Besides Hohe Tauern National Park, the main attractions of Western Carinthia are Millstatt with its serene and pretty lake for swimming and boating, its abbey and famous music festival, and Spittal an der Drau, with its stately Renaissance palace and pretty, floral park.
Zell am See
Zell am See is an instant heart-stealer. From its bluer than blue lake (Zeller See) and pocket-sized centre studded with brightly painted chalets, the snowcapped peaks of the Hohe Tauern lift your gaze to postcard heaven. You can dive into that lake and cycle its leafy shores, hike and ski in those mountains and drive high, high on the Grossglockner Road.
The Wienerwald encompasses gentle wooded hills to the west and southwest of Vienna, and the wine-growing region directly south of the capital. For the Viennese, it’s a place for walking, climbing and mountain biking.
Mayrhofen is ever so traditional in summer, with its alpine dairies, trails twisting high into the mountains and stein-swinging Volksmusik pouring out of every Gasthof. But it dances to a different tune in winter.
Neusiedler See, Europe’s second-largest steppe lake, is the lowest point in Austria. But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in other areas. Ringed by a wetland area of reed beds, it’s an ideal breeding ground for nearly 300 bird species – its Seewinkel area is a favourite for bird-watching. The lake’s average depth is 1.5m, which means the water warms quickly in summer.
Spiritually somewhere between Brighton and St Moritz, Bad Gastein runs hot and cold, with therapeutic spas year-round and first-class skiing in winter. Though the damp is rising in places, the resort has kept some of the grandeur of its 19th-century heyday, when Empress Elisabeth came to bathe and pen poetry here.
Grazing the Swiss border and running west of the Inntal, the Paznauntal (Paznaun Valley) is a dramatic landscape overshadowed by the pearly white peaks of the Silvretta range. The villages are sleepy in summer, a lull that is broken in winter when skiers descend on party-hearty resorts like Ischgl.
Like northern Styria, west Styria is a mountainous region divided by jagged ranges and alpine streams. It’s an area for enjoying Austria’s natural splendour and escaping crowds. Murau, high up in the Mur valley, is a picturesque town well placed for hikes and cycle trips into the surrounding forests.
Ischgl becomes a quintessential powdersville in winter, with snow-sure slopes and a boisterous après-ski scene. The resort is a bizarre combination of rural meets raunchy; a place where lap-dancing bars, folk music and techno happily coexist.
Although there are more picturesque cities in the region, Villach is arguably the most dynamic, partly because of its role as an important transport hub for routes into Italy and Slovenia. It attracts an international bunch of visitors and is a very lively and liveable city, despite having no big-hitting sights.
This spa town’s reputation snowballed after the Habsburg Princess Sophie took a treatment here to cure her infertility in 1828. Within two years she had given birth to Emperor Franz Josef I; two other sons followed and were nicknamed the Salzprinzen (Salt Princes).
This southern corner of Lower Austria, known as the Süd-Alpin (Southern Alps), has some of the province’s most spectacular landscapes. Here the hills rise to meet the Alps, peaking at Schneeberg (2076m), a mountain popular among the Viennese for its skiing and hiking possibilities.
Quieter, more low-key than Hallstatt, this broad settlement offers great access to the Dachstein caves. It’s also a good starting point for hikes around the lake or more strenuous treks up to the caves themselves and beyond through alpine meadows. Signs from the train station point the way to the cable-car station and ice caves.
Southern Styria is known as Steirische Toskana (Styrian Tuscany), and for good reason. Not only is this wine country, but the landscape is reminiscent of Chianti; gentle rolling hills cultivated with vineyards or patchwork farmland, and capped by clusters of trees. It’s also famous for Kürbiskernöl, the rich pumpkin-seed oil generously used in Styrian cooking.