Austria

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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

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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.

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A Piste of the Action

Take this season’s skiing or boarding holiday to the next level with a trip that goes way beyond pistes and pints …

Large it up in Austria (sort of)

If you’re all about going big or going home, then Austria’s Arlberg region might just be for you. We’re not talking boozy sessions – although there’s probably plenty of that too – but about big investment, namely the £35m that’s been spent on the area. And what do you get for your 35m big ones? The largest interconnected ski area in Austria, and what will be one of the largest ski areas in the whole world, that’s what. At the heart of it all are big infrastructure improvements – forget bumping along in a bus, instead there are four new lifts helping to link the resorts of St Anton and Lech, opening up 306km of downhill runs accessed with 87 lifts (all covered by a single pass). That’s one way to live it large.

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Skiing in the Alberg region of the Alps in Austria

Ski and sail in Norway

Can’t decide whether to splash your cash on a skiing adventure or a sailing adventure? It’s a tough life. Or is it? With Another World Adventures you can combine both on one epic, seven-night jaunt through the Lyngen Alps, northern Norway’s top ski destination. During the day you’ll be taking on the region’s natural surroundings, while evenings will be spent recuperating on deck, tucking into Norwegian cuisine and getting your nude on in the hot tub. Maybe. When you’re not soaking in hot water you’ll be exploring the harbour towns of Koppangen, Norlenangen, and Lyngseidet before a night in Tromsö, aka the ‘Paris of the north’. Head back to the boat and you’ll be rocked to sleep by the waves, ready to climb to the summits and ski down to the snow-covered beaches the next day. Nice.

Party at the Snowbombing festival in British Columbia, Canadasnowbombing-festival

What happens when Europe’s biggest ski festival and Coors Light get together and up sticks to Canada? A massive music fest on the slopes of Sun Peaks Resort, British Columbia, silly. Taking place from 6-10 April, the full-on event is sure to feature the same key elements that Snowbombing Europe has become famous for – slope-side pool parties, elaborately designed stages, debauchery. The usual.

The party bus of big acts is yet to be announced, but last year’s festival (featuring the likes of the Prodigy and Andy C) has set our hopes high – 2,152m high to be exact. Expect gladed areas, bumps, steeps, long cruisers and alpine bowls – perfect for post-fest recovery.

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Europe’s Best Budget Experiences

Bulgaria’s Wine Village (above)

Tucked beneath imposing sandstone cliffs, Melnik is full of traditional houses with wooden balconies, and has been celebrated for its wine for more than 600 years. Bottles of local vintages are sold for as little as £2, or try the fun new Museum of Wine, with tastings included in its £2.50 entry fee.

Markets of Hamburg

This north German port is known for its Unesco-listed Speicherstadt district of vast red-brick warehouses, but it’s also home to Germany’s longest farmer’s market. At the twice-weekly Isemarkt, set up under the elevated U-Bahn tracks, 200 vendors sell all kindsof quality produce, with much for just a euro or two.isemarkt-hamburg

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.

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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.

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The Opera Ball and Hotel Imperial – Vienna, Austria

Some Enchanted Evening

Thousands of white-tied and elegant-gowned waltzers attend more than 300 formal balls with different themes that Vienna throws during the winter Fasching or carnival season. But the belle of all the balls is the legendary Opera Ball. It is held in the Baroque Vienna State Opera House, minus the opera and its seats, which are removed by a beehive of workers who transform the ornate Staatsoper into a splendid, cavernous ballroom over­night.

The Opernball opens with the grand entry of 200 graceful young debutantes (the daughters of rich and titled Austrian fami­lies), joined by 5,000 guests who come from all echelons of Viennese society and around the world to partake in the fairytale event first established by the Emperor Franz Josef in 1877. The dance floor becomes a kaleidoscope of color as dancers whirl to the sprightly strains of the Viennese waltz.

When three-quarter time winds down at 5 A.M., turn to the next page of the fairy tale by retiring to your room at the Hotel Imperial, Vienna’s trophy hotel. Built in 1867 in the Renaissance style by Emperor Franz Josef for his niece and her husband, the Duke of Wurttemberg, it was used to house the duke’s most distinguished guests and is still the offi­cial hotel for state visitors, just as when former guest Richard Wagner booked seven rooms and composed day and night.

Many things remain unchanged, give or take a few multimillion-dollar renovations: priceless furnishings, marble floors, gilded balustrades, ceiling frescoes, glittering chandeliers. Guests will naturally feel as if they’re being treated like Queen Elizabeth who uttered before leaving that it was “the most beautiful hotel we have ever stayed in.”

