With two thirds of this Central European nation nestled within the snow-capped confines of the European Alps, Austria is a mountain and outdoors lovers dream. By summer, hikers scour the lofty heights that can be found in great abundance here, and the winter season has many of those same people, gliding down these heights with reckless abandon.
Not all of Austria is defined by these rocky peaks though, as the capital city of Vienna lie in the flatter lands to the east, with a rich, sophisticated culture forming the second prong that rounds out the appeal of this nation to visitors from abroad. Demographically, Austria is a Germanic nation, with most citizens speaking Deutsch (German in German), so those brushing up on this language for an extended visit in neighboring Germany will be able to leave their Google translator in their pocket during their time in Austria.
Overall, those looking for a well-rounded experience during their trip through Europe would be crazy to leave this country off their itinerary, as it has something in store for nature lovers, urbanites, and culture hounds alike.
What To Do
Starting out in the deeply cultural Austrian capital of Vienna, the one sight you need to spend time in before departing for the mountains is Schönbrunn Palace. This massive former summer residence of the Austrian royal family is both known for its immense beauty in terms of its baroque architecture and the extensive gardens, and its overwhelming decadence, as this gargantuan palace has no less than 1,441 rooms. Those looking to enjoy classical music while in Vienna can do it here as well, as concerts are put on here on a regular basis, making use of its spectacular ornate halls contained within.
Heading on to Salzburg, the mountains surrounding this charming Austrian city will be the first thing that you will notice about this place, but culturally-attuned travelers should know that Salzburg is the birthplace of one of the greatest composers in human history. As such, you should take time to stop by Mozarts Geburtshaus, the birth place and the house where Mozart grew up during his childhood. Because of this, it has been transformed into a museum of all things Mozart, as it contains musical instruments, letters that we wrote over the years, and exhibits detailing his love of opera.
Those interested in religious sites should make sure to make a trip to the Mariazell Basilica in Mariazell. A popular pilgrimage destination for Roman Catholics, the highlight of this church is a wooden image of the Virgin Mary that has been said to cure medical conditions, and apparently, caused a large boulder blocking the path of a minister to be obliterated in the days before the basilica existed (it was that occurrence that allegedly led to the building of the shrine in the first place).
At this point you might be saying, “Enough with the culture!”, as you can’t bear to look at the mountains and not be in them any longer. If this is you, then beating a path to High Mountain National Park should be the first thing you do. With over 1,000 kilometers of trails, summer time is a joyous time to be there, as these routes will take you through high alpine terrain featuring glaciers, steep rock walls that will tempt avid rock climbers, and brilliantly colored meadows filled with countless varieties of flowers.
Finally, if your visit has you traveling through Austria during the winter months, taking time to strap on a board or planks at one of Austria’s various world class winter resorts will yield you a day filled with fun and excitement. While there are many hills and mountain resorts to choose from, St. Anton and Zell Am See are considered by many reviewers to be among the best options for those beset by indecision. Those with experience should choose the former, as its steep pistes and abundant snow will make for tons of action packed runs, while those intimidated by narrow runs and precipitous drops will find Zell Am See to be the better choice, as it has a better selection of more gradually sloped gradients.
What To Eat
Being located in the area of Europe influenced by Germany, many dishes commonly found in Austria can be found in its bigger brother to the north and west. One dish that is relatively distinctive in Austria however is Tafelspitz, a main dish that is comprised of beef boiled in broth containing root vegetables and various spices. Served with horseradish, this main plate has had a loyal following over the years, most prominent of which was none other than Franz Joesph I, emperor of Austria during the early 20th century.
Well loved in Germany, but originating in Austria is Wiener Schnitzel, which is a boneless cut of meat that has been pounded flat with a mallet, then breaded and deep fried in a pan filled with grease (so that it can “swim” around in it) until it reaches its characteristic golden and crunchy disposition.
If you’re not done clogging your arteries, then moving on to dessert will undoubtedly finish the job. There are many calorie-laden temptations that sing a siren song to you, imploring you to cheat on your diet with them, but none quite compares to the Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel in English).
This pastry combines cooked tart apple slices with raisins, sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs together in a thin pastry shell to create a delectable experience that will have you reaching for the next one before you’ve barely had the chance to swallow the remains of the first. The coup de grace of this dessert: some versions are served topped with ice cream, whipped cream and vanilla sauce. If this ends up killing you, it will be a beautiful death indeed!