Melk Abbey ceiling, Austria. Photo by Uoaei1.
***Melk Abbey (Stift Melk)
Melk is a Benedictine abbey perched over the town of Melk and overlooking the Danube river. It is huge and houses spectacular murals and ceiling frescoes approaching the quality of Rome’s Vatican Museums interiors. Melk is an hour’s drive west of Vienna so take a tour or even better a river cruise package up the Wachau Valley.
Why Visit Austria?
Silvretta lake at the Bielerhohe Pass. Photo by Friedrich.
Austria, landlocked in the centre of Europe is efficient, safe, uncrowded (well, by locals, total population is only 8m), and has stunning towns and magnificent mountains.
The rise and fall of the Habsburg (aka Hapsburg) dynasty (1278- 1914) and the Austrian Empire is a monumental story in Europe’s history. It’s gone but not forgotten by tourists gaping at the mass of gothic, baroque and rococo royal relics or listening to concerts devised by long-dead Vienna inhabitants – Mozart, Strauss, Brahms and Beethoven to name but a few.
Museums, especially in gorgeous Vienna, offer a lot more than Habsburg lifestyle samples and cover many topics in great depth and style.
The climate offers a comfortable warmth in the summer and acceptable cold in winter, encouraging year-round outdoor activities, particularly summer hiking and winter skiing.
Transport systems are brilliant and road access to other European cities is easy, while locals are friendly and many speak English.
Best is May – September for summer activities with less crowds and less heat than July/August, or December – March for a deep white winter and superb skiing.
Worst: The country is rarely over -heated or hideously overcrowded but July, August and Christmas are very busy times, while October and November can be miserable – dark, wet and grey.
Length of stay: Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: Vienna and Salzburg – 4 days
Recommended: At least 2 weeks to take in Vienna, Salzburg and some country/mountain activities.
Salzburg recreation, with the castle looming above.
Mozart’s home is a pretty little town, well, the old bit is, but over-touristed and without much space to permit tourists to relax and enjoy its rampant baroquery properly.
The castle towering over Salzburg is sturdily interesting, as is the cathedral, the Residenz (palace) and the nearby graveyard/catacombs, but the focus is more on where Wolfie the Wonder Boy grew up or Sound of Music locations.
It’s a very long day trip from Vienna so stay over and visit the 16thC town of Krems, magnificent Melk Abbey and Hellbrunn Palace on the way.
Also worth a look, 48km from Salzburg, are the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt, near Werfen. Dramatic, elaborate shapes and frozen waterfalls line the 42km of explored caverns, tho’ not all is open and guides may be necessary. Fascinating but cold and slippery so not suited to the very young or old.
A vista-overload resort area of mountains, lakes and charming towns just east of Salzburg. In the summer it offers walks and water sports, in winter skiing. Key towns are Bad Ischl (fashionable spa resort), St. Wolfgang (on Wolfgangsee Lake) and Hallstatt.
If you have wheels and it’s May-November then this stunning 50km mountain/glacier route will really honk your horn. Start the tortuous tour from Zell am See.
*** Innsbruck (Tyrol)
A lovely, partly medieval city surrounded by spectacular peaks, Innsbruck functions perfectly as a summer resort or winter sports base, though it doesn’t have immediate access to slopes.
Nearby is Seefeld, a prime ski resort that offers more than just slopes and Mutters, ‘the most beautiful village in Tyrol’ and romantic in any weather.
**St Anton am Arlsberg (Tyrol)
Near Switzerland this is another picturesque Tyrolean town with some of Europe’s best skiing at reasonable prices.
A Strauss memorial in Vienna, music capital of Europe
mid May- June: Vienna Festival – wide range of arts, especially music, naturally, but also dance and theatre, sometimes challenging pieces, all set in magnificent buildings.
mid July-August: ImPulsTanz – a dynamic and diverse dance festival across the whole of lovely Vienna.
August: Salzburg Festival – opera and concerts. ‘Europe’s most prestigious summer musical event. ‘ Very large, very expensive. Every year in Mozart’s pretty home town.
Dec 31st, Kaiserball – waltzing into Vienna’s glamorous ball season is this, the ultimate in smart dances, set in the magnificent Hofburg Palace. No expense spared.
German is the native language but most Austrians under 50 speak excellent English.
The currency is the Euro and prices are fairly high. ATMs are plentiful.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.
Crime is rare and more likely to be opportunistic theft by transient East Europeans rather than locals.
This is not good weight-loss country. National dishes tend to be heavy, saucy and meat oriented – hardly surprising for a place with no coastline – while local cheeses, pastries, beers and wines are excellent and too tempting by half.
Street snacks are usually of the sausage, pickles and chunky bread variety.
About the only thing that will not pile on the pounds is the superb coffee.
The green Danube passing sluggishly through Vienna. Photo by Herbert Ortner.
Adolf Hitler was born in Austria, moving to Germany when he was 3 years old. According to Wikipedia like many Austrian-Germans Hitler began to develop German nationalist ideas from a young age and expressed loyalty only to Germany, despising Austria-Hungary’s declining Habsburg Monarchy and its rule over an ethnically diverse empire.
Vienna was substantially damaged by air raids during WWII but not to the extent of Germany’s Berlin and major structures were rebuilt in identical style and at some expense so the city still maintains an ancient, well-kept patina.