s how quiet appreciation of SalzburgerLand’s impressive natural treasures can look.

Via Culinaria

Austria’s green heart and the Via Culinaria. The bearded vulture, the alpine herdsman, and the mountain biker—SalzburgerLand is not only a province with a strong regional identity, it’s also one with great diversity. That’s apparent with one glance at the gentle, rolling hills in the area between the Waller and Trumer lakes. Contented cows graze in lush meadows. Amid beech and spruce trees of a small forest, the blue water of the Wallersee glimmers. This is a bucolic part of SalzburgerLand and, for those who know Austria, the greenest area of the entire country.

As satisfying as the area is, it’s no surprise that the tidy village of Schleedorf with its “Käsewelt” (World of Cheese) pleases visitors’ palates and hearts. That’s because the cows out in the meadow give milk of the highest quality. More precisely, they produce hay milk—which can be experienced in the carefully designed cheese-making making making making making making making making making exhibition. SalzburgerLand’s hay milk is turned into cream cheese, organic Emmentaler, pungent organic camembert and hearty Käsewurst. Hay-milk cheese and the Flachgau culinary region, where there’s also a cheese theater and an original chalet with historical vats and work tools, typify the Via Culinaria’s special access into the land. With seven culinary routes throughout the city and province of Salzburg, the Via Culinaria visits around 184 addresses—from traditional taverns and award-winning restaurants, breweries, fish smokehouses and schnapps distilleries to charming ski lodges and alpine huts.

SalzburgerLand without barriers

One can savor and even fall in love with a landscape through food and drink. But not only that way. The fresh mountain air, age-old traditions and, not to be forgotten, the white gold of the mountains for which the region and its capital city are named. Together all of these elements contributed very early on to the development of a further specialty of SalzburgerLand—the alpine spa. Bad Gastein and Hofgastein—far ahead of the most recent wellness hype—promised the saltwater and hot springs cure for those seeking recovery. Add to that today’s socially responsible specialties like “handicapped-accessible SalzburgerLand,” which no other Austrian province has attempted with similar intensity. Guests who have limited mobility, sight or hearing need a bit more consideration for their vacation. This is the place for them. Barrier-free accommodations that are inspected and rated by specialists can be arranged at a dedicated web site.

Winter chances

SalzburgerLand in winter—a chapter unto itself Those who visit the province in the winter are rewarded with an entirely new kind of charm. It’s the ultimate area for modern winter sports and scores high points on an Olympic scale. With one ski pass, guests gain access to 8 top ski resorts—Flachau, Wagrain, St. Johann/Alpendorf, Radstadt, Altenmarkt/Zauchensee, Kleinarl,Eben and Filzmoos—with 270 lifts and more than 860km (534mi) of trails on offer. Saalbach and Obertauern give nighttime access to the mountains and count among the hottest après-ski destinations in the Alps. That’s just a small taste of the variety on offer. Lunggau has the largest Nordic-trail network in Austria and Werfenweng recently held the dog-sled world championship, turning SalzburgerLand into a center of dog-sled tourism. But the tranquil side of winter activity is also experienced here in a variety of ways. Romantic horse-drawn carriage rides, Llama trekking, beautiful natural tobaggon runs, snow-shoeing—are only a few of the options available away from the bustle of the ski slopes.

Langlauf

Small, charming areas such as Wildkogel are among the ski areas that cater especially to families. Children up to 6-years-old can whizz down the slopes at no charge for the entire winter—a family-friendly offer thoroughly typical of SalzburgerLand’s ski areas. Reasonably priced family rates, baby and practice lifts, a comprehensive offering of ski and snow-boarding schools—in short, family skiing is one of the themes that recurs throughout the province.

SalzburgerLand’s Saalach valley with its family-friendly towns of Lofer, St Martin, Unken and Weissbach, the Raurisertal, the ski areas of the Tennen mountains and Lungau, Dachstein West-Lammertal, the Hochkönig area, as well as the Krispl- Gaissau/Hintersee—all offer families a lot more than skiing. In Rauris, there’s a children’s ski festival and an exciting lighted children’s sled run, and the ski area of Dachstein West offers a “you’ll learn to ski or your money back” guarantee. The ski area Hochköning isn’t left behind: 11 family-friendly ski lodges await with special menus and plenty of activities for children. In Stoderzinken, an alpine meadow has been carefully developed for winter sport as a “children’s snow land,” including a fun mogul run, snow tunnel, an inner-tube run, magic carpet and free ski-lift.

Sledding action with endless romance A winter vacation with the kids in mind is only one of many alternatives. Those who want to experience the peaceful side of the SalzburgerLand alps—far removed from the 8-person ski-lift and the après-ski—will find something to rave about here. The longest toboggan run in the world starts in Bramberg and runs for 14km (8.7mi) through the picturesque winter wonderland of Hohe Tauern National Park, dropping 1,300m (4,265ft) in elevation. This is a half-hour of family fun, which can also be enjoyed at night, when the entire stretch is illuminated. Even more romantic are the short natural sledding stretches of the province. In the Fuschlsee region, wool caps whoosh by from the idyllic Achafbachalm into the valley to Faistenau; and in Tennengau, sledders take the old Krispelerstrasse from Gaissau to Krispl and sled farther on all the way to Zillreith. Winter hiking is also a showcase of the province. A few to mention, but by all means not exclusive, are Henndorf’s ice-age path, the whispering-quiet of the stretch along the Taugel creek in Thalgau, the Filzmooser meadow hike or lakeside along the Fuschlsee. These are only a few examples of countless paths to hike in the winter.

