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06 September 2011


Posted in Austria

Austria is a country of startling contrasts, from the soaring Alps to the verdant swathes of the Danube Valley. This European beauty is noted as much for its historical buildings, awe-inspiring museums and galleries, as for its world-class skiing conditions and breathtaking mountain scenery.

Groundbreaking cultural figures pepper Austria's history, from the composing geniuses of Mozart and Schubert, to the great mind of psychologist Sigmund Freud.

Glorious architectural riches include reminders of the once-powerful Habsburgs, who dominated central Europe for seven centuries; the capital of Austria, Vienna, is magnificent with its ornate Opera House and the imperial Hofburg, while many other cities are similarly infused with historical magic, notably Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg, with stunning baroque churches set before a backdrop of snow-covered peaks.

15 August 2011

Bad Gastein

Posted in Austria

With a population of 15,000, Bad Gastein is a sizable resort town that has a long history dating back beyond the arrival of snow sports in the area. Originally a spa resort, the records of the healing powers of its 17 natural springs date back at least to the 13th century, and the resort remains a major year-round spa and wellness destination to this day. There is water everywhere, in many indoor spas and out in streams, rivers and a spectacular local waterfall.

Thanks to this status, the resort’s infrastructure and the range of shopping, restaurants and other activities available are far better than for many seasonal ski resorts. It also makes Bad Gastein a good choice for those with non-skiers in their party.

Although not originally built for skiing, Bad Gastein has become one of Austria’s leading ski resorts and has been since the earliest days of winter sports. Austria’s first cable car for skiers opened here 60 years ago and the ski slopes have extended to join neighbouring resorts in the Gastein Valley with a world class network of 250km (170 miles) of piste.

12 September 2011


Posted in Austria

Innsbruck is the capital city of the federal state of Tyrol in western Austria. It is located in the Inn Valley at the junction with the Wipptal (Sill River), which provides access to the Brenner Pass, some 30 km (18.64 mi) south of Innsbruck. Located in the broad valley between high mountains, the Nordkette (Hafelekar, 2,334 metres (7,657 ft) in the north, Patscherkofel (2,246 metres (7,369 ft)) and Serles (2,718 metres (8,917 ft)) in the south, it is an internationally renowned winter sports centre, and hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics and the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics. It is to host the 1st Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. The word bruck comes from the German word Brücke meaning "bridge" which leads to "the bridge over the Inn".

Covered pedestrian bridge over The Inn River.
Earliest traces suggest initial inhabitation in the early Stone Age. Surviving pre-Roman place names show that the area has been populated continuously. In the fourth century the Romans established the army station Veldidena (the name survives in today's urban district Wilten) at Oenipons (Innsbruck), to protect the economically important commercial road from Verona-Brenner-Augsburg.

The first mention of Innsbruck dates back to the name Oeni Pontum or Oeni Pons which is Latin for bridge (pons) over the Inn (Oenus), which was an important crossing point over the river Inn. The city's seal and coat of arms show a bird's-eye view of the Inn bridge, a design used since 1267. The route over the Brenner Pass was then a major transport and communications link between the north and the south, and the easiest route across the Alps. The revenues generated by serving as a transit station enabled the city to flourish.

Innsbruck became the capital of all Tyrol in 1429 and in the fifteenth century the city became a centre of European politics and culture as emperor Maximilian I also resided in Innsbruck in the 1490s. The city benefited from the emperor's presence as can be seen for example in the so called Hofkirche. Here a funeral monument for Maximilian was planned and erected partly by his successors. The ensemble with a cenotaph and the bronze statutes of real and mythical ancestors of the Habsburgian emperor are one of the main artistic monuments of Innsbruck.

In 1564 Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria received the rulership over Tirol and other Further Austrian possessions administrated from Innsbruck up to the 18th century. He had Schloss Ambras built and arranged there his unique Renaissance collections nowadays mainly part of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. Up to 1665 a stirps of the Habsburgian dynasty ruled in Innsbruck with an independent court. In the 1620s the first opera house north of the Alps was erected in Innsbruck (Dogana).

In 1669 the university was founded. Also as a compensation for the court as emperor Leopold I again reigned from Vienna and the Tyrolean stirps of the Habsburg dynasty had ended in 1665.

During the Napoleonic wars Tyrol was ceded to Bavaria, ally of France. Andreas Hofer led a Tyrolean peasant army to victory on the Berg Isel against the combined Bavarian and French forces, and then made Innsbruck the centre of his administration. The combined army later overran the Tyrolean militia army and until 1814 Innsbruck was part of Bavaria. After the Vienna Congress Austrian rule was restored. The Tyrolean hero Andreas Hofer was executed in Mantua; his remains were returned to Innsbruck in 1823 and interred in the Franciscan church.

15 August 2011


Posted in Austria

Encircled by mountains and straddling the river of Salzach, the beautiful Austrian city of Salzburg has a dramatic setting that matches its own baroque splendour.

With its Alpine surroundings and UNESCO World Heritage historic centre - complete with cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, elegant squares and fabulous architecture - Salzburg really is just as lovely as the city portrayed in The Sound of Music.

Being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg has developed an incredibly rich musical life that would no doubt have made the great composer proud. The Salzburg Festival is considered one of the most important musical festivals in the world, and there are plenty of other festivals in the city. Salzburg puts on some 4,000 cultural events (most of them musical) every year.

And the city mixes high-brow and low-brow with ease. While an air of cosmopolitan sophistication hangs over the elegant shops, restaurants, lanes and squares of the Old Town, an altogether different, but just as interesting culture is encountered in the many Bierstuben selling locally brewed beer.

15 August 2011


Posted in Austria

Vienna will surprise you: the strains of Mozart and hip-hop music co-exist, while a stone's throw from the grand dames and their miniature dogs in traditional coffee houses are the hip new cutting-edge bars and cafés.

Vienna today is a beguiling mix of old and new, perhaps best illustrated by the new MuseumsQuartier cultural district. Here the courtyard of the old Spanish riding stables, featuring the city's largest baroque facade, is now home to contemporary museum architecture.

For most, Vienna is classical music, imperial history and monumental architecture, for others it is forever linked with The Third Man and its haunting Harry Lime Theme.