Lifestyle & Culture

Staycation Austria: One country, infinite experiences in Europe’s alpine paradise

(Editor’s note: Austria is the next stop for our Staycation series as the pandemic limits travel in some European countries – though Austria is open for tourism. You can see the first post on the Netherlands here.)

For those of you expats fortunate enough to be living in Austria or Germany, now is the time to explore some of the most gorgeous areas in Austria. This time I reached out to my Vienna-based son Thom for a couple of suggestions.

Schladming-Dachstein

This area in Styria, in the southeast of Austria, is a three-hour drive from Vienna and a 1.5-hour drive from Salzburg. You can also get there by train. This area is most popular for winter sports. The inside tip from my son is that this an area worth a visit in the summer as it has great hiking and beautiful countryside in which to relax and maybe ponder the positive side to reduced travel.

Schladming was once a mining village but now survives on tourism, both winter and summer. Surrounded by the Dachstein Mountains, this little town offers plenty of hotels and B&B’s but be aware that availability is dependent on restrictions at the moment.

The small town has a selection of shops selling winter sports and hiking gear, bakeries and restaurants. The speciality cheese Graukäse is worth sampling as is beer, such as the Dachstein Naturbier, an organic beer from the local Schladminger brewery. The town offers easy access to hikes in the mountains via the cable cars.

LOCAL ACTIVITIES ~

Climbing:

This area has 22 via ferrata (fixed cable) climbs and also rock climbing tours. They vary in scales of difficulty and there is even one that caters for children. The oldest via ferrata in the Eastern Alps, known as the Randkluft, leads to the top of the Hoher Dachstein. Combined with other fixed climbs, it offers a tour that rises 1,200 vertical meters in total, which makes it the most challenging route of its kind in the Alps.

Thrill Seeking:

The new zipline at Stoderzinken is the largest in Europe apparently and starts at 1,600 meters above sea level. If the lockdown has made you feel, at times, like throwing yourself off a cliff then this is for you!

• There is also a Flying Coaster which leaves from the same start point as the zipline but instead of flying straight down you can sit in a swing-type seat and experience the swoops and peaks of a roller coaster ride.

• The one or two seater toboggan run at Rittisberg also will get the adrenaline going and the bonus is that you control the speed.

• Then there is Flyline, a cross between a roller coaster and a zipline that takes you on a meandering course suspended through the trees in a double or single seat.

If you still need more action then you can climb through the trees on a rope course, with challenges and obstacles thrown in, and there is also a child height version.

Hiking:

If hours surrounded by nature and pristine countryside is more your idea of relaxation, there are more than 1,000 kilometers of hiking trails and mountain biking routes in the area. If you want to experience the really secret spots then join an organized hike with a local guide … you won’t be disappointed.

The Austrian tradition of alpine huts offering delicious food and produce from the local farms is definitely a perk on a hike through this pristine countryside, and if you want to cheat a little then there is the opportunity to ride up or down in a gondola. Many of the huts provide accommodation and after a relaxing breakfast you can take off for a breath-taking hike during the day and end up back in the “hutte” for dinner looking out at the countryside with a glass of local wine in your hand.

Golf & Swimming:

There are four golf courses in the area if strolling on the green sward is more your thing, or indoor/outdoor pools and lakes to swim and relax in.

*Many of these activities are dependent on the Coronavirus restrictions.

Neusiedlersee

Neusiedlersee, or Lake Neusiedler, is the largest “steppe” lake – 315 square kilometers, no deeper than 1.8 meters – on the borders of Austria and Hungary. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known locally as the “Sea Of The Viennese.” The largest body of water in Austria provides an opportunity for swimming and watersports ~ the bonus of being so shallow is that the lake water can be really warm.

Some of the towns and villages in the surrounding area that provide accommodation are

Breitenbrunn, a small wine producing village;

• the wine producing medieval city of Rust, near the Hungarian border;

• the towns of Neusiedl am See and Podersdorf am See, which is the largest tourist town directly on the shores of the lake and offers a shore area free of reeds and a large lido;

• Podersdorf am See is an hours drive from Vienna but is also accessible by train and is connected to Rust by ferry;

Neusiedl am See, with a 45-minute drive or train ride, is a little closer to Vienna.

LOCAL ACTIVITIES ~

Hiking and Biking:

The mild climate makes this a perfect area for any sport and fitness enthusiast. If those weeks of lockdown have played havoc with your diet then this is the place to get fit. For biking, the cycle paths have been given 5 stars by the German ADFC and there are more then 40 of them, covering 1,000 kilometers. For hikers there are 50 kilometers of Nordic trails, you can take the 38-kilometer “Wine trail” or if you really want to get rid of those extra pounds the area also has a running park with 49 planned trails.

Watersports:

• With frequent wind, the Neusiedlersee is a perfect spot for windsurfers and kitesurfers and there are many kite and sailing schools if you are a learner.

• Paddle boarding is a perfect sport for this shallow lake

• kayaking and canoeing will give you a chance to study the local wildlife.

• If you are looking to swim there are many opportunities to do so from the lake to indoor and outdoor pools.

Golf:

There are three courses in the area to challenge the enthusiast.

Wildlife Lovers:  

Lake Neusiedl-Seewinkel National Park was founded in 1993 and straddles the border with Hungary. The varied wetlands, grazing areas, meadowland, grassland, sand steppes and salt sites make a wonderful place for thousands of migrating birds and other animals to be observed.

Indulgences

Wine, Shopping & Spas:

• The area around the lake provides the perfect climate for vineyards and is a home to 13 of Austria’s DAC or certified wines. The area also produces sweet wine due to the warm, humid air.

• For shopping, visit Neusiedl am See, Eisenstadt or the Designer Outlet and the Fashion Outlet at Parndorf.

• Spa trips are also popular in the area as the mud from the lake has purportedly special properties.

(Author’s note: All activities are dependent on local coronavirus restrictions. Reduced international travel should be looked upon as a gift, giving Austrian based expats the chance to explore more of this scenic country.)

About the author:

Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past nine years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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