Austria

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Austria.

World Body Painting Festival

World Body Painting Festival – Portschach

JULY.

A STEP ABOVE THE FACE-PAINTING STALL AT OUR LOCAL FETE.

This is a go-to destination for anyone who has ever been interested in body art. There is awe-inspiring body painting on show as well as airbrush and special effects artists working their magic. In some cases, it’s hard to even believe that there’s a human being underneath that paintwork.

THERE’S QUITE A BUZZ GOING ON – IS THAT A DJ ON STAGE?

Over the years, the body painting festival has broadened its horizons to become a self-proclaimed ‘multicultural, multimedia open air space’ and that’s why you can experience five different zones with a host of DJs playing anything from reggae to electronica, to dancehall to hip hop. There’s even a stretch of beach dedicated to activities for the kids and a whole market zone with fashion, craft and jewellery.

WHERE CAN WE SEE THE BEST OF THE BODY PAINTING?

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The best body artists from over 50 countries around the world are on show, so everywhere you look there are stunning pieces of art. However, for something a bit different, stick around until the evening show of the best UV body paint, spectacularly lit up under lights.

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Shiny Happy People – Zell am See, Austria

Uncover a secret that the Alpine country of Austria has been keeping from us all these years.

So, as it turns out, I swim almost as badly as I ski – and four-year-olds can ski better than me. But I love the water. Always have. Even as a kid, it didn’t matter if we’d driven through the night – the first thing I did when we got to Goa was hit the beach, often throwing my clothes off while running to the water.

Fortunately for all concerned, age has brought with it a certain sense of decorum. But, if there’s a water body anywhere in my vicinity, that’s where I need to be. And if it happens to be five-odd square kilometres of crystal-clear lake surrounded by mountains, keeping me away is nigh impossible.

The locals of Zell am See share my enthusiasm – enhanced, perhaps, by a day of glorious sunshine. But as it is, the entire – albeit meagre – population of Zell am See seems to be at the water. Such a splendid sight that is: the lake dotted with kayakers, paddle-boarders and swimmers; its banks with sun- worshippers. Kids gambolling in the shallows, leaping off floating platforms. Even the dogs seem to consent to wetting their toes. Me, I can barely contain myself. All Thomas, the unassuming, affable chap showing us around, needs to do is begin to ask: “Would you like…” before I’m running for the boat shed. Cruise boats MS Schmittenhöhe or Kaiserin Elisabeth occasionally whisper past, and the less experienced kayakers and boarders (like me) laugh nervously Kayaking is just one at each other, trying to keep our balance in their wake, of the fun things to do. If good spirits actually did avert disease, we’re probably on Zeller See (lake) the healthiest people in the world right now.zell-am-see-1

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First off, Zell am See? Where (and what) the heck is that?

As I’m discovering, it’s a super-popular Austrian ski destination, with three spectacular mountains – Schmittenhöhe, Kitzsteinhorn and Maiskogel – that offer a whopping 138km of ski slopes in all grades of difficulty. Come winter, this place is swarming with skiers, snowboarders, tobogganists, and all other snow-sport crazies. I’m not a big fan of crowds, and my skiing prowess only makes matters worse.

I’m thanking my stars that we’re here in June – even though Kitzsteinhorn has skiing nine months a year, it’s considerably curtailed in the summers, and most ski tourists are gone.

But – and this is a big but – close to half the visitors come to Zell am See-Kaprun (Kaprun is a small municipality less than 8km away, and the two are considered one entity) in the summer. Again, it’s June to the rescue. July, August and September is when there’s peak summer traffic, so I’m safe.

If you’re anything like me, the shoulder months are your best bet. Also, considering Zell am See is just 105km south of Salzburg, you can easily tick off the Salzburg box if that’s your thing.

But what can you do at a ski destination in summer? Well, as it turns out, a hell of a lot!zell-am-see-2

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Schonbrunn Palace – Vienna, Austria

The former summer residence of the imperial Habsburg family takes its name from a beautiful spring found on the site. Leopold I asked the Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to design a residence here in 1695, but it was not until Empress Maria Theresa employed the Rococo architect Nikolaus Pacassi in the mid-18th century that it was completed. Fine gardens complement the palace.

MARIA THERESA

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The daughter of Emperor Charles VI, Maria Theresa (1717-80) became archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia on her father’s death in 1740. Five years later, her husband, Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine, was recognized as Holy Roman Emperor. Maria Theresa instigated numerous reforms in the spirit of the Enlightenment. She initiated state-supported elementary schools, introduced a new penal code, and reduced taxation. She also worked toward unifying Habsburg lands by centralizing control over the empire. One of her 16 children was Marie-Antoinette, who married Louis XVI of France.