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Vienna – Austria – Top Ten Sights

“It stands at the far end of the Alps like a grandiloquent watchman of history.” —Jan Morris

The legacies of Beethoven, Freud, Klimt, and Mahler lure visitors to this gracious old-world city, the least frenetic yet one of the most compelling capitals of Europe. Famous for its gemutlichkeit, its trams, its cafes, and its pastry stores, it is a delightfully civilized and comfortable city and a timeless destination for art, music, and culture.

The Top Ten Sights

A number of Vienna’s top sights are at the Hofburg (Imperial Hapsburg Palace), the residence of the Hapsburg emperors until 1918.

The Imperial Apartments

(KAISERAPPARTMENTS)—Emperor Franz- Josef I lived here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visitors can see his opulent private rooms, the great audience hall, the court silverware and tableware room, and the dining rooms, richly decorated in rococo stucco work, tapestries, and Bohemian crystal chandeliers—Vienna at its most Viennese.

Lipizzaner Horses of the Spanish Riding School—Founded in 1572, the Spanische Reitschule preserves classic dressage in its purest form, with presentations open to the public. Its horses were bred over the centuries from Spanish, Italian, and Arabian stock.

The Treasury (Schatzkammer) — this superb collection includes the imperial crowns of the Holy Roman and Austrian empires and numerous treasures from the house of Burgundy and the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Vienna Boys’ Choir at the Hofburgkapelle—Linked with Vienna’s musical life since 1498 and associated over the years with composers such as Mozart, Schubert, and Bruckner, the choir has performed internationally since 1926.

ELSEWHERE IN VIENNA

Albertina Museum—Combining a 17th- century palace and a new fourteen-story building, the Albertina contains one of the world’s largest collections of graphic art (from the Gothic to the contemporary), plus some 25,000 architectural drawings and a major new photography collection.

Belvedere Palace (Schloss Belvedere)— Actually two 18th-century palaces separated by landscaped gardens; the upper palace exhibits 19th- and 20th-century Viennese art (featuring works by Klimt), while the lower palace showcases the Gothic and Baroque.

Kunsthistorisches Museum—One of the richest fine-arts museums on the planet, with works from the ancient world and all over Europe, housed in palatial galleries. The Italian and Flemish collections are especially fine, as is the world’s largest collection of paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

St. Charles Church (Karlskirche)—One of Vienna’s great buildings, the Karlskirche was built in the early 18th century. Its entrance is framed by huge freestanding columns, mates to Rome’s Trajan’s Column. There’s a magnificent view from the roof.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)— Retaining its medieval atmosphere despite centuries of renovation and rebuilding, the Stephansdom dominates the city skyline with its towering Gothic spires. Inside, it’s filled with monuments, sculptures, and paintings. Catacomb tours run regularly Mon-Sat.

Schloss Schonbrunn—Built by the Hapsburgs between 1696 and 1712, this 1,441-room palace (of which about 40 can be visited) is full of delicate rococo touches that set it in contrast to the starker Hofburg. Mozart performed here at age six for the Empress Maria Theresa, and Emperor Franz- Joseph was born here. The palace’s park was opened to the public around 1779 and quickly became a popular recreational area, with a hedge maze, reproduction Roman ruins, botanical garden, and zoo.

Other Must Do’s

Christmas in Vienna—Vienna is Christmas: white with snow, adorned with traditional decorations, and beautifully noncommercial. There’s midnight Mass at St. Stephen’s, and at City Hall’s huge Christkindlmarkt, hundreds of festive outdoor stands sell everything that smells and tastes of the holidays. “Silent Night” and other Viennese carols are sung by the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Top it off with the extravagant New Year’s Eve Kaiserball at the Hofburg.

The Musikverein—One of the greatest music halls in the world, built in the Baroque style in 1867, with nearly flawless acoustics. It’s home to the Vienna Philharmonic, whose New Year’s Eve Johann Strauss concert is broadcast around the world. The celebrated Vienna Mozart Concerts take place here and elsewehere in town, May-Oct.

The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)— Built in 1887 as the imperial court opera, the green-domed opera house is one of the world’s best, offering an incredibly long season (Sept-Jun) of mostly staples: Verdi, Mozart, and Strauss.

Where to Stay

The Palais Schwarzenberg—Built in the early 18th century by an aristocratic family whose descendants still occupy about half of it and set on 18 bucolic acres in the heart of Vienna, it’s more like a stately country home than an urban hotel. Despite ancestral portraits and other artworks (including Renoirs and Gobelins), public areas and rooms are inviting and unstuffy. The hotel’s renowned restaurant has one of the most impressive settings (and chefs) in the city.

The ICONIC von Ungarn—Vienna’s oldest hotel, tucked away in the shadow of St. Stephen’s cathedral and in operation since 1815. Simple and polished, with a lovely enclosed courtyard, it’s a welcome respite from the city’s opulence.

