Whether a hike through alpine peaks and grassy meadows, or an urban jaunt through attractive towns framed by mirror-flat lakes, journeying through Austria is sure to bring up some unexpected moments. At any given turn, new experiences and adventures unfold. Some are to be found off the beaten tourist track, while others involve encounters with engaging tribes of creatives, design experts, extraordinary hotel hosts and even farmers, whose homes evoke an enviably relaxed joie de vivre. All that’s required is a willingness to take a different perspective – that of a local, in fact – to achieve a deeply felt, immersive experience.
Savvy travellers have long sung the praises of Austria’s charms and it’s not difficult to see why. The country features a surfeit of stunning natural vistas, all framed by massive mountain ranges, vivid green valleys and sun-washed cities that heave with eclectically creatives, all dipping in and out of bijoux boutique hotels and clean-lined studios and ateliers.
For even the most casual visitor, there is a danger of sensory overload. Confronted with so many options – in both rural and urban format, or an intoxicating mix of both – there is a not unreasonable impulse to cram the itinerary. But it pays dividends to pull back a little to, literally, assess the terrain first before diving back in.
Though Vienna certainly looms large in terms of its outsized cultural and artistic offerings, Vorarlberg near Austria’s western border makes for a compelling tour. The silvery grey ranges, extravagantly lush pastures and pretty Lake Constance, for instance, form an ideal backdrop for a sweep of outdoor activities for hikers, cyclists and e-bikers in the summer months, while, come winter, Lech Zürs am Arlberg is a magnet for serious alpine skiers.
Culture vultures will also be thrilled by the region’s varied offerings, whether the classic music festivals of Lech Zürs, the Grosses Walsertal biosphere park, or the clear notes that ring from the Montafoner Resonanzen festival. There’s plenty of great architecture to see too, particularly in Bregenzerwald. Ingo Metzler, who makes a bestselling range of facial products based on milk sourced from his mountainous farm, is a particular fan of the region’s contemporary timber structures, citing, among his favourites, ‘the Werkraumhaus in Andelsbuch (Hof 800) which was designed by architect Peter Zumthor, as well as seven bus-stop shelters in Krumbach that were designed by seven international architects’.
Meanwhile, with its picturesque hiking and biking trails that stretch for hundreds of kilometres, Linz, the regional capital of Upper Austria, hardly needs its UNESCO City of Media Arts tag to make a case for its claim to fame. Not only does the region boast crystalline lakes and charming beer gardens that serve up platters of knödel, speck and Linzertorte alongside chilled jugs of local beer, it also has a strong creative streak. Which explains Linz’s eclectic offerings, ranging from the edgy programming at the Ars Electronica Center and the rehabilitation of a tobacco factory into a creative hub, to vibrant street festivals and the recent unveiling of the outdoor graffiti gallery Mural Harbor.
‘Linz has always been an industrial town,’ says Andreas Bauer, head of the Ars Electronica Center. ‘Change is part of life for the people here. They have an advantage because they are more open for the simple reason that there has been so much change here in recent years”.
Equally, Linz knows when to take the foot off the pedal. After all, it’s difficult to run full pelt all the time, especially when the Danube tempts with every bend – its broad banks are the ideal spot to loll around while watching more adventurous types sail into the harbour.