Alpine lakes, a little bit of Mozart and Sachertorte are the perfect combo to lift your spirits, says Bev Watts
Austria is such a spectacular country that I didn’t want to just fly in and out. My plan to travel by rail, from Vienna in the east across to Seefeld in the west and beyond, proved to be a great idea. As a non-skier, I love a culture-rich city as much as a breath-taking natural landscape and the views from the train were picture-postcard.
In the centre of Vienna you can feel like you’ve walked onto a film set with ticket sellers strolling outside the State Opera House and Wiener Musikvereinconcert hall in 18th century attire, complete with satin waistcoats and powdered white wigs. Many visitors to Austria’s capital city, long a centre for classical music, soak up the melodic atmosphere with a recital of compositions by Mozart or Strauss. Popular too is a ride in an open-topped horse-drawn hackney carriage. Called ‘fiakers’ since 1720, the wooden cabs share the roads with cars and countless cyclists.
Coffee shops and a kiss
Vienna became the jewel of the Austrian Empire in 1804 and is known for its opulent imperial palaces, including the baroque Belvedere, now a museum of art. I stood dazzled in front of Gustav Klimt’s sensuous and shimmering masterpiece, The Kiss, the canvas richly enhanced with gold leaf, silver and platinum. (Symbolist painter Klimt apparently went commando under his arty robe and was a bit of a lothario.)
‘The best coffee in Europe is Vienna coffee,’ wrote American novelist Mark Twain, who visited in 1897, and Café Landtmann — one of the coffee houses favoured by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud — is still a popular spot. The classic beverage is the Wiener Melange, a mild milky coffee, ideally served with a slice of glazed chocolate Sachertorte.
This iconic café is located on the Ringstrasse, dubbed ‘the world’s most beautiful boulevard’, which circles the historical heart of the city and takes around an hour and half to walk full length. The 13th century Hofburg, former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty, is one of the must-see locations, but moving on to the spacious Leopoldstadt district beside the Danube, Vienna is also home to some innovative modern architecture.
Close to the 65-metre high Giant Ferris Wheel that was built the same year Twain arrived, Vienna University has some extraordinary faculty buildings. I wandered between the imaginative structures on the campus, designed by internationally-acclaimed architects, which are startlingly futuristic .
Sparkle of the Tyrol
On my train journey to Seefeld, leaving the lowlands for Austria’s peaks, I made a stop off in Innsbruck. I’ve always loved the drama of the capital of the Tyrol, you step outside the train station and the mountains are like giant walls.
The Tyrolean Folk Art Museum has a fantastic display of Austrian vintage painted furniture, costumes and other cultural treasures. Lederhosen (leather breeches) and dirndls (bodice-topped dresses with pinafores) were designed to be practical items of clothing and are still worn for special occasions today. Best made to measure, the finest lederhosen are fashioned from buckskin and become softer with age. Yodelling is an important custom in the rugged terrain of the Alps and if you can, catch a performance of the talented Gundolf Family. The moo-yodelling song, sounding just like a cow, is hilarious.
Nearby, and accessible by shuttle bus, is Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens, a truly original place. Jeweller Daniel Swarovski and his family built a quality glass crystal-cutting factory here in 1892 but today it’s much more than that. You enter under a waterfall cascading from a giant’s mouth and the crystals of all sizes and shapes create magical rooms. Hollywood designers adored sparkle, Judy Garland’s slippers in The Wizard of Oz were studded with Swarovski gems, as was Josephine Baker’s saucy dancing bra. A selection of authentic glamorous costumes are on show alongside others recreated in all their glittering glory.
Fans of The Sound of Music (including myself!) will be fascinated to know that a descendant of the Count Trapp family still lives at Schloss Friedberg, a 13th century castle in Volders less in than 10 minutes’ drive from Wattens. Today’s owners, Count Gaudenz and Countess Christiane Trapp, host weddings and private events. It’s the perfect romantic location for an overnight stay in a luxury suite and I was lucky enough to visit before continuing my rail journey.
The train-window topography was particularly dramatic in the area of Völs as I headed to Seefeld. a picturesque village sited on a sunny plateau very close to the German and Italian borders. Seefeld’s church, dedicated to St Oswald, has a legendary handprint in the stone altar and has been a place of pilgrimage since the 14th century. With clear and crisp mountain air, the area is a popular cross-country skiing resort in winter and is excellent for hiking and biking in summer.
Just an hour’s ramble from Seefeld along an easy walking trail, the fir tree-edged lake at Mösern, the Möserer See, is one of the warmest natural bathing lakes in Tyrol, reaching. 25°C in summer. The very adventurous can ascend from the lake up to the Brunschkopf viewing platform with a magnificent mountain panorama best seen through the Swarovski Optik telescope on site.
I chose instead to sit and enjoy the haunting peal of Mösern’s mighty Peace Bell. The cast bronze bell, which weighs more than ten tonnes, is inscribed with the message, ‘I ring for good neighbourly relations and for peace in the Alpine countries’. The bell is sited on a hill with glorious views of the Inn Valley and in this contemplative spot, it rings out at 5pm every day.
Where to eat, drink and stay in Vienna
To get around Vienna with ease, check out The Vienna Tourist Board’s site with info about The Vienna City Card, dates of theatre and concert performances and other useful tips. The ivie mobile app is a digital City Guide which includes an audio guide to the Ringstrasse.
Ideally located in the centre of Vienna and newly-opened, The Leo Grand hotel, is a statement in extravagant style with feathery lampshades and gorgeous fabrics. Even the lift is a visual delight.
Grab a delicious sausage from the Bitzinger kiosk behind the Vienna State Opera if you need a snack-on-the-go and plan an evening out at one of Vienna’s wine taverns. I sipped a glass of cloudy sturm (semi-fermented wine) at Das Schreiberhaus, a lively tavern with its own vineyard on the city outskirts.
In Seefeld-Tyrol, the Alpin Resort Sacher stands at 1,200 metres above sea level, has fabulous spa amenities and thrilling views of the surrounding mountains. Vivacious host Elisabeth Gürtler ensures excellent and courteous service
If you go to see St Oswald’s, pop into adjoining Hotel & Spa Klosterbraufor a beer.A delightful former monastery full of nooks and crannies, built in 1516, the monks had their own brewery on site and accommodated pilgrims until 1785.
Learn more about a holiday in Austria.
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