PREVIOUS PALACES

Schonbrunn Palace stands on the site of the Katterburg, a 14th-century castle that belonged to the Neuburg Convent. By the time Emperor Maximilian II bought the pro­perty in 1569, it included a mansion, a mill and stables. Maximilian intended to turn it into a pleasure palace and a zoo, and indeed a palace was finally built in the mid-17th century by the widow of Emperor Ferdinand II. She named it “Schdnbrunn” after the “Schonen Brunnen” (beautiful spring), discovered by Emperor Matthew II while hunting on the estate in 1612. This first palace was destroyed by the Turks during the Siege of Vienna in 1683. Emperor Leopold I acquired the estate in 1686 and commissioned today’s palace.

CEREMONIAL STATE ROOMS

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The Large Rosa Room

As architect to the court of Empress Maria Theresa, Nikolaus Pacassi oversaw the enlargement and redesign of Schonbrunn Palace. Together with Rococo artists and craftsmen, including Albert Bolla, Gregorio Guglielmi, Isidor Canevale, and Thaddaeus Adam Karner, Pacassi was responsible for creating the interiors of both the state rooms and the private quarters.

The Large Rosa Room and the Millions’ Room, for example, feature frescoes and stuccowork in the Rococo style commissioned by Maria Theresa herself. The Schonbrunn Palace is renowned for its intricate gilded stuccowork, elegant mirrored galleries, and exotic chinoiserie.

Vieux-Lacque Room

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During her widowhood, Maria Theresa lived in this room, which is decorated with exquisite Oriental lacquered panels.

Millions’ Room

Maria There sa’s conference room features superb Rococo decor.

Great Gallery

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Used for imperial banquets, the gallery has a lovely ceiling fresco by Gregorio Guglielmi.

Breakfast Room

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The imperial family’s breakfast room has white wood paneling inlaid with applique floral designs worked by Maria Theresa and her daughters.

Billiard Room

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This is the first of a suite of rooms that provide a glimpse of Emperor Franz Joseph’s life at the palace.

Blue Chinese Salon

This Rococo room, with its Chinese scenes, was where the last Habsburg emperor, Karl I, signed his abdication in 1918.

Large Rosa Room

This is one of three rooms decorated with monumental Swiss and Italian landscape paintings by Josef Rosa, after whom the room is named.

Round Chinese Cabinet

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Maria Theresa used this white and gold room for private discussions with her state chancellor, Prince Kaunitz. The walls are adorned with lacquered panels.

Hidden Staircase

This leads to the apartment of the state chancellor, above which he had secret conferences with Empress Maria Theresa.

A MILITARY MAN

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Franz Joseph I’s bedroom

When visiting Schonbrunn, Emperor Franz Joseph I would sleep in a simple, iron-framed bed, as befit a man who felt more at home in the field. He died at the palace in 1916, after nearly 68 years on the throne.

THE CARRIAGE MUSEUM

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Coronation coach of Charles VI

One wing of the palace, formerly housing the Winter Riding School, now contains a marvelous collection of coaches used by the imperial family and Viennese court. It includes more than 60 carriages dating back to the 17th century, as well as riding uniforms, horse tack, saddles, coachmen’s liveries, and paintings and drawings of horses and carriages. The main exhibit is the richly decorated and carved coronation coach of Emperor Charles VI.

KEY DATES

1696: Fischer von Erlach begins work on Emperor Leopold I’s new residence.
1728: Emperor Charles VI purchases Schonbrunn and later makes a gift of it to his daughter, Maria Theresa.
1743-63: Nikolaus Pacassi enlarges Schonbrunn into a palatial imperial and family residence in the Rococo style.
1775-80: Court architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Plohenberg redesigns the gardens.
1918: As the Habsburg Empire ends, the palace passes to the Austrian state.
1996: Schonbrunn Palace is added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna, Austria

Situated in the medieval center of Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the soul of the city itself; it is no coincidence that urns containing the entrails of some of the powerful Habsburg family lie in a vault beneath its main altar. A church has stood on the site for more than 800 years, but all that remains of the original 13th-century Romanesque structure is the Giant’s Doorway and the Heathen Towers. The Gothic nave, choir, and side chapels are the result of a major rebuilding program in the 14th and 15th centuries. The lofty vaulted interior contains an impressive collection of works of art spanning several centuries.

