5 highlights of a short trip to Austria

I recently spent four days in Austria as part of a wider project for Austrian National Tourist Office (ANTO) to explore the country’s ‘Hidden Treasures’. It was a pleasure to return to somewhere I hadn’t visited for 16 years, especially as the memories of my previous visits were happy ones.

I was left to find my own ‘hidden treasures’, with only the overnight stops and rental car pre-arranged by ANTO. My four ports of call were Graz, Eisreisenwelt (just outside Salzburg), Innsbruck and a day hiking on the Eagle Walk. You’ll find detailed posts on each of these on the ANTO website, but I’ve listed a few of the highlights here.

Eagle Walk

I could have spent my whole four days here in the Tyrolean mountains. Soaring, snow-capped peaks, pristine streams running through unspoilt never-ending valleys, wooden huts where you can enjoy sausage and sauerkraut washed down with a cold beer; it may be a classic Alpine caricature but few would disagree that it is a very appealing one.

The Eagle WalkA well-marked route carefully designed to take in the best of Tirol’s stunning scenery, the Eagle Walk deserves to be as big a draw in the summer for outdoor enthusiasts as the slopes are for winter sports fans in the colder months. And it’s not just snow-capped mountains all the way: the 23 stages of the 280km cover a surprising diversity of landscapes.

Be aware that there is no portering service in place for the full hike. On the upside however, the huts along the route will provide warm showers and hot dinners after a long day’s hiking.

Innsbruck

I really liked Innsbruck. The setting is spectacular and there is a relaxed vibe about a city that accommodates both tourist crowds and a lively student population. There are spectacular viewing points on both sides of the city – to the north via the excellent Nordkettenbahn railway/cable car and to the south at the Bergisel Olympic ski jump stadium and the Zaha Hadid futuristic creation. The city itself has many beautiful buildings. The Golden Roof gets all the attention, but walk down almost any street and you’ll find yourself stopping to appreciate another fine example of Austrian construction.

Top tip: Buy a 24 hour Innsbruck Card and you’ll make it pay with one return trip on the Nordkettenbahn.

Even better tip: Buy the Card as soon as you arrive. In my haste to get up the mountain I didn’t stop to discover its value until later in the day when I’d already spent more than the €29 price of the card.

The ski-jumper's viewOdd tip: Heading out of town towards Bergisel, pop into the Friends bar. A locals’ bar if ever there was one, it’s a wonder they haven’t put the names of the regulars on the bar stools. I’d bumped into a couple of guys at the ski-jump and we wondered into this strange drinking den.

Of note is the collection of over 150 witches, hanging on the walls, from the ceiling and most striking of all, the one in human form serving beer from the pump.

A warm welcome is assured but take note:  returning foreign visitors should bring a witch from home to leave as a gift. Or else…

 

Graz

I knew nothing about Graz before my arrival. Luckily for me, Andreas Susana (aka @travelwriticus) offered to show me around his home city. Graz is a pleasant and attractive place that doesn’t feel big enough to be Austria’s second city. It is the capital of the province of Styria and a visit to its armoury provides ample evidence of the many battles fought over the course of previous centuries. It looks more like the warehouse for a battle reenactment society, such is the quantity of daggers, pikes, guns and armoured suits.

Muinsel, Graz

The castle overlooking the city provides plenty more evidence of the rich and often embattled history of the city of Graz. The city is only 40 km from Slovenia in a part of the world where borders once constantly shifted. The castle itself was the scene of a successful defence against Napoleon’s forces.

The modern side of Graz is revealed best in two buildings close to the river Mur; or to be precise, one next to it and one in the middle of it. Murinsel is a restaurant/venue that doubles as an island on a fast flowing river and makes for an unusual backdrop for a cup of coffee. The Kunsthaus on the other hand is perhaps more dramatic in its external appearance, especially at night, than for its collection of modern art within its lumpy bumpy walls.

When it was time for dinner Andreas led me to the excellent Altsteirische Schmankerlstubln restaurant, serving traditional Styrian food. A delicious bowl of steaming garlic soup soon confirmed my initial good feelings about this place.

Eisriesenwelt

This popular day trip from Salzburg takes you deep inside an ice cave high up in the mountains. Entry is by guided tour only and while it’s a little regimented the beauty of the ice formations and natural sculptures speak for themselves. The tour takes around 75 minutes inside the cave and around 3 hours in total at the Eisreisenwelt site.

Getting to the mouth of the cave involves two steep 1km uphill hikes and a cable car ride so it’s not for the unfit. Worthy of a half-day tour if you have spare time in Salzburg, but come prepared (I didn’t) and wear hiking boots and a warm coat.

Eisriesenwelt

 

Salzburg

I wasn’t meant to review Salzburg as I merely spent the night in the city before moving on, but I did take an early morning hike above the city’s roofs along the path that skirts the cliff tops towering overhead. A highly recommended workout before a hearty breakfast and there is even an elevator at the Museum of Modern Art that deposits you straight back to ground level when you’ve had enough.

Salzburg

 

My verdict on Austria

The single thing I remember most about Austria from my previous visits is the breathtaking landscapes. They of course are just as they always were. What does appear to have changed is the variety of good food on offer and the number of activities and attractions that make a holiday in the mountains an appealing choice.

There’s plenty to do for the adventurous types and I have promised to return here with my wife to explore a little more of the Eagle Walk. But even for those that like enjoying their scenery without the effort, the new cable cars and lifts in every place I visited have made many of Austria’s highlights easily accessible.

 

Related posts by me on ANTO website:

Innsbruck http://treasures.austria.info/2011/07/11/three-cities-three-stories-to-tell-innsbruck

Graz http://treasures.austria.info/2011/07/11/three-cities-three-stories-to-tell-graz/

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6 Responses to “5 highlights of a short trip to Austria”

  1. I’ve always had in the back of my mind that Austria is one of the most scenic countries in Europe & these pictures confirm it.

    July 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm
  2. I absolutely love Austria. I studied abroad there twice, and would return in an instant at any opportunity that presented itself. I’ve seen all the sights you mentioned except for the Eagle Walk. I will definitely have to read more about it because I think a hike on the trail would be really enjoyable. Thanks for sharing!

    July 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  3. I’ve just returned from Austria myself (meeting Pam Mandel in the Ennstal), and spend a very happy afternoon in Graz the weekend before last. Apparently it’s a University town, which may explain why I felt so at home there (I currently live in York). But the roofs. The *roofs*. Absolutely gorgeous when you get above the chimneytops and look down, tiles arranged in higgledy-piggledy waves, gorgeously-coloured in the sunlight (we were lucky there), so many houses looking like they’re wrought in gingerbread….

    Loved it.

    And yes, seeing the Kunsthaus on the skyline is….startling, isn’t it? 🙂

    July 15, 2011 at 8:15 am
  4. Good morning!

    Loved your images, Matt.
    What always strikes me as odd is that many people only seem to think that Austria is good for the snow and ski (which it is), but there are so many other ‘world class’; Europe’s greatest’; ‘biggest, best, firsts’, that it is truly an all year round destination with something for everyone.

    If only I could get the message out to a few more folk….

    May 30, 2012 at 8:39 am

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