Following are some highlights and tips from our recent journey across Austria on an editorial project.
If you drive from Vienna to Salzburg, take time, if possible, to go by way of the Wachau Valley (a section of the Danube Valley)—less than an hour west of Vienna—and the Lake District—just east of Salzburg. You can make this drive in a single, albeit rushed, day. A much better option is to spend at least a day and night in both these ultra-scenic areas en route to Salzburg so you have time to “smell the roses.”
Castles, vineyards, medieval monasteries and historic river towns (such as Krems, Durnstein and Melk) are all in the Wachau. Consider staying in a small inn along the Danube and renting bicycles to explore the valley. In the Lake District, be sure to visit Hallstatt (pictured above), one of the most beautiful villages in Austria and the oldest, still-inhabited village in Europe. In fact, Hallstatt is so enchanting the Chinese have made a replica of it in their own country!
Since most everyone is familiar with the charms of Salzburg, we won’t dwell on them here. Suffice it to recommend that you not miss a dinner at the restaurant, Monchsberg 32 (www.m32.at), which is located in the city’s Modern Art Museum on top of a hill overlooking the Old City and Salzach River. Here’s an unsurpassed view—and the cuisine and wines are excellent. Below, in the Old City, is another find: the new art hotel and restaurant, Blaue Gans (www.hotel-blaue-gans-salzburg.at/en).
Moving further west, consider a stay in the lake resort town of Zell Am See. People come here year round for recreation (hiking, biking, swimming, skiing, boating) and access to the famous Grossglockner High Alpine Road, considered one of the most beautiful drives in Europe. Twenty minutes away is the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier, where skiing is possible most of the year. The place to stay in Zell Am See is the Hotel Salzburgerhof (www.salzburgerhof.at), a beautiful, chalet-style hotel surrounded by lovely gardens. It offers luxurious rooms, an over-the-top-spa, outstanding regional cuisine and impeccable service. This place is a real treat!
We passed through the well-known skiing centers in the Tirol (St. Anton, Kitzbuhel, etc.) to discover the Vorarlberg, a province in Austria’s far west. This region has much to offer, yet few Americans know it (except for, perhaps, the exclusive ski resorts of Lech and Zurs in the eastern part of the province). Europeans come to Vorarlberg year round to enjoy the scenery: soaring granite peaks, tranquil lakes and vivid green valleys dotted with villages, each accented with a simple, steepled church. In the Voralberg, is the Bregenzerwald region, the place to go for soul renewal. There’s great hiking and biking in the alpine meadows and forests and a range of accommodations. Adjacent to the larger town of Bregenz is Lake Constance, where operas are performed every summer on a stage that’s built right over the lake!
Of all the villages in Bregenzerwald, Schwarzenberg (pictured above) may be our favorite. Protected as an historic landmark because of its wood-shingled houses, Schwarzenberg is the birthplace of Angelika Kauffmann, one of the most important female painters of the 18th century. (A small museum here showcases her paintings.) The town is also the site of a well-known Schubert festival, which brings in top artists from around the world.
In Schwarzenberg, we recommend Gasthof Hirschen (www.schlosshotels.co.at/en), an elegant, small hotel with a fabulous restaurant that serves excellent regional and continental cuisine. Nearby, in the town of Au, the hotel Krone In Au (www.krone-au.at) is also excellent and very popular among Europeans.
In the Montafon region of Vorarlberg, the valleys are long, deep and surrounded by tall mountains, laced with steep ski slopes that are popular among locals and foreigners. It’s a wonderful summer destination, too, as the many Europeans, who come here with their mountain bikes and hiking sticks, will attest. The cozy, elegant Posthotel Roessle (www.posthotel-roessle.at), where Ernest Hemingway used to stay, is located in Gaschurn and highly recommended. Sports enthusiasts looking for a basic, yet very hip, accommodation appreciate the Explorer Hotel Montafon (hwww.explorer-hotel.com).
If possible, be sure to take time to explore some of these destinations that are, perhaps, a little off the beaten path for some Americans.