RUDOLF THE FOUNDER

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Duke Rudolf IV of Austria

In 1359, Duke Rudolf IV of Austria, later known as Rudolf the Founder, laid the foundation stone for the Gothic enlargement of what was then a Romanesque church. Born in 1339, Rudolf became a duke in 1358 and campaigned tirelessly to have St. Stephen’s Church granted its independence from the bishop of Passau and elevated to the status of a cathedral. But it was not until 1469 that Vienna, under Frederick III, became a diocese in its own right. On Rudolf’s death in 1365, a monument to him was placed in front of the high altar. In 1945, it was moved to the Ladies’ Choir. Rudolf is buried in the ducal vault, next to his wife, Katharina,

 
 
 

CATACOMBS

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The extensive catacombs beneath the cathedral were excavated in around 1470 to relieve pressure on Vienna’s main cemetery.

For the next 300 years, the people of Vienna were interred in the catacombs and by the time Emperor Joseph II put a stop to the practice in 1783, around 10,000 of them had been laid to rest here At the heart of the complex is the Flabsburg Vault, built by Rudolf IV in 1363 This houses 15 sarcophagi belonging to the early Habsburgs and 56 urns, which contain the entralsof the later Habsburgs who, from 1633 onward, were buried in the imperial vault of the Capuchin Monastery Church. Vienna’s archbishops are interred beneath the Apostles’ Choir in the Episcopal vault of 1953.

ANTON PILGRAM

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One of the cathedral’s leading craftsmen was Anton Pilgram (c. 1460-1515), a master-builder from Brunn. His sandstone pulpit (1514-15) inside the nave contains portraits of the Four Fathers of the Church (theologians representing four physiognomic temperaments) and is considered a masterpiece of late-Gothic stone sculpture. Pilgram even included a portrait of himself as a “watcher at the window” beneath the pulpit steps. There is another portrait of Pilgram in the cathedral. Here, the builder and sculptor is shown peeping through a window into the church. Pilgram signed this work with the monogram “MAP 1513.”

Heathen Towers

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These towers, together with the massive Giant’s Doorway, are part of the Romanesque church and stand on the site of an earlier heathen shrine.

North Tower

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According to legend, the “Eagle” tower was never completed because its masterbuilder, Hans Puchsbaum, broke a pact he had made with the devil by pronouncing a holy name. The devil then caused him to fall to his death.

Portrait of Pilgram

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Master craftsman Anton Pilgram left a portrait of himself holding a square and compass vbelow the corbel of the original organ.

“Steffl” or Spire

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The 450-ft (137-m) high Gothic spire is a famous landmark. From the Sexton’s Lodge, it is possible to climb the stairs as far as a viewing platform.

Wieder Neustadter Altar

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Friedrich III commissioned this elaborate altarpiece at the head of the north nave in 1447. Painted panels open out to reveal an earlier carved interior of the life of Christ. This panel shows the Adoration of Magi (1420).

Tiled Roof

Almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles cover the roof; they were meticulously restored after the damage caused in the last days of World War II.

High Altar

Constructed from black marble between 1640 and 1660, this is adorned with an altarpiece by Tobias Pock depicting the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Singer Gate

This was once the entrance for male visitors. A sculpted relief above the door details scenes from the life of St. Paul.

Symbolic Number “05”

The sign of the Austrian Resistance Movement was carved here in 1945.

ST. JOHANNES CAPISTRANO

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16th-century of St Johannes Capistrano

On the exterior wall of the choir is a pulpit built after the Christian victory over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. It was from here that the Italian Francisc an Johannes Capistrano (1386-1456) is said to have preached against the Turkish invasion while on a visit to Austria in 1451.

Capistrano had been appointed governor of Perugia, but was imprisoned while on a peace mission. After having a vision of St. Francis, he joined the Franciscans and became a priest in 1425. In 1454 he assembled troops for the Crusade against the Turks. This event is depleted in the statue above the pulpit showing Capistrano trampling on a Turkish invader. He was canonized In 1690.

TOOTHACHE FIGURE

According to a legend, the “Zahnwehherrgott,” a sculpture of a man in agony, punished those who ridiculed him by inflicting them with a toothache. Only when they atoned for their sins did the pain subside. The figure is located beneath the north tower.

KEY DATES

1137-47: The first Romanesque church is built
1300: Work begins on Gothic additions, including a choir.
1722: The church is elevated to cathedral status.
1945-60: The cathedral is damaged during World War II and reconstructed.
2001: The cathedral becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

winter-holiday-austria

Enjoy a Winter Holiday in Austria

What better way to celebrate the winter season than to immerse yourself in a real-life winter wonderland with a holiday to Austria? Let’s take a look at the beautiful country and all that it has to offer this winter

Winter trips away are becoming more and more common for British holidaymakers. Most people will still jump at the chance of sizzling in the heat, booking a relaxing trip to enjoy the Caribbean sun. However, why not make the most of the colder season? Our team questions the relevance of weather-escaping holidays and focuses on the benefits of a mountainous and scenic Austrian holiday, whether you’re looking for an action-packed weekend away or a two-week long celebration.