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Demel and Sacher’s—Open since 1887, Demel is one of the reasons Vienna is known as Europe’s pastry capital, setting up an Olympic-sized array of more than sixty pastries in its music-box-perfect front rooms. The five-layer chocolate Anna torte and the profoundly rich chocolate Sacher torte are house specialties. Sample the goods here and then trot over to the Hotel Sacher’s cafe to compare—both insist they have the original secret recipe, though Demel’s usually wins out. Sacher’s strudel, however (“mit Schlagobers”—with whipped cream), knows no rival.

Hawelka Cafe—Whole books have been written at and about this classic, unapologetically smoky cafe, the enduring prototype in the city that invented European cafe culture. Its superb coffee is dense, bitter, and fresh.

The Heuriger Experience—At these alfresco wine taverns, sprinkled along the edge of the nearby Vienna Woods, large quantities of seemingly innocent wine are partially responsible for the atmosphere: alive with bonhomie, singing, and shameless Viennese accordion schmaltz. Beethoven lived at Mayer am Pfarrplatz in 1817; today it’s a favorite Heuriger.

Steirereck—Austria’s finest restaurant and the birthplace of New Viennese Cuisine, served amid baronial trappings with elegance and flair. Find a table in the more intimate and romantic winter garden, a greenery-filled conservatory built against an outside wall.

Zu Den Drei Husaren—Old Vienna’s enduring monument to its school of haute cuisine. Tourists love it, but so do the locals, who know they can reliably find Viennese standards at candlelit tables in a plush romantic ambience of stag horns and tapestries. Sample Austria’s finest labels from its enormous wine list.

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Salzburg Festival  – Salzburg, Austria

Europe’s Foremost Music Festival

Mozart’s birthplace, and its glorious natural setting, is the appropriate venue for Europe’s largest and most important annual musical event. More than 180 classic and contemporary performances, including operas, symphonies, major concerts, and recitals are scheduled around town—expect the banner events to be sold out well in advance (unless you’re willing to pay your concierge top dollar for his scalper connections).

It’s easier to find tickets for the matinees—chamber music or church concerts, which can be no less enjoy­able. During the festival—or indeed anytime you’re craving luxury-—stay at Salzburg’s Hotel Schloss Monchstein. This 14th-century turreted castle, built as the summer escape for the archbishops of Salzburg, sits atop a hill sur­rounded by gardens and 25 acres of parkland and is a ten-minute elevator ride from the heart of Salzburg’s historic center.

Recently refurbished, its parquet floors, oriental rugs, leaded-glass windows, 18th-century furniture, and small chapel that dates back to at least 1500 convey the hotel’s history; guests like Czar Alexander II of Russia and Mozart him­self conducted many a dalliance here. But it’s the modem amenities in the seventeen guest rooms that justify this theatrical setting’s five star hotel status. A stay in the Tower Suite will make you feel it deserves twice that.

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Lech and Kitzbühel – Austria

To Ski or Apres-Ski

Some of the choicest downhill skiing (and apres-ski) in the world can be found in the western reaches of the Austrian Alps. When other resorts go bare, Arlberg, a wonderfully picturesque niche well above the tree line, ensures ample amounts of powder. The region encompasses Lech, its most charming village resort, as well as St. Anton, Zurs, St. Cristoph, and Stuben. In Lech-Zurs alone there are thirty-five lifts and cable cars serving a 65-mile ski circuit of groomed pistes and 75 miles of open, ungroomed runs, including the magnificent 12-mile Madloch tour.

The home of modern ski technique, the revolutionary method named for Arlberg, is practiced today around the globe and the area’s schools and instructors are among the world’s best. Sharing Lech’s indisputable air of exclusivity but lack of pretense is the village’s smallest and best five-star hotel, the Gasthof Post. Run by the gracious Moosbrugger clan for three generations, the former post house is known for its impeccable yet homey ambience and excellent restaurant.

Where Lech is sought out for its unspoiled character, Kitzbühel is beloved for its fashion­able, glamorous atmosphere. The smoothed but mighty crags behind the medieval walled town provide mostly intermediate ski cir­cuits (except for the difficult, world-famous Hahnenkamm downhill race), heart-stopping cable car rides, and 120 miles of awesome summertime hiking possibilities that set it apart from all those Kitzbühel wannabes.

Those looking for a vibrant apres-ski scene will be drawn to the town’s historic center of cobbled streets and pastel-painted medieval houses. There are trendy boutiques for shop­ping, lively casinos, and sophisticated clubs. Visitors can also relax with hot chocolate and pastries at the well-known Cafe Praxmair. Set high on the sunny side of the Kitzbühler Horn is the elegant but friendly Tennerhof Hotel, a quaint converted 17th-century farm­house and a joy any time of the year. The eating is some of the best in town, so dine here even if you’re lodging elsewhere.