Hallein

The legacy of white gold Urban treasures have constantly developed their charm. Not far from the city of Salzburg is the village Hallein, where the white gold of salt was mined for centuries. For some time now, the baroque-influenced Old Town has been updated. In the very carefully renovated, former salt-mining administrative office, the Celtic Museum now highlights everything about the history of salt mining.

Those interested in culture should absolutely take a trip to the Kunsthaus Nexus in Saalfelden. It offers a diverse program in the areas of music, visual arts, and architecture. The building itself is also worth seeing: a white and black cube that mirrors the contrasts of the area: snow and rock formations, the rough and the smooth aspects of the surrounding nature and geology. The bridge at the entrance leads from the world of the routine into the world of art. This is where the well known Saalfelden Jazz Fest concerts take place, a cultural highlight of SalzburgerLand indeed.

LINKS:

Großarltal www.grossarltal.at

Salzburger Almenweg www.salzburger-almenweg.at

The Liechtensteinklamm www.liechtensteinklamm.at

Salzburger lakes www.salzburger-seenland.at

Kaprun glacier www.kitzsteinhorn.at

Hohe Tauern National Park www.hohetauern.at

Krimmler Waterfalls www.wasserfaelle-krimml.at

Via Culinaria www.salzburgerland.com/kulinarik/index.html

World of Cheese in Schleedorf www.kaesewelt.at

Handicapped-accessible accommodations www.barrierefreierurlaub.at

Bad Gastein www.gastein.com

Hofgastein www.gastein.com

Ski amadé www.skiamade.com

Wildkogel www.wildkogel-arena.at

Salzburg’s Saalachtal www.salzburger-saalachtal.com

Rauris www.rauris.net

Dachstein West-Lammertal ski area www.lammertal.info

Natural toboggan runs www.rodeln.at

Celtic Museum Hallein www.keltenmuseum.at

Salzburg City

Whether visitors want to delve deeply into cultural excursions or soar to new heights, they’ll find what they’re looking for in the city of Salzburg. Not for nothing, the unique topography and advanced cultural offerings in the baroque city draw visitors from well beyond the region.

Atop a breathtaking sheer rock face, an imposing castle rises above the heart of the city. Built on solid alpine rock, the preserved Hohensalzburg fortress dominates Salzburg’s famous picture-postcard panorama. A visit to the largest intact castle in central Europe is, in two respects, the perfect ouverture to Salzburg. On the one hand, there’s an ideal overview of the attractions to be visited later: The archbishop’s Rezidenz built in early-baroque style with grandiose rooms and the Residenz Gallery (European paintings of the 16-19 centuries) belongs on the itinerary. The castle also conveys a strong indication of Salzburg’s historical flair—which gets visitors attuned to the superstar Wolfgang Amadeus.

(c) salzburgerLand Tourismus

The urban symphony of Mozart Traces of the genius are all over the place. There’s the impressive expanse of the Salzburg Cathedral, where Mozart was baptized. A visit to Mozart’s birth house on Getreidegasse, where Mozart heard his first notes, leads to the picturesque Old Town. In the evening, lanterns immerse the narrow houses and romantic inner courtyards in a soft light. It’s no surprise that this well-preserved part of the city that dates from the middle ages has been designated as a world heritage treasure.

Mozart’s baroque music is interwoven in the acoustical environment. But the master builders of his time have also left a rich legacy. The curved lines and vibrant colors of the Baroque appear at Mirabell Castle and even influence the flowerscape in the front garden. Nearby, Hellbrunn Castle displays the same playful ease with its countless water fountains. Here, the baroque love of life delivers a whimsically wet surprise.

Festivals, cutting edge architecture and… That Salzburg counts among the most important cultural metropolises of the world is a consequence of continuous dedication. The well-known music university Mozarteum, the Rupertinum collection of modern art, and the Salzburg Festival—founded in 1920 and recognized as one of the most important theater, opera and concert series in the world—all work together as one. And Salzburg is constantly reinventing itself. The legendary theater director Max Reinhardt did just that by converting the arcades of the Felsen Riding School at the Mönchberg into a festival stage. At Salzburg’s airport, the elaborate glass structure of Hangar 7 has become a kind of modern symbol of the city. The hangar houses a collection of airplanes and formula 1 race cars owned by the billionaire, aircraft lover and energy-drink producer Dietrich Mateschitz.

Lovers of modern architecture shouldn’t miss the Modern Museum in its spectacular setting on the Mönchberg cliff. Borrowing its design from the nearby fortress, the museum is in a very exposed position high above the Old Town. The façade is clad in marble, while inside it offers generously sized rooms for art of the 20th and 21st century. The accompanying restaurant, designed with a mix of sleek elegance and baroque details, has been quickly discovered by Salzburg’s in-crowd, who at the same time discovered another new cultural and architectural highlight: the Magazin, located on the west side of the Mönchberg. The Michelin-star restaurant features a wine bar, a wine shop and an upscale delicatessen.

