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.
The Dolomites rise like an amphitheatre around Lienz, which straddles the Isel and Drau Rivers and lies just 40km north of Italy. Those same arresting river and mountain views welcomed the Romans, who settled here some 2000 years ago and whose legacy is explored at medieval castle Schloss Bruck and archaeological site Aguntum.
Zell am See
Zell am See is an instant heart-stealer with its bluer-than-blue lake (Zeller See), pocket-sized centre studded with brightly painted chalets, and the snowcapped peaks of the Hohe Tauern that lift your gaze to postcard heaven. You can dive into the lake and cycle its leafy shores, hike and ski in the mountains and drive high on the Grossglockner Road.
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.
Eastern Carinthia’s prettiest medieval towns and most impressive castles lie north of Klagenfurt, on or close to Hwy 83 and the rail route between Klagenfurt and Bruck an der Mur. There are mountain ranges on either side: the Seetaler Alpen and Saualpe to the east and the Gurktaler Alpen to the west.
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.
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.
Like northern Styria, west Styria is a mountainous region divided by jagged ranges and alpine streams. Murau is a picturesque town well placed for hikes and cycle trips into the surrounding forests. If you’re heading this way from Graz, consider a detour to Seckau or Oberzeiring.
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.