Why you should go on holiday to Austria
Throughout its traditional mountain villages, lakeside towns and culture-filled cities, Austria’s packed with things to see and do. We caught up with two members of our Lakes & Mountains team to get the lowdown on everything from must-try dishes to authentic local festivals.
What did you love most about Austria?
Ben: We both loved the scenery. Flower-filled meadows and rocky peaks surround proper farming towns, which usually have a centuries-old church in the centre. And there are frescoed buildings decorated with colourful window boxes around every corner.
The local people are super friendly too, and lots of the staff in bars and restaurants dress in dirndls and lederhosen. Many towns have Trachtenmode shops, which specialise in traditional clothes, so you can browse the styles and even try some on.
Where was your favourite place?
Ben: When it comes to Austria’s most scenic spots, it’s hard to beat St Gilgen. You can spend your days sunbathing by the lido, taking paddle steamers across the lake or or riding the old cog railway to the top of the Schafberg mountain. And you can catch the bus to Fuschl or St Wolfgang to explore little cobbled streets and pavement cafés, or take a ride in a traditional horse-drawn cart.
Clarice: St Gilgen is my favourite town too. It felt really tranquil and the houses and lake were just beautiful. But the highlight of the area for me was the Kaprun dams, which are right next to Zell am See and Kaprun. The glacial water up there is a bright aquamarine and you’re in awe of the huge dam walls. Taking the lift up to walk around them was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and it means you get to see mountaintops, a glacier and the calm water all in one place.
When is the best time to go to Austria?
Clarice: If you prefer mild summer days to real scorchers, Austria’s perfect. It gets warm but rarely very hot between May and September.
Ben: We went in August and it was sunny most days, but not too hot. And because you’re among the lakes and mountains, the air is fresh and really pleasant for walking. Although there’s more chance of good weather in August, it’s still best to pack for cooler temperatures too. The odd rain shower isn’t uncommon in the mountains, but they don’t tend to last long. And without the rain, the scenery wouldn’t be so rich and colourful.
What’s the accommodation like?
Ben: Most accommodation in Austria is traditional guesthouses that offer half-board meals. Picture charming wooden buildings with decorative carvings, painted exteriors and colourful shutters. And many of them have been run by the same family for generations.
Clarice: They’ve got a lovely tradition of hospitality in all these villages, so you’ll usually get a very personal service and will probably know your waiter’s name by the end of the week.
And the food?
Ben: It’s filling and delicious. To keep you going all day, try Tiroler gröstl, a typical savoury dish of fried potato, bacon and onion with a fried egg on top. Or if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll love Sachertorte – a soft chocolate sponge with a marmalade filling and chocolate glaze. My absolute favourite though was kaiserschmarrn, which is a warm pancake chopped into chunks and served with a tart fruit compote. Some days I just had kaiserschmarrn and coffee for lunch.
Clarice: You could eat dumplings every day in Austria and never get bored. Cheese dumplings, bacon dumplings, dumpling soup, or my favourite, germknödel. It’s a soft, round, white dumpling with poppy seeds on top, filled with plum jam and sometimes served with custard.
If you’re looking for a delicious souvenir, you can’t beat Mozart balls. They’re made from layers of marzipan and nougat covered with a dark chocolate shell and are extremely moreish.
What is there to do in Austria?
Clarice: Austria’s got some unmissable cities and they’re very easy to visit from the resorts. Salzburg was our favourite. It’s the perfect place to explore on foot, with gardens, palaces, a cathedral and a lovely waterfront. It’s also the home of Mozart – you can go and visit his birthplace and the little hut where he wrote his masterpieces. And The Sound of Music was filmed there too. If you’re a fan, there’s a tour that’ll take you to all the famous scenes.
There’s also a strong coffee culture in Austria. Coffee and cake in the afternoon is its own meal, so wherever you are, there’s always a café nearby where you can sit with a local sweet treat and watch the world go by.
Ben: You can do lots of walking up in the mountains. The Zillertal Nature Park near Mayrhofen has some of the best walks in Austria. Hop on the summer lift and follow wide, well-maintained trails in any direction for panoramic views along the Zillertal valley. There are plenty of relaxing lakeside strolls too – you could even stop for a swim then soak up some sun on the shore if you fancied.
Austrian’s also love a good party, so there are lots of festivals throughout the summer. St Johann celebrates the humble dumpling in September at the Knödelfest, serving up over 26 varieties for you to try. And over in Kitzbühel, the hills are filled with the sound of music during June as musicians gather for the Town Band concert.
If there’s lots of walking, do I need to be really fit?
Ben: Not at all. There are plenty of ways to get around without having to go on an all-day hike. The public transport is excellent and there are lots of summer cable cars and mountain trains that’ll whisk you up to the best viewpoints.
Clarice: The walks are there if you want to do them – and some of them are very easy – but if you just want to sit back and take in the scenery, it’s hard to beat a boat trip. Lots of the lakes and rivers have trips you can go on, with everything from fairy-tale barges to vintage paddle steamers cruising the waters.
Do you have any tips for someone planning a holiday to Austria?
Ben: Check out what summer cards are available for the resort you’re interested in. Most places have them and some hotels give them to you for free when you stay with them. They’ll cover you for use of local transport and you’ll also get discounts on local attractions, so you can save your spending money.
Put your best foot forward next summer and see Austria for yourself with a Lakes & Mountains holiday.
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