…a dash of award–winning kitchens Michelin stars on the Mönchberg? By no means is that the only culinary surprise that awaits in the city of Salzburg. The restaurant Ikarus in the previously mentioned Hangar-7 boasts head chef Eckart Witzigmann, while the StiftsKeller St. Peter in central Salzburg is Europe’s oldest restaurant—and hasn’t burnt a dish in hundreds of years. With so much culinary tradition, one is also prone to innovation. The proof of that is award-winning chef Andreas Kaiblinger of the well known esszimmer. True adventure is in the cooking pan—being faithful to this approach has so far resulted in three Toques and a Michelin star. A crackling fireplace, comfortable chairs and orange walls create an ambience here that oscillates perfectly between the traditional and new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window new horizons. Those who wish can watch the chef cook through a viewing window and via a camera installed over the stove. Yet another away to arrive at something tasty in the city of Salzburg.

LINKS:

Residenz gallery http://residenzgalerie.at

Mozart’s birth house www.salzburg.info/de/sehenswertes/museen/mozarts_geburtshaus

Mirabell Castle www.salzburg.info/de/sehenswertes/festung_schloesser/schloss_mirabell_mirabellgarten

Hellbrunn Castle www.hellbrunn.at

Mozarteum University www.moz.ac.at

Salzburg Festival www.salzburgerfestspiele.at

Hangar-7 www.hangar-7.com

Museum der Moderne, Mönchsberg, Salzburg www.museumdermoderne.at

Ikarus www.hangar-7.com/de/ikarus/restaurant-ikarus/

Stiftskeller St. Peter www.stpeter-stiftskeller.at/das-restaurant.html

esszimmer www.esszimmer.com

The Austrian Alps – Spectacular Viewing Platforms

The first step is the hardest: wobbly knees, labored breathing, shivers run down the spine. Daring souls who can overcome their anxiety are rewarded with breathtaking views at dizzying heights. In Austria’s Alps over the last few years, a variety of unique-viewing platforms have gone up—awe-inspiring spots that leave visitors exhilarated, if a just little bit nervous.

Skywalk Kölnbreinsperre

One doesn’t have to be an extreme athlete to experience breathtaking views. Standing on a glass floor that hovers hundreds of meters over the abyss and gazing down will guarantee them. At 1,933m (6,342ft) above sea level, the Skywalk Kölnbreinsperre in Carinthia offers a fantastic panoramic view from Austria’s highest dam. Opened in 2010, the attraction stands at the end of the Malta Hochalmstraße. The glass-and- metal platform, a filigree on the dam, is suspended over the vast mountain landscape. Tiered seating in the middle of the skywalk invites visitors to linger and peer 200m (656ft) down through the glass floor.

5fingers

An adrenaline rush is certain at 5fingers on Krippenstein in the Dachstein range. The platform, right near the Dachstein-Krippenstein cablecar station, is easily reached along an informative nature trail. The handlike design juts out eight meters (26ft) over a 400-meter-high rock face and offers wonderful views of the UNESCO-World Heritage site Hallstatt and Hallstatt lake in Austria’s Salzkammergut region. Each of the five fingers features a different layout. One has a glass floor, for example, through which the curious can look down 400m (1,312ft) to Krippenbrunn. The floor of another finger is fitted with a peephole that allows the fearless among us to peer down into the landscape. The middle finger, however, is not entirely accessible to the public; about halfway out is a springboard that is used occasionally by parachuting BASE jumpers.

Welterbespirale Krippenstein

Above 5Fingers, at the peak of Krippenstein, is yet another spectacular platform: the Welterbespirale Krippenstein. The futuristic steel structure has comfortable lounge chairs and offers a unique view of the UNESCO-World Heritage site of Hallstatt and the Dachstein/Salzkammergut region.

Skywalk

Also in the Dachstein-Tauern-Region is the Skywalk on the Hunerkogel, 2,700m (8,858ft) above sea level. The 17-meter-long (56ft) balconylike platform—the last meter of which stretches out over the cliff edge—offers an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.

Stoderblick

Wandering around the countryside of Hinterstoder, hikers will encounter a strange object: the Stoderblick viewing platform with its eye-catching, red steel frame. From within the open-sided cube, the surrounding scenery is framed in all four directions, including the peaks of the mountain ranges of Totes Gebirge and Warscheneck Gruppe as well as the Stoder Valley.

Glocknerblick

Those who dare to walk over a spectacular 140-meter (459ft) suspension bridge can reach the peak of Stubnerkogels bei Gastein and its Glocknerblick viewing platform. The round, seemingly delicate platform is made of steel and wood, secured on the sides by a chain-link fence to ensure views are not obstructed. Glass portals in the floor offer visitors a clear sightline into the depths below.

Koralle

The “Koralle auf der Steinplatte” is an elegant, unusual overlook near Kitzbühl. Located in Triassic Park Waidring, the viewing platform is reminiscent of a fan coral. Three different types of flooring ensure a thrill for all: the cautious can walk across the solid red branches of the floor, and the more adventurous can traipse over metal grating to fully transparent glass sections. These are among the largest walkable glass panels in Europe and require visitors to overcome their fear of heights to a certain degree.

