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The Austrian Alps

Imperial Cities and Alpine Splendor in Austria

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Once the summertime refuge of nobility, Upper Austria now attracts nearly two million visitors a year. They come to revel in its clean air, towering mountains, and glittering lakes. Beyond the beauty of the countryside, Austria's magnificent churches, castles, and museums, plus its world-famous festivals and cultural events, make this realm a many-splendored destination.

Spas and hotels that accommodate special-interest travelers -- including golfers, mountain bikers, anglers, horseback riders, even those who insist on feng-shui-approved spaces -- allow guests to indulge their passions. And all across the land, the works of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Strauss serenade, unforgettable melodies of the most beautiful music ever composed.

Tiroleans pride themselves on their friendliness, high spirits, and love of tradition.

In the heart of the Alps, Austria's Tirol boasts rugged mountains that rise to more than ten thousand feet and overlook green meadows and shaded woodlands. Because of its relative inaccessibility, the Tirol escaped World War II virtually unscathed. But don't think it's difficult to get around here: Now in a single day you could travel aboard a cable car, steamship, cogwheel locomotive, railway, and tram, all perfectly meshed and capable of transporting you from, for example, Innsbruck to the Achensee, an enchanting village just 30 miles away.

Innsbruck, twice home of the Winter Olympics, offers ample summer attractions. From rafting to trekking, hang-gliding to horse-drawn carriage rides, there's something to delight every outdoor lover. Glacier hiking with a guide is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Groups enjoy awe-inspiring views of the summits, and once a week, lantern-lit evening hikes cast a romantic glow over the landscape. In town, don't miss the Tirolean Folk Art Museum, Ambras Palace Museum of Fine Arts, the Old Town's golden-roofed building, and Swarovski Crystal Worlds.

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In the Alpine foothills, Salzberg is renowned for its vibrant cultural life. The birthplace of Mozart, it's home to an annual music festival that draws a world-wide audience. Whenever you go, take time to view the city's splendid Baroque architecture and the elaborate Residenz, Mirabel, and Hellbrunn Palaces.

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Take a Tour

Flowing from west to east, the Danube, shared with Germany, is another must-see. Some visitors combine a cruise with a rail trip and sail the most beautiful stretch of the river, spending a night on the ship. Others go kayaking, canoeing, or rafting on this legendary waterway.

You can travel back in time on one of Austria's narrow-gauge trains, which climb the mountains and negotiate slender passes. The steam-powered Mariazellerbahn chugs over hills and dales, allowing passengers to pause at inns and hotels along with way. Riders on the Ötscherland-Express board a train whose carriages date from 1900. To reach the lower Austrian Limestone Alps, board the Schneebergbahn, a rack railroad that affords views as far as Hungary in the east and glaciers to the west.

Motorcycle enthusiasts on the 1,800-mile Austria Classic Tour ddrive through glorious scenery and past the 16 Small Historic Towns of Austria. A shorter route, the 155-mile Three Mountain Pass Trip, follows the Old Brenner Highway to Italy's South Tyrol before heading back.

Savor Summer on the Lake

Alpine lakes boast water so pure you can drink from them. Austria's picturesque westernmost province, Bregenz, nestles by the shore of Lake Constance. In addition to the marvelous views of Pfänder Mountain, you can visist the 11th-century Mehrerau monastery as well as Europe's largest floating stage, where the annual Bregenz Opera Festival is held, with audience seating on a land-based grandstand. Contemporary art and architecture mingle at Kunsthaus Bregenz.

In the Salzkammergut, Austria's most popular tourist region, there are 76 crystal-clear lakes alone where you can swim, surf, and sail. An eight-day Salzkammergut Lakes Cycle Tour combines biking, sailing, and train travel. In addition to crossing some of Europe's finest scenery, the tour pauses at the Dachstein giant ice caves and Emperor Franz Joseph's summer villa in Bad Ischl.

Surrounded by gently rolling hills and plied by excursion boats, Lake Attersee is one of the country's largest bodies of water. A vacation at the lake can include a stay at an affordable country inn, biking, hiking, cruising the lake, swimming, surfing, and even diving lessons.

The area around Lake Weissensee has thoughtfully added eleven marked hiking trails that overlook the water. Those who take diving lessons here sail to secluded spots on a catamaran and perfect their skills under expert guidance. Lake Seewaldsee in Grosses Walsertal is one of the region's warmest, attracting enthusiastic swimmers and sun-bathers throughout the radiant Alpine summer.

More Alps>

Part 3: German Alps
Part 4: Italian Alps
Part 5: Swiss Alps
Part 6: Alpine Cuisine
Part 7: Alpine Spas

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