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24 July 2014

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Austria for all seasons

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Austria’s reputation as a world-class skiing destination is well known, but this beautiful country has so much more to offer. Wandern_Ahorn_Zillertaler_Tourismus_Andre_Schoenherr_(5).jpg

Head there in summer and you will be amazed at Austria’s natural beauty, culture-rich cities and top-notch cuisine. The obvious starting point for an Austrian summer break is a walking/hiking holiday. Whether it’s a leisurely wander through rolling countryside, a climb to your first Alpine peak, or a more energetic hike across challenging terrain, you will find well-signed routes, amazing scenery, friendly locals, and plenty of cosy places along the way to refuel with hearty Austrian fare.

For example, the rugged Wilder Kaiser region in the Tyrol offers guests 15 half- and full-day guided summer hikes; Zell am See-Kaprun features 250 miles of hiking trails stretched across glaciers, mountains and lake shores, as well as a Porsche-designed cable car which will take you to the summit of the 2,000m Schmittenhöhe, offering many more high-altitude trails; and Carinthia offers walkers the 43-stage Alpe-Adria-Trail which stretches from the foot of Austria’s highest mountain, the 3,798m Grossglockner, to the shores of the Adriatic.

Once you’re ready for a breather, it’s time to soak up some culture. Starting in Austria’s westernmost province, Vorarlberg has a host of summer activities, the highlight of which is the annual Bregenz Festival (running from 23 July to 25 August this year) featuring a dramatic performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute on an open-air floating stage on Lake Constance.

While you’re in Vorarlberg, don’t leave without trying its culinary speciality: Bergkäse. This mountain cheese is a spicy, aromatic treat, and originated in the mountains of western Austria for practical reasons: fresh milk was cheap and easily available, and hard cheese kept for a very long time, so was a good food source for those in the tough Alpine climate.

Foodies will definitely want to head to two more Austrian cities, both of which have much-heralded cuisine and regional specialities: Linz and Graz. Linz, on the banks of the Danube, has been transformed from an industrial steel town to a European Capital of Culture with a strong focus on technology and modern art. The Danube cycle path, one of Europe’s most famous bike routes, goes through the centre of Linz – the ideal way to work off a slice of Linzer Torte, the famous lattice-topped, jam-filled treat that dates to the early 1800s.

Graz, in the south-east of Austria, has plenty to offer foodies, too. The country’s second-largest city bears the nickname ‘Austria’s delicatessen’, and is teeming with restaurants, coffee houses, wine bars, farmers’ markets and food festivals. Try some local wine – Graz is located in the Styrian region, which specialises in zippy, racy white wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay), and elegant, fruity reds (Pinot Noir). The historic Old Town is the perfect starting point to wander around and take in the sights and enticing smells. And don’t forget to check out Graz’s most recognisable landmark – the Kunsthaus (art museum), dubbed by locals as ‘the friendly alien’.

Rock me Amadeus

No visit to Austria would be complete without seeing Salzburg, a UNESCO-recognised city full of baroque architecture, and the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But in 2014, a different composer will take centre stage, as the city marks the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss, co-founder of the renowned Salzburg Festival.

Finally, the city of Innsbruck is well known among skiing fans, but it has plenty to offer the summer visitor. Located in the heart of the Tyrolean Alps, city life and mountain culture are irrepressibly intertwined, creating a unique Alpine vibe. Take in the medieval Old Town, with its maze of lanes hiding cafés, shops and galleries, and in the afternoon enjoy the views 2,000m up – a cable car will whisk you high into the mountains from the heart of the city in just 20 minutes.

Just 25 miles north-east of Innsbruck lies the dramatic Zillertal Valley, where a healthy, happy time is guaranteed. Hailed as Austria’s best bike region, with 500 miles of marked routes at varying altitudes, the mountains are dotted with eight cable cars. A popular resort within the network is Wildschönau, where impressive mountain scenery is the backdrop to a number of attractions, including the highly regarded Z’Bach mountain farming museum. You’ll find the typical Tyrolean friendly hospitality, and don’t forget to try the local speciality, ‘Tiroler Knödel’, a delicious dumpling made with local ham.

The perfect combination of city life, mountain air, and stunning scenery – Austria has something for everyone. For more information and offers on holidays in Austria, visit austria.info/summer

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