Austria is a German-speaking country (although other local official languages include Hungrarian and Solvene) situated in Central Europe and is the home of approximately 8.66 million people – almost the same as the UK’s capital city of London alone, proving that Austria makes for an intimate and cosy family holiday destination. Bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north and Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Austria is best known for its mountainous villages and alpine terrain, covering almost 84,000 square kilometres. The capital city, Vienna is home to the Schonbrunn and Hofburg Palaces, which, along with other landmarks and attractions, make Austria a historically and culturally-heavy country.

Austria is approximately 758 miles away from the UK and, although that sounds like a pretty fair distance, the many ways of travelling to and from the beautiful country makes the journey process a whole lot easier, and the destination more accessible than the average person assumes. Speaking from personal experience, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a 20-hour coach journey to what feels like half way across the world, it is probably the most suitable means of travel for larger groups of people who might not have the funds to supply the whole family with plane tickets, and it’s reassuring to know that this means of travel is always available if all else fails. Additionally, with several airports, easy access is granted to visitors with all kinds of holiday plans, however Salzburg Airport is well-known for serving the city and ski resorts in particular.

Anyone avoiding booking a holiday to Austria because they desire ‘hot weather’ should do their research first. With regards to climate and weather, Austria presents visitors with the best of both worlds; being located in a temperate climatic zone means that Austria lies between both the polar and tropical regions, causing a slight contrast in climate behaviour. The lowland regions of Austria in the north and east have more continental-influenced conditions, with hotter summers and colder winters. Meanwhile, the southeastern areas of the scenic country have long, warm summers – similar to those of Mediterranean countries. On the other hand, in Austria’s western areas, the Atlantic climate is felt more – mild winters and relatively warm summers. Unlike in the UK, rain is quite evenly distributed across the duration of the year, however April and November are usually the wettest months while September and early October tend to be the driest. With regards to snowfall, snow cover usually lasts from the end of December through to March in Austria’s valleys. From November through to May, at an altitude of around 1,800m and in some areas above 2,500m, snow cover is permanent. Although a rough guide to the expected weather forecast can be given, at a high altitude, weather conditions and temperatures can change very drastically, so it’s always good to be prepared.winter-holiday-austria-1

innsbruck-austria

On Top of the World

For a break that blends city and ski like no other, head to the Austrian city of Innsbruck

You’d think, what with all that glitters being gold and everything, that we might be able to spot Innsbruck’s most famous sight, given we’re apparently standing right under it. “This is definitely where it is,” I tell my wife, waving a now-soaking map in her face. She doesn’t look convinced.

The Goldenes Dachl – or Golden Roof – was built in the late-15th to early-16th century by Emperor Maximilian I and comprises 2,657 gilded copper tiles (all original), none of which we can currently see because there’s near-horizontal rain persistently daggering in to our eyeballs.

Once we’ve finally spotted the roof through the mist and rain – it sits on top of an elaborate gothic bay built into the side of the Neuhof building – we nip down a narrow cobbled street and squeeze ourselves into a tiny souvenir shop for shelter. There’s just about room for us in between rows of lederhosen, cowbells and tiny plastic models of the Goldenes Dachl.

I can’t afford the lederhosen, don’t own any cows, and left plastic models of tilings behind years (ok, months) ago, so we step back into the rain – where I’m almost decapitated by a couple of clattering Gore-Tex robots with skis slung over their shoulders. Skis. And ski boots. And skiwear. In the middle of a drizzly city.

Obviously I can’t pretend to be entirely surprised – we booked a skiing holiday here, after all – but here’s no denying how alien those skiers look, wobbling awkwardly and noisily over the cobbles of the Tirolean capitals old town in weather that feels more like autumn than early March.

Though you can’t ski in the city centre itself, Innsbruck is pretty unusual in being both a decent-sized city – complete with restaurants, expensive shops, a university, bars etc – and an access point for proper slopes. Were we able to peel back the dense layers of clouds currently pelting us with rain, a steep, unforgiving slab of a mountain called the Nordkette would be revealed.

Just a few minutes walk (or shuffle, if you can’t be bothered to take your ski gear off) from the Goldenes Dachl is the Nordkettenbahnen. where a vertigo-inducing train whisks skiers and sightseers up the mountain. There are four stations on the route, each sprouting a fungus-like futuristic roof designed by the late Zaha Hadid, after which you switch to a couple of cable cars that take you right to the top.