Schwarze Schneid

The village of Sölden in the Ötztal has also erected viewing platforms on three mountains, all more than 3,000m (9,843ft) high. The BIG 3 offer unique views of the Ötztal Alps. The highest platform is on the Schwarze Schneid, from which one can see mountain peaks all the way to the Dolomites. At the Tiefenbachkogl, a 25-meter-long (82ft), free-floating steel walkway extends over the slopes far below. Standing on several thin posts, the outlook on the Gaislachkogl allows for views down into the Ötztal and the surrounding Alps.

Top of Tyrol

The panoramic platform Top of Tyrol delivers what it promises, perched as it is at 3,210 meters (10,531ft). The exposed viewing spot can be reached via the Schaufeljoch gondola to the highest mountain restaurant in Austria, the Jochdohle. From there it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to the platform. The structure of steel and wood traces a gentle line over the jagged ridge, and offers magnificent views far over the Stubaier Alps, the Dolomites and to the Ortler range.

Wurmkogl

At the top of the Wurmkogl, 3,082m (10,112ft) up, the “Top Mountain Star” in Hochgurgl easily has the most extravagant appearance of all the viewing platforms. With thousands of Swarovski crystals affixed to its facade, the pagoda-style building glitters and sparkles in the sun. Inside is a panorama bar with a wonderful 360-degree view over the Ötztal Alps.

Adlerhorst

A particular standout among viewing platforms is the Adlerhorst in the Rofangebirge mountains. Like an oversized eagle’s nest, the platform on the Gschöllkopf offers spectacular views of the mountains around the Achensee. Whoever doesn’t get a big enough thrill there can also “fly” down 800m (2,625ft) on the Skyglider. Following a short breather, the eagle-like glider whisks adventure-seekers at approximately 85km/hr (53mi/hr) back down to the Gschöllkopf mountain terminal. Almost like Icarus, you might say.

The Quiet Beauty of Winter in Austria

What could possibly motivate a reasonable human being to tramp up a mountain on two snow shoes resembling tennis rackets? The answer is easy: anticipating an unforgettable experience in the wild that is only possible by moving beyond the flurry on the ski slopes. As with snow shoe nature’s beauty can be truly appreciated while on an exciting ski tour, or on a contemplative winter hike, or a ride on a dog sled or in a horse-drawn sleigh.

As we all know, Inuit are very familiar with snow. That is why they have always appreciated the many advantages of snow shoes and have known how to optimally use them. The large soles keep you on the surface of even the deepest snow, making snow shoes just as ideal for getting around as are touring skies. What is particularly valuable is that snow shoes are quite easy to put on and to use, especially thanks to technological advances that have made them much smaller and lighter. And the spikes on the underside insure safe footing while climbing on icy surfaces. Those on ski tours fasten fur pelts to their skies to achieve the same result. The amateur quickly learns that gaining the necessary skills is easy and will add even more satisfaction to the activity.

Arlberg Pixabay
Skifahren am Arlberg

There is a special appeal to snow shoe hiking or ski tours. Far away from the prepared tracks and runs you can reach regions that others will never have the privilege of experiencing – and you can enjoy spectacular views such as fresh virgin snow clinging to a mountain cliff, glistening in the sun. You might see a timid wild animal before it dashes back into the woods and appreciate the undisturbed splendour of a glacier field. And as time passes on the trail one regains an appreciation for the inspiring benefits of slow and deliberate motion.

There is an especially impressive snow shoe trail at the head of the Rauris Valley in Salzburger Land. Before the trail leads into the forest you will be amazed by the majesty of the abounding three thousand metre (over 9,000 ft.) high peaks above you. The trail itself is its own reward, but still after three hours and having gained 370 metres (over 1,200 ft.) in altitude it will be rewarding to stop by at the Alpine inn “Ammererhof,” and take in a hearty meal. For the return ride you can borrow a toboggan – or you may simply prefer to spend the night in one of the comfortable guest rooms and start the next day in the fresh mountain air.

Ski tours especially, of course, call for caution. If you are not a seasoned and experienced skier it is of utmost importance to take a professional guide who is acquainted with the region, with the consistency of the snow and with the vagaries of the weather. Indispensable equipment includes an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, a sensor, as well as a first-aid kit. Still another security device, which is not yet in very common use because it is so new, is the avalanche air-bag. In any event, one of the several introductory courses that are offered in many high Alpine winter sport regions is recommended. These will provide training in the essential skills needed for tours in open and unrestricted areas. The Austrian Alp Society is also promoting education and prevention with its “Stop or Go” course under the auspices of its “Sicher Am Berg” (safety on the mountain) guidance initiative. It is important to see that guests return safe and sound – filled with wonderful memories of their encounter with nature.

For those who prefer a little less ambitious holiday there is, of course, another less strenuous option: They can simply don warm footwear and set off for a winter hike. Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all altitudes that lead through enchanting forests, over sun drenched mountain pastures or into the highest mountain regions. There are many variations. You can ascend the mountain in a cable car and start off from there, for instance, to the Salzburg Großecksattel in the Mauterndorf ski area. Often it’s even simpler to simply step out the front door. Many of the accommodations are located directly on a hiking trail. Sometimes the hiking path offers also educational opportunities: The health care spa Mariapfarr, for example, has its own “solar nature trail” with signs displaying interesting information about the solar system, about the sun as a compass, or about solar energy.

