Updated October 17, 2010
The mention of Austria creates images of Alpine beauty, jagged granite peaks dusted with snow. Even in summer, there are glaciers that glimmer in the sun and make Austria one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. But its historic buildings and unique architecture are also worth visiting and the great breads, beers, pastries and wines are certain to please your tastebuds.
Most tourists include either Vienna or Salzburg on their itinerary of Austria. Others head straight to the ski resorts around Innsbruck. Those wanting to experience traditional Austria, or continuing on to Hungary or Slovenia, often travel to the small towns in Carinthia, the southeastern region of Austria. Each area has is own unique charms that will delight those who come looking for what the region has to offer.
FIRST CRITICAL PIECE OF ADVICE TO DRIVERS: Be sure you have the necessary "vignette" to allow you to drive the roads of Austria. Procure before you cross the border or you may be hit with a big fine.
Say Salsburg and you think of music. Home to Mozart and the Von Trapp Family of "Sound of Music" fame, the scenic beauty of Salzburg can claim credit for inspiring the great musical works that sprang from the area. Located near the northern border of Austria, close to both Germany and the Czech Republic, it is an easy addition to any journey to southern Germany and well worth the time. Visit Mozart's birthplace, glorious palaces of the Hapsburgs and enjoy delightful Austrian pastries in one of the many coffeehouses found in the central part of Salzburg. The Mirabell Palace and the Salzburg cathedral are just a few of the magnificant architectural sights in the city.
On the outskirts of the city is the charming Schloss Hellbrunn. Built at the direction of an Austrian archbishop, the compound was a popular escape from palace life in the 17th Century. On a warm day, you'll appreciate the amusing water features added to the gardens and entertainment areas. On a cool day, be sure to pack a rain jacket and hat. If you have any time in Salzburg, this is a good place to spend it...the whimsy of the waterworks (and the amazing ways that water is employed at the Lustschloss), made this one of the most enjoyable castle tours we took.
A short trip from the city takes you to the great salt mines for which the city is named. Visitors ride small mine trains and slide down miners' chutes to explore the pits where salt was removed. In one, you can visit a chapel carved from the salt and ride a ferry across an underground salt lake. Approximately 50 kilometers south of Salzburg is the world's largest ice cave.
As you leave Salzburg, you will see two major palaces.
If you are interested in World War II history, from Salzburg a short trip to Obersalzburg brings you to Hitler's retreat, the Eagle's Nests, where many of the brutal stategies of his regime were developed.
You can arrange a tour which will take you through the lake district where the Sound of Music was filmed. And other day trips take you into the scenic areas of southern Germany. The dark shadow of its recent history still spreads across the "Obersalzburg" where Hitler and other leaders of the Third Reich spent holidays.
Salzburg is easily reached from Germany by car (remember to have the appropriate sticker) but is also served by an airport just south of town and by a main rail line that is the hub of many east/west and north/south routes.
From Salzburg you can head southeast into the beautiful Austrian Alps and on to the amazing highway that takes you to the country's highest mountaintop, Grossglocknerstrasse.
South of Salzburg and Vienna, in the mountains that separate northern Europe from the warm weather of the south, you find the Carinthian region of Austria. The capital of the region, Klagenfurt, is famous its university and the scenic beauty that surrounds it.
One of the most beautiful sites in the region is the Hochosterwitz Castle which was built in the 9th Century atop a rocky perch. From a distance, it creates an imposing image of medieval power. On a clear day, the climb and the view it provides is most rewarding.