As well as being the highest place you can get to without doing some serious mountaineering, the Hafelekar is also the starting point for one of the steepest ski runs in all of Europe (with a 70% incline), though having come more-or-less straight from the airport we’re wearing our civvies rather than ski gear. Which is fortunate, really, because the second we step out of the cable car a brutal (and brutally cold) wind threatens to rip our faces and clothes off.

It’s beyond me why they’d bother, but a few hardy idiots are braving the slopes, despite the howling wind and almost zero visibility. In theory, this is one of the most spectacular views in Austria; in reality, we get back in the cable car before it disappears and we have to wait for the next one.

The Austrian Lake District

NEAR THE TOWN OF BOLUO in China’s Guangdong Province, there’s a village by a lake. It has flower-covered houses and bubbling fountains. The squares are swept and the roofs topped with tiles, and a pointy church rises by the lakeshore. The village is called Hallstatt, and it looks too pretty to be true, as though it’s been picked up from the pages of a European fairytale. In a way, it has. In fact, it’s a copy of a much older Hallstatt. The real one can be found on the edge of the Hallstattersee about 40 miles from Salzburg. The story goes that in the early 2000s, some Chinese developers went in search of the perfect Austrian village, and they liked Hallstatt so much, they decided to build their own version. With its cobbled squares, boathouses and timber-framed cottages, the Austrian Hallstatt looks like it’s been designed from scratch to grace the cover of a tourist brochure.

Evangelical Church of Christ

Evangelical Church of Christ

There’s been a village here since prehistoric times, when late Bronze Age settlers mined the surrounding mountains for salt – a valuable commodity in the days before refrigeration, and an industry that has lasted into the 21st century. Salt made the wider Salzkammergut region rich. Stretching from the city of Salzburg eastwards into the Dachstein mountains, most of this area was once the private property of the Habsburgs, governed by its own regional administration known as the Imperial Salt Chamber, which oversaw the running of the salt mines and the vast wealth they generated.

Later, however, the Habsburgs found a different reason to love the Salzkammergut – the newly fashionable pastime of sommerfrische (summer refreshment). With its crystal-clear lakes – 76 in all — the area became one of Emperor Franz Joseph’s favourite spots for a break. Throughout his reign, from 1848 to 1916, he and his wife Elisabeth returned nearly every year to boat on the lakes, stroll the shoreline and hopefully bag an ibex or two while hiking in the surrounding mountains. It sparked a local tourist boom that endures to this day. Hallstatt still seems pickled in time.

It’s enjoyed Unesco protection as a World Heritage site since 1997, and its buildings are as perfectly preserved as museum exhibits. Balconies teeter over the village’s stone streets, festooned with wisteria and geraniums. Smoke puffs from chimneys leaning at improbable angles. Rowboats bob on the edge of the lake, and reflections of peaks shimmer on the glassy surface. Alexander Scheck grew up near the Hallstattersee. He’s one of only two fishermen permitted to catch the lake’s native whitefish, the reinanke – once a delicacy reserved for emperors, but now a common sight on local menus.

Every morning, Alexander chugs his barge across the lake before dawn, gathering in his nets by hand before heading back to sell his catch at the village fish shop. It’s a practice unchanged in centuries, and one that Alexander maintains with pride. ‘We still use the old techniques to fish here,’ he says, heaving in his net and extracting each fish by hand, giving each its final coup de grace against the boat’s gunwale. ‘Hallstatt is a place where nothing ever changes much.’ Today, people flock to the Salzkammergut region to immerse themselves in nature and indulge in sommerfrische for themselves. Some lakes have become playgrounds for wealthy cityfolk from Salzburg and Vienna, while others have kept their traditional character, with cosy inns and waterfront cottages dotted along the shorelines.

Schloss Ort is one of the first sights seen when sailing out of Gmunden – the castle sits on its own tiny island in the Traunsee.

Schloss Ort is one of the first sights seen when sailing out of Gmunden – the castle sits on its own tiny island in the Traunsee.

Manuela Kiesenhofer works fora sailing school based on Traunsee, one of the largest lakes in the area. In summer, she spends every day out on the water, teaching her students the sailing basics: tacking, jibing, how to use the wind and when to trim a sail. ‘I could never sit in an office all day,’ she says, leaning out from the yacht’s starboard side as she hauls on a rope to make the mainsail snap taut. ‘I’d miss the feel of the wind on my face too much.’ She swings behind the helm and plots a course for the town of Gmunden. It’s late afternoon, and the sun is tinting the town’s lakefront houses in ginger, ochre, yellow and auburn: it is almost exactly the same view Emperor Franz Joseph would have enjoyed, and the very essence of sommerfrische.