Back to the Inuit: Austrian tourist enterprises have learned many other skills from them, for instance, how to construct igloos or the ins and outs of dog-sledding. What was once necessary for the people of the far north for their survival now guarantees that winter holiday makers can experience a sense of adventure. At the igloo seminar in Ebensee or on the Styrian Bürgeralm you have the possibility to learn the handed down tradition of the Inuit’s method of building abodes of snow – a fascinating experience for people of all ages. What impresses most is that even on the coldest days the temperature in the interior of the igloo remains above freezing and, happily, clothing and sleeping bags stay dry after meals are cooked and nights are spent sleeping in the finished house.

A ride on a dog sled is also an unforgettable experience – not only for the younger among us. At a workshop one can learn valuable information about the care and character of a Husky, about the most important aspects of maneuvering a sled and about commands that the sled dogs will understand. All this can immediately be put into practice – of course under the watchful and expert eye of a “musher,” as the driver of the dog sleds are known. A four-legged animal from our own regions, however, is more often hitched to a sled than these temperamental Huskies. Horse- drawn sleds gently and easily gliding through the quiet winter landscape provide guests with that special holiday experience – after they have carefully spread a warm blanket over themselves and snuggled up to each other. This certainly must be considered an insider recommendation for young – and old – lovers alike.

A true “evergreen” in the white snow of winter is clearly tobogganing, and not only by daylight. On the Hirschenkogel at Semmering the most powerful floodlighting system in all of Europe illuminates the toboggan run. For three kilometers tobogganers are regaled with the story of the Wizard of Siebenstein and the wicked Dragon Firetooth, all while fantastical building structures, magical lighting effects and otherworldly sounds create a spectacular atmosphere. On the Wildkogel in Salzburg there is “probably the longest illuminated toboggan run in the world.” It stretches an unbelievable fourteen kilometers and is lit at night for the entire length of the run.

True friends of nature, however, stick with the tried and true methods of yesteryear. They pocket a torch, grab a sled and slowly and easily stroll up the mountain over snow-covered paths through forests and pastures. You can do this anywhere in Austria. And the number of people who yearn to rediscover tranquility during their holiday increases constantly.

LINKS:

Skiing across the Dachstein www.ramsau.com

Winter hiking in Salzburg Lungau www.mauterndorf.at

Living like Eskimos www.inuitadventures.at

Winter hiking in the sun www.mariapfarr-tourismus.at

Ski tours with instruction Hotel FaSkina in Bludenz www.hotel-faSkina.at

Dog sledding www.mountainwolf.at www.krallerhof.at

Tobogganing www.hirschenkogel.at www.wildkogelbahnen.at

Following the Salt Trail

The so-called “white gold” made the Salzkammergut district rich. Visitors traveling on the old salt route through one of Austria’s most exciting regions follow in the footsteps of historic figures:miners from the grim and distant past, an old emperor in his villa, and courageous mountain-dwellers who foiled the Nazis. But what does George Clooney have to do with all this?

When Helmut Tucek guides visitors through his “Salzkammer” shop in St. Wolfgang and tells them about salt, one has a great urge to immediately sample from the salt mixtures in the small, ornamented wooden drawers. “Natural salt is more than just sodium and chloride”, says Herr Tucek, holding up a gleaming stone that represents the origins of all the salt here: “This Bergkern salt from Aussee contains no fewer than eighty-four minerals. These are all elements that are also present in our bodies, which is why this salt has such a soothing effect on our organism.” Unlike its commercially produced counterpart, this transparent, reddish-gold salt does not have a negative impact on our blood pressure or circulation, and because of its many minerals, it also tastes much better.

But one does not want only to taste salt; one wants to see where it comes from. And where it comes from is truly one of the most spectacular areas in all of Europe. From tranquil St. Wolfgang, where Herr Tucek sells his “white gold” not far from the storied White Horse Inn, the journey leads over hills and mountain passes into the heart of the salt region: to Hallstatt, where millennia ago people were already mining salt and delivering it throughout Europe. On the way, one experiences first-hand the charm of the Salzkammergut, where one romantic lake follows directly on the heels of another. This allure comes from the contrasts: the pastoral meets the untamed; the soft encounters the harsh.

This is a region that breathes history, especially around darkly sparkling Lake Hallstatt, nestled in a high valley some 300 meters above sea level. Here, on the famous Salzberg, one finds the world’s oldest salt mine. The Salzberg Valley offers the visitor an astounding 7,000 years of cultural history. Today, salt continues to be mined in Hallstatt. But for modern-day visitors to the Hallstatt salt mine, the focus is on fun and adventure, and a favorite attraction is the descent into the mine via two miners’ slides – complete with a speed check and photograph. And then one finally finds out – and understands – how the salt got into the mountain. When the super-continent Pangaea broke apart some 240 million years ago, the Salzkammergut lay on the coast of a turbulent body of land: over millions of years, dried- out salt seas were moved around by volcanic eruptions, formation of mountains and shifting rock plates; they were forced upward, pressed together, and covered with a layer of limestone. Inside these new mountains, the salt rested until it was discovered by humans several thousand years ago.

