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Getting to know Austria

Austria, one of Europe’s most popular seaside resorts, attracts visitors year-round, with attractions open in summer and winter. Winter in the country’s beautiful alpine regions is almost as eventful as summer, with some of the best skiing in Europe.  Visitors are drawn as much to the provinces of the Alpine republic as they are too magnificent cities such as Vienna (Wien), the historic capital, and charming Salzburg, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born.  Austria, one of the smallest countries in Europe, is above all a land of plateaus and high mountains, with the Eastern Alps occupying almost 60% of its geographical area. The Danube crosses the northern part of the country for about 350 kilometers from west to east.

The Vienna Hofburg: Austria's Imperial Palace

The magnificent Hofburg Palace in Vienna served for centuries as the seat of the Austrian monarchy, the mighty Habsburgs. The President now conducts the affairs of state in the same halls where Emperor Joseph II once sat. Since 1275, almost every Austrian ruler has ordered additions or alterations, resulting in a wide range of architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Classicism.  The Hofburg complex covers 59 acres and includes 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms, as well as its many charming squares and gardens. The Imperial Silver Collection and a variety of dining options give visitors a glimpse of the lavish Imperial banquets that once took place here.

Salzburg Altstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Salzburg has been a spiritual center since the beginnings of Christianity in Europe as the residence of princely archbishops. Saint Rupert built the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter in the heart of the Altstadt (Old Town) in 690 AD  and served as an archbishopric until the early 1100s.   Prince archbishops commissioned some of the finest artists and architects of the time to design and decorate their churches, residences and monasteries, and while  buildings were ‘updated’ to suit the tastes of later centuries,  medieval and Baroque structures combine to form a beautiful old town to explore.  Don’t miss the splendid cemetery and its catacombs, as well as the Abbey of San Pietro and its cathedral.

The Spanish Riding School, Vienna

The Spanish Riding School dates back to the reign of Emperor Maximilian II, when in 1562 he was commissioned to bring the famous Lipizzaner horses to Austria.  Today it is  one of the few areas where the classic style of riding favored by the aristocracy is still practiced. the most popular thing to do in Vienna is to see the famous equestrian exhibitions of the Baroque Winter Riding School, which have been held here since the reign of Charles VI.  The spectacular hall was built in 1735 for the elite to show off their riding skills. Tickets to see these majestic animals perform their ballet are in high demand, so book online as soon as possible.

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

The Baroque Schönbrunn Palace, on the outskirts of Vienna, was completed in the early 1700s and later converted into a summer palace by Empress Maria Theresa.

The Royal suites, the Great Gallery with its beautiful ceiling paintings, the Million Room, and Maria Theresa’s salon with its carved and gilded rosewood panels are all highlights of a walk of the 40 rooms of the palace that are open to the public. The stunning Hall of Mirrors, with its gilded Rococo-framed mirrors, is also on display. 500 acres of parks and gardens, likewise in the 18th-century Baroque style, surround the 1,441-room palace.

Hundreds of vintage state coaches and sleighs are on display in the former Winter Riding School carriage museum.

Innsbruck's Hofburg and Hofkirche

Innsbruck became the principal residence and seat of government of the Habsburgs during the reign of Emperor Maximilian I in the late 1400s and early 1500s, and thus a focal point of Europe. Empress Maria Theresa renovated her residence, the Hofburg, in the Baroque and Rococo style of the 18th century. the sumptuous royal chambers, the hall of the marble giants (Riesenseal), and the painted ceilings are all highlights of a visit.  The majestic tomb of Emperor Maximilian I, who died in 1519, is the crown jewel of the Hofkirche, or court church. The large black marble coffin with the bronze image of the emperor, often considered the finest work of German Renaissance sculpture, is an important feature of the monument.

Melk Benedictine Abbey

Melk Abbey is one of the most famous monasteries in the world,  its magnificent buildings are arranged around seven courtyards. The west end of this vast 325-meter-long complex, with its twin-towered church on a series of semi-circular terraces, is the most notable feature.  Monastery, perched on a rocky outcrop above Melk and overlooking the Danube, has plenty of other reasons to hike a few hours. In between are the tomb of St. Koloman von Stockerau, the remains of the first Austrian dynasty, the House of Babenberg and the magnificent 196-metre-long Imperial Corridor with portraits of the Austrian emperors, including one of Empress Maria Theresa.

Hallstatt and the Dachstein Salzkammergut

Hallstatt is without a doubt one of Austria’s, if not Europe’s, most gorgeous little towns. It’s also a great base for exploring the stunning Dachstein Salzkammergut region, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hallstatt’s riches is founded on a long history of salt production dating back to prehistoric times, as evidenced by the spectacular Baroque architecture.

You can also visit the neighboring Hörnerwerk cavern’s subterranean salt lake or the Dachstein Caves, one of Europe’s most remarkable cavern networks, which are up to 1,174 meters deep in places. The Giant Ice Cave, with its sub-zero summer temperatures and vast caverns with stunning frozen waterfalls, and the Mammoth Cave, with its massive pipe-shaped tunnels built by an old underground river, are two of the cave’s highlights.

Skiing at Kitzbühel and Kitzbüheler Horn

The famous resort town of Kitzbühel, one of the best locations to ski in Austria, delights snow fans with its 170 kilometers of skiable pistes and slopes interspersed with small mountain huts where guests can stop for traditional Alpine snacks and warming drinks.

It’s no secret that Kitzbühel’s three ski areas cater to a variety of skiing abilities, but it’s also home to the annual Hahnenkamm, one of downhill skiing’s most difficult races.

Even so, skiing is not the only reason to visit Kitzbühel. The town’s walls and frescoed buildings, as well as the snow-covered Alps in the distance, make it one of the most picturesque in the region.

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

The beautiful Belvedere Palace is another of Austria’s most-visited palaces, and one that should surely be on your Vienna trip agenda (Schloss Belvedere). The Upper (Oberes) and Lower (Unteres) Palaces are the two principal portions of this remarkable historic landmark, which is sometimes referred to simply as “The Belvedere.”

If you only have time to visit one, head to the Upper Palace. You’ll discover most of the attraction’s amazing collection of artworks here, as well as the opportunity to see one of the country’s best-preserved architectural marvels. Sala Terrena, the main hall, is remarkable for its statues and stucco vaulted ceiling; the Carlone Hall, with its ceiling frescoes, is also noteworthy.

Medieval Burg Hochosterwitz

he majestic Burg Hochosterwitz, Austria’ most vital medieval fortress, is found to the east of St. Veit, on a geological formation rising one hundred sixty meters on top of the valley. The castle, that was at the start documented in 860 AD, was conquered by the Khevenhüllers and extended in 1570 in the face of Turkish invaders when a violent history. The castle has ne’er been taken by a human and has stayed in the Khevenhüller family ever since.

The Burgweg, the steep entrance road to the castle, makes its high through fourteen defensive gates to the beautiful arcaded courtyard, wherever you’ll discover the little chapel with its 1570 wall and ceiling paintings and the church at the southwestern extremity of the castle with its 1729 high altar.