Every souvenir shop and tourist stop has t-shirts and mugs that tell you there are no kangaroos in Austria. So what can you expect from this little gem of a country? It happens to be 5 years exactly since Ross and I went on a little European cross-country adventure. We started off with Prague and Budapest and then ended up in Austria’s capital city, Vienna. Its a charming place and we found this to be an absolutely perfect early-summer destination.
Good to Know
Austria is a landlocked country with 8 neighbours, nestled in south-central Europe. It has a population of about 8.5 million people. The native language is German, although migration and the open borders means that understanding and knowledge of other languages have blossomed. In particular, Croatian, Hungarian and Slovene can often be heard in the cities. Although we love Austria in the summer, the dramatic Alps also offer world-class winter sports amidst their snow-covered peaks. To truly appreciate the vast variety of Austria’s landscapes, we highly recommend a lazy cruise down the River Danube, which meanders through dense forests and gorgeous vine-country. Time for a random fact: they actually have an annual Big Nose Championship in a little place called Altaussee.
How far back should we go? Basically, art has proven than Austria dates back at least 25’000 years. It was home to the Celts, then the Romans, followed by local royalty in the form of the Babenburgs and the Hapsburgs. Fast-forward to the early 1920s; Austria survived 2 Turkish invasions and the Thirty Years War, before succumbing to the troops from the north in WW2. From the ashes in 1945 rose a strong and proud nation, building on agricultural and industrial exports until tourism started flourishing. Austria became an EU member state in 1995 and continues to have one of the strongest economies on the continent.
Austria is by far one of THE most interesting countries in the world when it comes to its rich and varied culture. The art world was stunned by the works of breakaway artist Gustav Klimt in 1897, who rocked the boat with his femme fatale mosaics and murals. Going even further, expressionist Egon Schiele gave the world an insight into his rebellious nature with his erotic paintings. Don’t miss the Museums Quartier and the Spittalberg Districts of Vienna to see some of the gems on display. Another random fact: Vienna has a sense of humour. Their ball season includes the Wallflower ball (think drab and colourless) and the Ball of Bad Taste.
Classical music lovers will probably already know that child phenomenon Mozart came from Salzburg, the small country and its people inspiring many of his 600+ works. Other musical greats include Schubert and Haydn while in the 19th century, Strauss picked up the pace with some new styles, including the famous Blue Danube. Make time to attend a concert, opera or ballet performance in one of the many venues in Vienna. Prices vary greatly, (starting at around 20 Euros) and if you like flexibility, then there are normally people touting tickets just before the performance. Also, the Sound of Music. Need we say more?
Where do we start? If you’re a regular reader, you know by now that Ross and I will always make a beeline for a country (or city) with great food. Austria is no exception. Whether you’re on the Moststrasse route sampling the local ciders, or amongst the Wachau Valley’s vineyards, the drinks are goooood. We always get excited about being able to enjoy a schnitzel the size of our heads. The most famous (and largest) can be found at Figlmueller. Just as satisfying, with fewer crowds and some peculiar taxidermy is Puerstner. If you have a few days, then try to fit in a serving of tafelspitz – beef with horseradish. Another favourite main course is gulaschsuppe, which is a soupy adaptation of the well-known Hungarian goulash.
Dessert must-haves are of course apfelstrudel and/or kaiserschmarrn (better known as apple strudel and raisin stuffed pancakes). I say and/or because you can simply never get enough of these two mouth-watering sweet treats. Finish off with a Vienna coffee; the cream on top is indulgent but so worth it!
Stay tuned for more on this region, including our top tips for Sightseeing in Vienna.