Even at that time, salt was shipped from Bad Ischl via the Traun River to the Danube, where it was transported on as far as Hungary, Bohemia and Slovenia. Today Bad Ischl is known as a resort with a particularly healthful climate – and as a Mecca for people nostalgic for the days of the monarchy. This was, after all, something of a second home for the emperor: Francis Joseph I spent eighty-two summers of his eighty-six-year-long life at the Imperial Villa. Bad Ischl is also the site of Austria’s oldest brine bath, today an ultramodern wellness spa whose saline water has healthful benefits for the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory the respiratory organs, the musculo-skeletal system and the cardiovascular system.

From this small town at the confluence of the Traun and Ischl Rivers, the traveler crosses Pötschen Pass to reach the area known as Ausseerland and continues on to the most remote, quietest corner of the region, Altaussee. The Sandling towers over the village as the region’s most salt-rich mountain. A tour of the mine here takes visitors even deeper into the world of salt – one travels 700 meters into the mountain, and after 350 meters the salt line is reached, recognizable by the shimmering purple salt crystals in the rock. That the salt works even still exist can be attributed to several courageous miners from not so long ago. In 1944 the Nazis stored more than 30,000 artworks from all over Europe here – the most valuable art storeroom of all time – and at the end of the war they intended to destroy the art treasures by blowing up the mine. But the miners of Altaussee foiled their plans: in May 1945, in an act of resistance, they secretly removed the four 500-kilo aircraft bombs from the mine and defused them – to protect themselves but also to safeguard the future of the salt works. Only a few days later, American soldiers arrived and secured the billion-dollar art depot. It’s a heroic little story. And it is no wonder that it even came to the attention of Hollywood: George Clooney made a film version of this episode in history under the title “The Monuments Men” – starring himself.

Journey to the Other Side of Life

(c) Donau-Niederösterreich

“Spiritual walking” is gaining in popularity. It is the kind of travel on foot where the journey itself is the reward. Austria offers many opportunities to return to your centre, step by step.

It wasn’t necessary to ask the woman who stumbled into the eating place on the main square if she had travelled to Mariazell on foot. Stooped, with drenched clothes and glowing red face she sat down at one of the tables: “I’m just as wet on the inside as I am on the outside. After seventy-six kilometres in two and a half days you know exactly what part of your anatomy your feet are.”

Klaus an der Pyhrnbahn

Klaus an der Pyhrnbahn. Wallfahrtskirche Frauenstein in Oberösterreich. © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Weinhaeupl W.

Paulo Coelho did it, Shirley MacLaine did it, and every year there are more. Pilgrimages are in again. What is it that motivates people to trudge for days on end? Perhaps these people are moved by the feeling of gratification resulting from walking for days through the mountains with minimal equipment and without a vestige of luxury. In this context the Austrian Jacob Trailthat has been rediscovered and comprehensively described by the Tyrolian “Pilgrimage Pioneer,” Peter Lindenthal, enjoys new popularity. Actually the reference should be to several trails, since many trails led from the major cities of the monarchy – from Graz, Marburg, Budapest or Vienna – to the holy city in the northern Spanish finisterre, the “end of the world.” But other traditional pilgrimage trails such as the Hemmaweg in Carinthia or the routes to Mariazell, the most famous Austrian holy sanctuary are well traveled.

While the typical pilgrim of the medieval still was equipped with a gray cape, a wide brimmed hat and walking staff, today’s pilgrim is more likely to have plastic raincoats, brightly colored light backpacks and Goretex shoes. Flagellation and sliding along on your knees is out. The reasons for embarking on such a journey also seem to have taken on a somewhat less reverent nature compared with even 50 years ago. At least the scribbles of ball point pens adorning the tower of the Mariazell pilgrimage church next to the votive portraits would lead us to think so: Gaby and Gerhard have painted a heart in which they ask dear God to keep them together for ever. An anonymous enlightened soul wrote a blanket “I love you” whereas as a somewhat more prosaic individual wrote simply “I love women.” The greatest majority of the graffiti deal with school. Johanna beseeches: “Protect my family and especially aunt Fritzi and see to it that I do well in school.” Another boy writes: “Dear God! Please help me with the maths exam. Thanks in advance. Yours, Matthias.”

Many make the pilgrimage without concrete wishes or goals. These are people who are mainly interested in escaping the daily hustle and bustle treadmill in exchange for up to twelve hours per day of a different stride. The simple life in itself offers a welcome change: the cabins or mountain hostels often have only cold water and there is hardly room in a backpack for makeup and other luxury articles. After a long day trekking through the landscape one is quite appreciative of a Spartan lodging with rain pattering on the roof.

In contrast to the occasionally dry stretches of the Spanish Jacob’s Trail, the Austrian section has the advantage that the trail passes by mountain brooks with their frolicking trout, past cows and cowbells, past weathered larch trees or over verdure mountain pastures. There are albeit passages to overcome with names such as “forward hell,” “rear hell,” or “the woeful ditch.” Nobody, however, will object to baking in a “hell” such as this one with its sharp rock formations, its endless forests, and inviting trails. Not to mention the animals. A young fox frisks in a clearing, chamois inspect you with curiosity and wary deer trot away from the disturbance.