Innsbruck, Austria

Jump on a budget flight to Innsbruck late in the year and in a little over two hours you’ll find yourself amid the gluhwein, gingerbread and fairylights of not one, but four Christmas markets. Skiers and snowboarders bustle through the streets headed for the slopes, and the nearby mountains will glisten white with snow. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Come outside the winter months and you find a very different city. I say city, but the word doesn’t quite seem to fit. Here, giant limestone peaks rise well above any manmade structures, seemingly endless alpine meadows surround downtown on all sides, and an impressive selection of rainbow-coloured, elaborately decorated baroque houses pepper the streets. Innsbruck mixes historic and futuristic architecture – much of latter having been designed by the award-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.

It’s a place made for walking and gawping up at the facades -especially in the warmer temperatures of summer and autumn, when you can do so free from the crowds of Christmas shoppers. It’s practically obligatory to visit the main square, with its glistening Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), built in 1500 so Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I could watch events unfolding below. Also worth exploring is the imposing Cathedral of St James, and the many museums and shops that surround it. When you’re all walked out in the city, find the spaceship-like shelter of the Hungerburg Funicular. It will whisk you from the city centre up to the Nordketten cable car; take that and from the last station, after only ten minutes of proper effort, you’ll be standing atop the summit of Hafelekarspitze.

At 2,334m, it’s the best place to get an all-encompassing view of the area.

At 2,334m, it’s the best place to get an all-encompassing view of the area.

From there you may spot the Bergisel Ski Jump across the valley, along with the Olympic Stadium (Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, and the first Winter Youth Olympics in 2012), proving that winter sports really are never far from Innsbruckers’ thoughts. The jump is another futuristic Hadid creation – but she’s not the only Brit associated with the place. Back in the early 1800s it’s said an Englishman called Richard Tooth Townsen got wind of the Tiroleans leading a revolt against Napoleon and the Kingdom of Bavaria. In 1809, on that same Bergisel hill, the Tiroleans were overrun. But rumours of these brave people in the centre of Europe circulated and, after the fighting ended, Townsen was keen to seek them out. On reaching Innsbruck he fell in love with the place and spread the word. Thanks to him, Innsbruck’s tourist trade was born. Some 200 years later, the city still hasn’t lost any of its charm.

Day 1: OLD TOWN STROLL – Head down to the Inn River, which gives Innsbruck its name (it means ‘bridge crossing the River Inn’), to admire the colourful houses. Next head into the pedestrianised Altstadt (Old Town, right). Stop in the main square at the end of Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse to gaze up at the sparkling gold roof (actually gold plated) of the Goldenes Dachl, which glitters amid the 15th and 16th century buildings. Note the relief below the roof depicting Emperor Maximilian I, who commissioned it. It’s a short walk to the cathedral, Dom St Jakob, with its sumptuous interior decor. Look closely at the ceilings – the apparent ‘domes’ are actually cleverly painted flat surfaces. Next, head to the Imperial Palace where an audio guide will talk you through the city’s history.

Vienna Hofburg Imperial Palace at night, Austria

Vienna Hofburg Imperial Palace at night, Austria

For lunch try Cafe Sacher; the hot chocolate is legendary. Spend your afternoon at the Hofkirche, which features the empty but ornate sarcophagus of Maximilian, and the Volkskunst Museum, with its selection of folk art. Then visit Grassmayr Glockenmuseum (Leopoldstrasse 53), the Bell Foundry, which has been in the same family for 14 generations. Finally, indulge in a little retail action on Maria-Theresien Strasse before tucking into some hearty dishes at Gasthaus Goldenes Dachl (see ‘Where to eat’ left).

Day 2: POINTS OF VIEW – Today, discover the legacy left by two Winter Olympic Games and peer a little further into Innsbruck’s past. Begin with brunch at the Panorama Cafe on the Bergisel Ski Jump (jwww.bergisel.info|, above). The food is a little pricey but it’s good, and the views are unrivalled. Before you leave, take the lift to stand at the top of the ski jump, notice the cemetery that the participants bomb down towards and ask yourself: ‘how on earth do they do it?’. Keeping your feet firmly on solid ground, head next for Das Tirol Panorama and the Kaiserjagermuseum (Imperial Infantry Museum).

You can head to the Imperial Infantry Museum where an audio guide will take you through the city’s history.

Take a look at the city vista first: inside the Panorama is a 360° painting of the battle that took place on this very hill back on 13 August 1809. From here you can catch the bus/train to the medieval Ambras Castle. Built in the 16th century, it houses an art collection and an armoury. There’s a cafe here too. End the day (if you dare) with a visit to the Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track (www.olympiaworld.at) where, for a mere €30, you can experience the thrill of travelling at 90km/h down a 1,270m long track.

