The allure of Austria

The allure of Austria

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Austria invokes images of sophisticated elegance and quiet refinement. Often seen as an extension of Germany, Austria is more like a genteel cousin with its history, culture and identity. Borders lined with jagged alpine peaks and crystal-clear lakes make for fantastic hiking in the warm summer months and world-class snow sport options in the icy winter. However, one of the best seasons to visit this jewel is the fall — during the cooler and colorful autumnal months. From vibrant cities to small, rural villages and rugged mountain towns, there is no better time to discover Austria than now.

The great outdoors

Austria’s outdoor spaces are teeming with hikers, backpackers, mountaineers, skiers, snowboarders and other thrill-seeking adventurers during the summer and winter. As fall begins to announce its arrival, tourists start to head home, which leaves the well-maintained trails and parks significantly less crowded. Sandwiched between the German and Italian borders, the Tyrolean Alps boast breathtaking panoramas, sheer cliffs with cascading waterfalls and rolling emerald-green pastures. In mid-late September, visitors can often witness the annual spectacle of the “Almabtrieb.” After spending the summer moseying through the high-altitude meadows at their leisure, thousands of cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock make their way down the mountains back to their rightful owners and farms. Decked out in brightly colored ribbons and wreaths, once the animals have paraded through the village streets, it’s time to celebrate with a fest!

If you travel further east, approximately 75 kilometers south of Salzburg, you’ll discover the charming Austrian town of Hallstatt. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the area is famous for what lies beneath. A complex tunnel of caves at Dachstein Cave World dates back millions of years and was once part of an ocean, as evidenced by the fossils and shells that remain. Jagged mineral deposits known as stalactites and stalagmites jut ominously through the cave floor and dangle precariously from the ceiling. Hallstatt is also home to the world’s oldest salt mine. Visitors can walk through the wine or stay above ground and view the cityscape from the Skywalk. Or head to one of the nearby trails circling the lake for a trek through the changing leaves.

The cultural icons

For urban travelers, a visit to the capital city of Vienna is a must. This magnificent metropolis is nothing short of spectacular. A cultural powerhouse, intellectual and artistic greats such as Sigmund Freud, Beethoven and Mozart once called Vienna home. If the brisk autumn winds chase you indoors, there are a plethora of museums near the city center in the MuseumsQuartier. Once home to Austrian royalty, visitors can see how the other half lived at one of the many palaces. The impressive Schönbrunn Palace is an easy U-Bahn ride from the middle of town. Likewise, the Hofburg, Vienna Opera House, Karlskirche, Palais Schwarzenberg and Belvedere Palace are all within walking distance and worth a stop.

Sitting on the German border is the enchanting city of Salzburg. Immortalized in the beloved film, “The Sound of Music,” its history is very much entwined with music and the arts. With a vast amount of palatial homes and castles, Salzburg has the feel of a fairy tale. As the birthplace of Mozart, visitors can walk through his childhood home and glide through the ornate ballrooms of Mirabell Palace and the Robinhof, imagining his dramatic musical stylings filling the grand spaces. If the outdoors is calling to you, head to the riverfront and walk beneath the beautiful foliage lining the Salzach River. For a little more adventure, head to one of the many hiking spots in the Alps east of the city.

Another cultural gem hiding in the Tyrolean Alps tends to see more visitors during the winter. Host to the Winter Olympics in 1964, 1976 and the Youth Olympic Games in 2012, Innsbruck should be on your travel bucket list. Although it’s best known as a winter sports mecca, visiting during the fall allows visitors to see the spectacular colors as the leaves change against the backdrop of pastel-colored buildings and towering snow-capped peaks in the distance. If the weather takes a turn, head indoors to the Swarovski Kristallwelten. With brilliant displays of glittering crystals, visitors can peek inside the world-famous crystal house.

Although Austria is often compared and equated to its neighbor, this serene yet sophisticated country holds its own allure. During the autumn months, you’ll find you have more breathing room and the opportunity to discover all it has to offer. 

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