What are these adventurers on their pilgrimage thinking about? When asked they say: “Not anything, really.” Which is probably not far from the truth. One stops thinking about the past or the future. The journey is about the present. The experience is of pure existence and moving toward a destination. Walking is the perfect form of locomotion to enable all senses of awareness. Rain and sun, day and night, the urban and the bucolic, forest and open meadows, wind and fog, all come and go. The ultimate consequence of walking is experiencing reality. The world is measured step for step, breathing adapts to the forward motion in a smooth cadence. Walking will always involve taking the inward turn.

LINKS:

www.pilgern.at www.pilgerwege.at www.jakobswege.at www.jakobs-weg.com  www.jakobsweg-tirol.net www.via-sacra.at www.hemmapilgerweg.com www.pilgerweg-vianova.eu www.pilgern.info  www.mariazell.at

Enchanted Valley

Thanks to Austria’s best known archaeological find—the Venus of Willendorf statue of a voluptuous, seemingly contented woman—we know that even 25,000 years ago life was good in the Wachau. Today the Wachau is a UNESCO-World Heritage site and one of the most beautiful places in Austria.It’s also an epicurean heaven.

In springtime in the Wachau, amid the first delicate buds on the vines, hundreds of apricot trees burst with blossoms. The fruit of these rather rare trees on the north side of the Alps thrive particularly well here due to the Danube valley’s special micro-climate between Melk and Krems. And this warm climate is thanks not only to the Wachau vines’ southern exposure, but also to the hard work of the locals. For centuries, visitors have experienced this “natural wonder” created by humans. Stone by stone elaborate walls were built, creating small terraces. This made it possible to farm the steep slopes along the banks of the Danube upon the ancient bohemian rock (shale, gneis and granite). Today, the grapes are still harvested by hand, for even the smallest tractor wouldn’t fit on the terraces.

Because of the mineral-rich earth and air flow, wine from the Wachau is especially full- bodied. That’s also why all types of fruit flourish so well here. Once you’ve tasted apricots from the Wachau, no other apricot will ever compare. Incidently, the Wachau apricot is one of the few fruits from across Europe to be protected with a ‚Herkunftsbezeichnung‘, or designation of origin. It’s almost a pity that this heavenly food is converted to Wachau apricot schnapps. Almost—because the schnapps is unsurpassed in fruitiness and smoothness.

Truly the best way to get to know the Wachau is on two wheels. Indeed, bicycles and boats make the perfect travel combination: the cable-ferries between Spitz and Arnsdorf are the most attractive means for crossing the Danube. They carry visitors to the lesser known, quiet banks of the Wachau’s Danube valley and points south. This is where, for example, the romantic castle ruins of Aggstein can be found. An attraction not just for children, Aggstein is a real plundering-knights’ castle with romantic courtyards, mighty towers as well as a knights’ hall and tavern.

With an equally chivalric background, medieval Dürnstein is the castle where English King Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner by the Kuenrings. A share of the ransom made possible the 13th- and 14th-century expansion and economic advancement of the castle and town of Dürnstein. Today, the sky-blue parish church is a landmark visible for miles around.

The mother church of the Wachau is located a couple of kilometers farther up the river: St. Michael’s has stood on this site for more than 1,000 years. Together with its fabulous terracotta statues (the “Seven Hares”) and a charnel house complete with skulls, it makes for a mystical experience. Those who would rather not go up the Wachau mountain trail to enjoy the magnificent views between Dürnstein and Weißenkirchen can return by bicycle. The nearly 35-km (21.8-mi) path lets cyclists easily tackle the specially designed biking trail in a day—although three days are recommended to allow plenty of time for rest stops. Inner reflection is inevitable, sitting on the banks of the Danube, looking out at the flowing water, at the barges and ferries and images passing by, … But then contemplation stirs the appetite, so take advantage of the many enjoyable stops along the way, from simple wine taverns to gourmet temples.

To call the Wachau an epicurean heaven is an understatement. Indeed, nowhere else in Austria is there a higher concentration of restaurants. And it’s not just any restaurants. Between Emmersdorf (Pritz) and Mautern (Lisl Wagner-Bacher) lies perhaps the most award-winning mile in the country. In the 1970’s, anyone who grew up in Austria in a halfway culturally interested family heard at some point of Jamek. That’s where you drove on Sunday for lunch and could for the first time experience a world beyond schnitzel and “toast Hawaii.” It had the most famous pike dumplings and wines that were differentiated not only by red and white, as was common at the time, but also by grape and vineyard. Josef Jamek was one of the pioneers of that phenomenon and is envied today by the “culinary popes” in many provinces of Austria. There’s an appetizing abundance of reasonably priced restaurants and inns where one can be served high-end regional cuisine, prepared with a tasteful balance of local ingredients and creative elements.

In the small town of Weissenkirchen alone, other than the Gasthof Jamek, one finds the Florianihof, Holzapfels Prandtauerhof, the restaurant Heinzle, the Donauwirt and the “Alte Zechhaus.” In just a few hundred square meters, these restaurants combined have earned 67 Michelin stars.

