Skiing in the Alps
Skiing is the Austrian national sport and the reason thousands of visitors come to Austria. The country abounds in ski slopes, and you'll find the best ones in Tyrol, Land Salzburg, and Vorarlberg, although most parts of Carinthia, Western Styria, and Lower Austria also have slopes. The season lasts from late November to April, depending on snow conditions. At 1,739m (5,705 ft.), the Obertauern region extends its ski season until May. Daredevils can ski glaciers at 3,355m (11,010 ft.), even in summer.
Feasting on the "Emperor's Dish," Tafelspitz
Get a taste for typical Austrian cuisine with the fabled tafelspitz (boiled beef dinner), favored by Emperor Franz Josef. It might sound dull, but tafelspitz is far from bland. Boiled to a tender delicacy, the "table end" cut is flavored with spices, including juniper berries, celery root, and onions. An apple-and-horseradish sauce further enlivens the dish, which is usually served with fried, grated potatoes. The best tafelspitz is served in Vienna, where the chefs have been making the dish for decades.
Listening to Mozart
It's said that at any time of the day or night in Austria, someone, somewhere is playing the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You might hear it at an opera house; a church; a festival; an open-air concert; or, more romantically, in a Belle Epoque cafe, performed by a Hungarian orchestra. Regardless, "the sound of music" drifting through Vienna is likely the creation of this child prodigy. Try to hear Mozart on his home turf, especially in Vienna and Salzburg.
Watching the Lipizzaner Stallions (Vienna)
Nothing evokes the heyday of imperial Vienna more than the Spanish Riding School. The sleek white stallions and their expert riders demonstrate the classic art of dressage in choreographed leaps and bounds. The stallions are the finest equestrian performers on earth. You can watch the performances, but you'll need to make reservations 6 to 8 weeks in advance.
Cruising the Danube (Donau)
Johann Strauss took a bit of poetic license in calling the Donau "The Blue Danube," as it's actually a muddy-green color. But a Danube cruise is the highlight of any Austrian vacation. The legendary DDSG, Blue Danube Shipping Company, Handelskai 265, A-1020 Vienna (tel. 01/588800; www.ddsg-blue-danube.at), offers 1-day trips. On board, you'll pass some of the most famous sights in eastern Austria, including Krems and Melk.
Heurigen Hopping in the Vienna Woods
Heurigen are rustic wine taverns that celebrate the arrival of each year's new wine (heuriger) by placing a pine branch over the door. Austrians rush to these taverns to drink the new local wines and feast on a country buffet. Some heurigen have garden tables with panoramic views of the Danube Valley, whereas others provide shaded, centuries-old courtyards where revelers can enjoy live folk music. Try the red wines from Vöslau, the Sylvaner of Grinzing, or the Riesling of Nussberg, while listening to a Schrammelmusik quartet and all the revelers singing "Wien bleibt Wein" ("Vienna loves wine").
Reliving The Sound of Music
In 1964, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and a gaggle of kids imitating the von Trapp family filmed one of the world's great musicals. The memory of that Oscar-winning movie lingers on, as a steady stream of visitors head to Salzburg just to take The Sound of Music tour. You visit the Nonnberg Abbey and that little gazebo where Rolf and Liesl danced in the rain. There's also a stop at the Felsenreitenschule (Rock Riding School), where the von Trapps gave their final performance.
Driving on Top of the World on the Grossglockner Road (Land Salzburg)
For the drive of a lifetime, you can take Europe's longest and most panoramic alpine highway, with hairpin turns and bends around every corner. It begins at Bruck an der Grossglocknerstrasse at 757m (2,484 ft.); continues through the Hochtortunnel, where the highest point is 2,507m (8,225 ft.); and ends in the province of Carinthia. The mountain part of the road, stretching some 22km (14 miles), often at 1,983m (6,506 ft.), has a maximum gradient of 12%. You can drive this stunning engineering feat from mid-May to mid-November, although the road is safest from mid-June to mid-September. The views are among the greatest in the world, but keep your eyes on that curvy road!
Exploring the Alps
There are few places in the world that are as splendid as the limestone chain of mountains shared between Austria and Bavaria. Moving toward the east, the Alps slope away to the Great Hungarian Plain. The Austrian Alps break into three chains, including the High or Central Alps, the Northern Limestone Alps, and the Southern Limestone Alps. In the west, you discover fairy-tale Tyrolean villages, the Holy Roman Empire attractions of Innsbruck, and some of the world's greatest ski resorts, including St. Anton, Zürs, Lech, and Kitzbühel. Filled with quaint little towns, the Eastern Alps sprawl across the Tyrolean country, West Styria, and Land Salzburg. Castles and stunning views await you at every turn.
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