Day 3: TRAINS & TRAILS – Use your last day to get up high. Ride the Hungerburg Funicular up to the last station, then catch the cable car up to Seegrube, then another to Hafelekar. From this point the walking possibilities are many. The easiest is to take a stroll to the summit of Hafelekarspitze (a must, above), checking out the old Geierwally hut en route. The more energetic could try the walk to Pfeis alpine hut on the Goethe Path (4.5hrs round trip) – check the last cable car times before you start. From Hafelekar summit, consider walking down to Seegrube.

Here you can grab some lunch at the restaurant; on Fridays it also offers an evening meal/cable car deal (€53), on Sundays it serves a jazz brunch (11am-1pm, €29.50) – book in advance. After you’ve eaten, walk the circular Panoramic Trail (25mins) for more views. On your way back down, stop at the small Cable Car Museum in Hungerburg to learn about the cableways you’ve enjoyed. End the day in Innsbruck with drinks at Bar 360 dwww.restaurant-lichtblick.at|) for nightime views of the city and mountains, and to toast a perfect short break.

Vienna – Austria

In 1865 the last significant Hapsburg monarch got cracking on his architectural tour de force: the Ringstrasse. More than 150 years later, the ‘Ring’ is still its showpiece.

Essential information:

Population: 1,7 million

Foreign visitors per year: 5.8 million

Language: German, with a relaxed Viennese accent

Unit of currency: euro (€)

Cost index: coffee and cake at a Kaffeehaus €6-9 (US$8-12.50), wurst at sidewalk stand €3.50 (US$5), tram/U-Bahn ticket €2.10 (US$3), high profile museum €12-14 (US$16-19)

Why go ASAP?

If you like it then you should put a ring on it. Emperor Franz Josef didn’t need Beyonce to tell him that. In 1865 the last significant Hapsburg monarch got cracking on his architectural tour de force: the Ringstrasse. The boulevard to outpomp them all, the ‘Ring’ made a lavish embrace of Vienna’s historic centre, stitching together trophy sights from the Gothic-revival Rathaus to the neo-Renaissance wedding cake that is the Staatsoper. It was bold. It was grand. It was wincingly expensive. And it changed the face of Vienna to such an extent that, more than 150 years later, the ‘Ring’ is still its showpiece.

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Vienna’s Ringstrasse

You want more gravitas? The University of Vienna turned 650 in 2015. Sigmund Freud, Anton Bruckner and 15 Nobel prize winners will be forever associated with this, the oldest university in the German-speaking world. A guided tour of its arcades, chambers and library affords more insight.

Vienna didn’t grab the number-one slot in Mercer’s 2014 Quality of Living survey by merely resting on its historic laurels, however. The city of strudel and Strauss can also innovate and steal the limelight – be it with contemporary art in born-again bread factories or Kim Kardashian dangling off the arm of billionaire Richard Lugner at the Opernball. Forget compromises and social boundaries – this is a city where you can go clubbing in your dirndl, talk opera at the sausage stand and live out your very own 21st-century fairy-tale. And as the shiny new Hauptbahnhof reaches completion in 2015, arriving in the Austrian capital has never been easier. Go to Vienna. Go now. You’ll have a ball.

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The new Hauptbahnhof – Vienna

Festivals & Events:

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The Opera Ball – Vienna

Waltz, foxtrot and polonaise with the best of Vienna’s carefully coiffed, nimble-footed socialites at one of the city’s 450 balls in January and February, which swing from queer to kitsch. The Opera Ball is the jewel in the crown.

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Donauinselfest Music Festival – Vienna

Click into the groove of summertime Vienna at the Donauinselfest in late June. Bands rock the Danube Island with free gigs attracting a crowd of three million.

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Vienna’s New Year Concert at The Golden Hall

Vienna goes snow-globe for December’s fairy-tale Christmas markets (head to those at Rathausplatz, Schonbrunn and Altes AKH), then rings in the New Year with its world-famous concert at the Golden Hall.

Life-changing experiences:

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Mozart’s monument in Vienna

Oh, Vienna! Whether you cram in the culture or do sweet nothing in a coffee house, this city will win you over in its inimitable fashion. After all. where else can you dip into the murky world of psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud Museum), drift through parks where Mozart once dallied (Burggarten), and watch white Lipizzaners perform equine ballet (Hofburg)? The Austrian Empire encrusted its capital with palaces to swoon over like Unesco-listed Schonbrunn, and squirreled away a never-ending supply of art masterpieces, not least the ultimate embrace – Klimt’s The Kiss at the Upper Belvedere. Ride high in the Riesenrad (Giant Ferris Wheel) of Third Man fame to see Vienna flutter like a pocket handkerchief below you.