Those who like it simpler can take a trip to nearby Wösendorf. That’s where the Bäckerie Salomon prepares the original “Wachauer Laberln”: bread so fresh, you don’t even need butter.

Jamek is still around today, and its wine list continues to be one of the best in the country. Internationally, the best known Wachauer vintner is without doubt F.X. Pichler. But there are other wines that are equally impressive: Franz Hirtzberger, Franz Prager and Emmerich Knoll, to name but a few. They’re known above all for their white wines, which according to grape must and alcohol content fall into one of three categories: Steinfeder, Federspiel, Smaragd.

The wineries in the Wachau can look back on a long tradition. The Romans cultivated the stone terraces and defined the top pour in Austria as “Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus.” Leuthold I. von Kuenring (1260-1312) was the first to receive the “designation of origin” for fine Austrian wines. Venus of Willendorf would have greatly enjoyed such a budding wine culture.

This unique blend of picturesque river scenery, ancient culture, and regional delicacies helps to explain why the Wachau casts its charming spell on people with different preferences.

Suggested links:

www.wachau.at/donau/WN

www.hotelpritz.gemeindeausstellung.at

www.ruineaggstein.at

www.landhaus-bacher.at

www.weingut-jamek.at/index_en.htm

www.austria-navigator.de/NO/3620_spitz_wachau.html

www.duernstein.at

www.willendorf.info/Willendorf.htm

www.fx-pichler.at/html/deutsch/start.htm

www.hirtzberger.com

www.weingutprager.at

Boundless Hiking Pleasures

Up hill and down dale, the narrow road winds through the idyllic landscape whose gentle vineyards and slender cypresses have given the region its nickname:the “Styrian Tuscany”. It is not Italy, however,but northern Slovenia that one sees in the distance when one gazes out over the rolling hills–perhaps while seated at one of the many charming wine taverns enjoying a glass of outstanding Styrian wine…

(c) Wein Burgenland. Joachim Lukan
(c) Wein Burgenland. Joachim Lukan

The Southern Styrian Wine Road is only one of many examples of boundless – and boundary-less – hiking pleasures in Austria. But this should come as no surprise: situated in the heart of Europe and consequently criss-crossed by centuries-old trade routes from time immemorial, Austria offers a wide selection of long-distance hiking trails linking various countries. One of the most fascinating of these is certainly the Alpe-Adria Trail, leading from the glaciers of the Hohe Tauern to the Adriatic coast. The Trail has been designed mainly with pleasure hikers in mind. It runs through the non-Alpine area and as far as possible there are only slight differences in altitude. The stages are around 20 km long and each take about 6 hours to walk. They have all unforgettable impressions to offer: thundering waterfalls, lush mountain pastures, weathered farm buildings, mysterious ravines, and hospitable inns where the wanderer can enjoy local culinary delicacies. The fact that this hike – as well as its individual sections – is also available as a package, including a knowledgeable guide and reserved accommodations along the way, is an added incentive to lace up your hiking boots.

Another good way for holiday-makers to collect cross-border experiences is by bicycle, following paths such as the Amber Cycling Route. The historic trade route from St. Petersburg to Venice passes through northern Lower Austria and traverses the gently rolling province of Burgenland before entering Slovenia, criss-crossing the Hungarian border several times along the way. Music-loving visitors might prefer to retrace some of the journeys of Austria’s most famous composer on the Mozart Cycle Path, which links many of the historic places where the musical genius was active as well as passing through the spectacularly beautiful lake district of Salzburg province. The best known and most popular of all of Austria’s bike paths, however, is undoubtedly the Danube Bike Path: it follows the only European river that flows from west to east from its source in Germany’s Donaueschingen to its mouth in the Black Sea.

Schlögener Schlinge

The first highlight on Austria soil is the so-called Schlöging Loop, where the Danube makes a dramatic 180- degree turn. From there the bike path winds its way through scenic landscapes such as the Wachau Valley with its picturesque wine villages and along the way also passes a great many cultural gems, including the medieval town of Enns with its enchanting historic center, Greinburg Castle and magnificent Melk Abbey. But there is no reason to limit yourself to terra firma in your exploration of Austria’s most beautiful areas. Canoe trips on the Thaya and March Rivers, still something of an insider’s tip, take you through the splendid water meadows along Lower Austria’s borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One of the routes leads from the Czech town of Břeclav into the Thaya water meadows, which have remained unregulated and unchanged since primeval times.

Along the way the canoeist will experience not only the flora of the area but also its fauna, such as mud turtles, white-tailed eagles, black storks and the brightly-colored kingfishers. Even the shy beaver can be spotted occasionally, and a good way to see more of nature’s more reclusive inhabitants is to enlist the services of a nature guide. And although the March-Thaya water meadows are still relatively undiscovered, it is possible to investigate them by bike as well, thanks to an outstanding network of cycling paths: with no steep ascents, the routes lead over gently rolling hillocks covered with vineyards and fields. But whether one chooses a hiking trail, a cycling path or a waterway to explore Austria and its neighboring countries, an increasing number of holiday guests take pleasure in doing this using their own muscle power instead of an immense amount of horsepower. It is thus also no wonder that many of Austria’s cross-border hiking trails and bike paths have now become well known far beyond the national borders.

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