Austria is a contrast of spectacular natural landscapes and elegant urban sleeves. One day you’re plunging into an alpine lake, the next you’re exploring a narrow backstreet of Vienna.
Architectural & Creative Peaks
Austria is best known for its sugar-cake baroque church interiors, its historic palaces such as Schloss Belvedere and its Gothic masterpieces such as Stephansdom, but we don’t often imagine it as a country with impressive contemporary architectural contours. A visit to Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, to Ars Electronica in Linz, or a stroll alongside the illuminated ‘slug-like’ Kunsthaus Graz casts Austria in a different light.
Food At the Source
You can taste countries – their food, their wines, their customs of years gone by. Vienna’s traditional coffee houses are perfect for breathing in the dark aromas of coffee in a homely atmosphere. Traditional Beisln (bistro pubs) are laced with the smell of goulash and other traditional dishes. Outside Vienna, regions such as the Waldviertel, the Danube Valley and southern Styria are places for rustic food and wine experiences in picturesque landscapes. Traditional Heurigen (wine taverns) abound almost everywhere – places to explore local specialties while on on trips through Austria’s character-filled gourmet and wine regions.
River Deep, Mountain High
Travel in Austria is often a meandering journey through deeply carved valleys, along roads and railways cut improbably into the rocky flanks of mountains, and around picturesque lakes. But often the landscape is simply too rugged for road or rail: hiking and mountain biking is then the best way to reach isolated alpine meadows. Sometimes cable cars or dizzying chair lifts offer an alternative way up, and come winter they bundle skiers and snowboarders onto the slopes. Austria’s plentiful lakes are ideal for summer swimming, and in winter many freeze over for skating.
Culture Takes Centre Stage
The cultural contours of the Habsburg empire can be felt everywhere in Austria today, whether it’s while taking in a performance of Lipizzaner stallions, or crossing the Hofburg to admire a Rubens masterpiece in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Beyond this grand historical face, the classical works of composer Arnold Schönberg, inspired by Mozart, echo atonally across the country; music festivals like Bregenzer Festspiele are staged against spectacular lakeside or mountain backdrops, and artists like Klimt, Schiele and the radical Actionists feature in Vienna’s extraordinary MuseumsQuartier.
Why I Love Austria
By Anthony Haywood, Writer
One day you’re riding a forestry track in Carinthia, stopping to wash down a Brettljause (cold platter) with a cool beer in a meadow hut, the next you’re combing the atmospheric alleys of the capital. The contrasts are what I love most about Austria. It’s small, but the landscape changes quickly and dramatically, offsetting one experience of a place against another – the boondocks in contrast to a large city like Vienna, or a cool alpine lake like Weissensee with the shallow-steppe Neusiedler See. And in Vienna itself, there’s a stark contrast between the historic centre and the Vorstädte (inner suburbs), which I love exploring on walks at night.
Source: Lonely Planet
Chic medieval hot spots like Kraków and Gdańsk vie with energetic Warsaw for your urban attention. Outside the cities, woods, rivers, lakes and hills beckon for some fresh-air fun.
If you’re partial to good home cooking, the way your grandmother used to make it, you’ve come to the right place. Polish food is based largely on local ingredients like pork, cabbage, mushrooms, beetroot and onion, combined simply and honed to perfection. Regional specialties like duck, goose and trout keep things from getting dull. As for sweets, it’s hard to imagine a more accommodating destination. Cream cakes, apple strudel, pancakes, fruit-filled dumplings and a special mania for lody (ice cream) may have you skipping the main course and jumping straight to the main event.
Away from the big cities, much of Poland feels remote and unspoiled. While large swathes of the country are flat, the southern border is lined with a chain of low-lying but lovely mountains that invite days, if not weeks, of splendid solitude. Well-marked hiking paths criss-cross the country, taking you through dense forest, along broad rivers and through mountain passes. Much of the northeast is covered by interlinked lakes and waterways ideal for kayaking and canoeing – no experience necessary. Local outfitters are happy to set you up for a couple of hours or weeks.
Why I Love Poland
By Mark Baker, Writer
I first travelled to Poland as a student in the 1980s and was touched by the humour, wit and kindness of people living under difficult circumstances. Over numerous return trips, I’ve been able to dive deeper and try to understand the culture, often formed in a crucible of torturous history. These days, what I’m impressed by is the verve and energy of the people as they’ve created arguably Central Europe’s greatest post-communist success story. And then there’s kiełbasa, pierogi and quince-flavoured vodka. What more could you ask for?
Castles to Log Cabins
The former royal capital of Kraków is a living lab of architecture over the ages. Its nearly perfectly preserved Gothic core proudly wears overlays of Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau, a record of tastes that evolved over centuries. Fabulous medieval castles and evocative ruins dot hilltops around the country, and the fantastic red-brick fortresses of the Teutonic Knights stand proudly in the north along the Vistula. Simple but finely crafted wooden churches hide amid the Carpathian hills, and the ample skills of the highlanders are on display at the many skansens (open-air ethnographic museums).
A Thousand Years
Poland’s roots go back to the turn of the first millennium, leaving a thousand years of twists and turns and kings and castles to explore. WWII history buffs are well served. Tragically, Poland found itself in the middle of that epic fight, and monuments and museums dedicated to its battles – and to Poland’s remarkable survival – can be seen everywhere. There’s a growing appreciation, too, of the rich Jewish heritage. Beyond the deeply affecting Holocaust memorials, synagogues are being sensitively restored, and former Jewish centres such as Łódź and Lublin have heritage trails, so you can trace this history at your own pace.
Source: Lonely Planet