Current craze:

Something old becomes something new. Buoyed by the success of ventures like Haus des Meeres (an aquarium in a defunct WWII flak tower) and the Pratersauna (poolside electro and techno in a former sauna), Vienna is still gleefully waving its reinvention wand. Favourites? Puff, a brothel turned retro-cool cocktail bar on Gumpendorferstrasse, and the Ankerbrotfabrik in the 10th district, Europe’s biggest industrial bread factory reborn as a contemporary art and design gallery space.

Classic restaurant experience:

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Breakfast at Meierei Restaurant – VIenna

Embedded in the greenery of the Stadtpark and lodged in a former dairy, the Meierei (sister of two-Michelin-starred Steirereck) is the real deal for Viennese classics. The kitchen elevates breakfast and brunch to the extraordinary, with dishes like scrambled ostrich eggs and Alpine beef tartare. Or pop in for the best goulash in town, coffee and cake or the 120-variety cheese board.

Best shopping:

Fledgling designers spread their wings in the 7th district’s backstreets, where boutiques sell everything from streetwear with indie edge to vintage silk numbers and handmade jewellery. Ina Kent’s versatile bags and the folksy-Fraulein-meets-21st-century-sex-kitten styles of catwalk queens Lena Hoschek and Susanne Biovsky are all the rage. For deli delights, foraged herbs and home-spun fashion, go off-piste in the Freihausviertel, which spreads south of Vienna’s famous food-market mile, Naschmarkt.

Most unusual place to stay:

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Urbanauts Street Lofts bedroom – Vienna

The decentralised, hotel-as-home approach of Urbanauts Street Lofts is like a breath of fresh air. With the aim of revitalising local businesses, the Viennese architect trio Kohlmayr, Lutter and Knapp have transformed a sprinkling of empty shops and tailors’ workshops into sleek, super-stylish studios. There’s everything you need to tap into the neighbourhood – from insider tips on coffee houses, hammams and cool nearby bars to movies and free bicycle rental.

SOMETHING GOOD IN SALZBURG

Let’s start at the very beginning. More people visit Salzburg because of The Sound of Music than for Mozart. But whatever your reason for going, there’s no doubt that the city itself is the real star.

From the very first screening of The Sound of Music, it was a phenomenon. As Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich in the movie, said to his on-screen brothers and sisters dunng the interval in its very first showing on 2 March 1965 in New York, “Our lives will never be the same from now on.” He was right. This on-screen love story stemmed from the book that started this global phenomenon – The Story of the Trapp Family Singers written by Maria Augusta Trapp in 1949. Maria was a nun. She was at Nonnberg Abbey before going to work with the Captain. She did teach the children to sing and she did marry the Captain. So when you wander around Salzburg. you’ll be stepping in the footsteps of the real Von Trapps, as well as the actors that brought the story to life.

My favourite things

Mirabell Gardens is where Maria and the children sang and danced in Do Re Mi, strutting around the pond and jumping up the stairs. The Gardens are absolutely spectacular and well worth a couple of hours. From here you can see the Hohensalzburg fortress, which was built in 1077 and, thankfully, has a funicular for better access. Its one of the best castles you’ll ever visit – make sure you call in to the marionette museum on site, which has some of the puppets that appeared in “The Lonely Goatherd” scene.

Mirabell-Palace

The lovely Mirabell Mace and Gardens

Nearby, you can walk past the gates of Nonnberg where the real Maria was a postulant. Go for an early morning stroll and you might even hear the nuns singing. You can also see the striking Salzburg der Moderne from the castle, the modern art museum sitting pretty on the edge of the Mönschberg. The narrow, cobbled streets of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town are home to many treasures, including Mozart’s birthplace in the gorgeous, stylish Getreidegasse; historic Salzburg Cathedral; Residenz Square (where Julie Andrews hurried through, belting out “I Have Confidence In Me’’); and the lovely Kapitel Square, with its modern art installation Sphaera – a statue of a man on a golden globe and a chess set for people to play. Not far away you can also do one of Salzburg’s most romantic rides, in a fiaker (horse-drawn carriage). A visit to St Peter’s Cemetery, cut into the sheer rock face of the Mönschberg, is fascinating – make sure you go up into the catacombs.

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Mozart’s birthplace. Hagenauer House, at no. 9 Getreidegasse

The rock of the Mönschberg also houses the Felsenreitschule (Summer Riding School), which hosts the choral festival of the famous Salzburg Festival; the real Von Trapps did win this festival, as portrayed in the movie.