Thanks to the Habsburgs and their obsession with creating grand works, Austria is packed with high-calibre architecture. The earliest ‘architectural’ signs are ancient grave mounds from the Iron Age Hallstatt culture outside Grossklein, and the marginally more recent Roman ruins of Vienna and Carnuntum. In later centuries and millennia, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and especially baroque buildings popped up all over the show.
Architecture in Austria
- c AD 40
Romans establish Carnuntum and build military outpost Vindobona, today's Vienna.
- 11th Century
Gurk’s Romanesque Dom (cathedral) and Benedictine abbey Stift Millstatt are built (both in Carinthia).
- 12th Century
Early versions of Vienna’s Stephansdom rise up.
- 12th–15th Centuries
Gothic Stephansdom in Vienna, the Hofkirche in Innsbruck and the Domkirche in Graz are built.
- 16th Century
The Renaissance in Austria produces Burg Hochosterwitz and Burg Landskron in Carinthia, Schallaburg in Lower Austria, Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck and the Schweizer Tor in Vienna’s Hofburg.
- 17th–mid-18th Centuries
The baroque era results in an overwhelming number of masterpieces throughout Austria, among them Vienna's Schloss Belvedere and Schloss Schönbrunn.
- Mid-18th–mid-19th Centuries
Neoclassicism takes root and the Burgtor is built in Vienna and Schloss Grafenegg in Lower Austria.
A Biedermeier style casts off some of the strictness of classicism, focusing on housing with simple yet elegant exteriors and on light, curved furnishings and interior decoration.
- Mid-19th Century Onward
Lingering neoclassicism spills over into other revivalist styles, giving ‘neo’ prefixes to Gothic, baroque, Renaissance and other architecture on Vienna’s Ringstrasse and across the country.
- Late 19th–Early 20th Century
Backward-looking historicism is cast aside for lighter, modern styles such as Vienna’s Secession building.
- 20th Century
While the Secession can still be felt, the Rotes Wien (Red Vienna) period produces large-scale workers’ housing, and later postmodernist and contemporary buildings like Graz’ Kunsthaus spring up.
Everywhere you look in Austria you'll see that the country adheres to that old adage – if it's baroque, don't fix it. The height of the baroque era of building was in the late 17th and early 18th century in Austria. It only moved into full swing once the Ottoman Turks had been beaten back from the gates of Vienna during the Turkish siege of 1683. It took the graceful columns and symmetry of the Renaissance and added elements of the grotesque, the burlesque and the saccharine.
A stellar example of such architecture is the Karlskirche (Church of St Charles) in Vienna. Here you find towering, decorative columns rising up on Karlsplatz, a lavish cupola embellished with frescoes and an interior replete with golden sunrays and stucco cherubs. The church was the brainchild of Habsburg Charles VI following the plague of 1713, and it was dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, who succoured the victims of plague in Italy. It is arguably the most beautiful of the baroque masterpieces.
Bernhard Fischer von Erlach
The mastermind behind the Karlskirche was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723). Fischer von Erlach was Austria’s first, and possibly greatest, baroque architect. Born in Graz, he began working as a sculptor in his father’s workshop before travelling to Rome in 1670 and spending well over a decade studying baroque styles in Italy. He returned to Austria in 1686 and in 1693 completed one of his earliest works in the capital, the magnificent Pestsäule, a swirling, golden, towering pillar commemorating the end of the plague.
Fischer von Erlach’s greatest talent during these early years was his interior decorative work, and in Graz he was responsible for the baroque interior of the Mausoleum of Ferdinand II. In 1689 he began tutoring the future Kaiser Joseph I (1678–1711) in architecture, before being appointed court architect for Vienna in 1694. Despite his high standing and connections to the royal court, he found himself without commissions, however, and worked in Germany, Britain and Holland until his favourite student, Joseph I, elevated him in 1705 to head of imperial architecture in the Habsburg-ruled lands.
Although Fischer von Erlach’s original plans for Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna would be revised, the palace, built from 1700, is his piece de resistance. It counts among the world’s finest baroque palaces and landscaped gardens, embracing the palace itself, immaculately laid-out gardens, baroque fountains, mythological figures inspired from classical epochs and an area used for hunting game that today is Vienna’s zoo.
Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt
Alongside Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna’s other baroque palace masterpiece, Schloss Belvedere, was designed by Austria’s second starchitect of the era, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt (1668–1745).
In his day, Hildebrandt was eclipsed by dazzling Fischer von Erlach. Like his renowned fellow architect, Hildebrandt headed the Habsburgs’ Hofbauamt (Imperial Construction Office). His great works were not churches – although he built several of these – or grand abodes for the royal court, but primarily palaces for the aristocracy. He became the architect of choice for the field marshal and statesman Prince Eugene of Savoy, and it was Prince Eugene who commissioned Hildebrandt to build for him a summer residence in Vienna. Today the magnificent ensemble of palaces and gardens comprising Schloss Belvedere is Hildebrandt’s most outstanding legacy.
Baroque Across Austria
Vienna's palaces and churches were a high point in the art of the baroque, but the style swept right across Austria. In Salzburg, when fire reduced the Romanesque cathedral to smithereens, the new Salzburger Dom (Salzburg Cathedral) – a baroque stunner completed in 1628 – replaced it. Meanwhile, in Melk on the Danube River, Jakob Prandtauer (1660–1726) and his disciple Josef Munggenast (1660–1741) worked their magic on the monastery Stift Melk between 1702 and 1738. In Graz, Schloss Eggenberg was commissioned in 1625 to the Italian architect Giovanni Pietro de Pomis (1565–1633), giving Austria another fine baroque palace and gardens.
It is said that the baroque was a leveller of styles, which is ironic considering that its grandeur was also an over-the-top display of power and wealth. Once the fad caught on, churches almost everywhere were pimped up and brought into line with the style.
The baroque era in Austria, as elsewhere, had begun in architecture before gradually spreading into the fine arts. The fresco paintings of Paul Troger (1698–1762) would become a feature of the late baroque. Troger is Austria’s master of the baroque fresco and he worked together with Munggenast on such buildings as Stift Melk, where he created the library and marble hall frescoes, using light cleverly to deliver a sense of space.
The Austrian kaisers Leopold I (1640–1705), Joseph I and Karl VI (1685–1740) loved the dramatic flourishes and total works of art of the early baroque. During the late 17th century the influence of Italy and Italian masters such as Solari (of Salzburger Dom fame), de Pomis (Schloss Eggenberg) and other foreigners was typical of the movement. Vorarlberg, however, was an exception, as here Austrians, Germans and Swiss played the lead roles. While the zenith of baroque was reached during the era of Fischer von Erlach from the early 18th century, during the reign of Maria Theresia (1717–80) from the mid-18th century Austria experienced its largest wave of conversion of older buildings into a baroque style. This, however, brought little in the way of new or innovative buildings. A neoclassicist movement was gaining popularity, and in Austria as elsewhere the movement left behind the saccharine hype and adopted a new style of strict lines.
Feature: Otto Wagner – Austria Shapes up for the Modern
No single architect personifies the dawning of Austria’s modern age in architecture more than Vienna-born Otto Wagner. Wagner, who for many years headed the Hofbauamt, ushered in a new, functional direction around the turn of the 20th century. When he was finished with Austria’s capital it had a subway transport system replete with attractive art nouveau stations, he had given the flood-prone Wien River a stone ‘sarcophagus’ that allowed the surrounding area to be landscaped and part of it to be given over to the Naschmarkt food market, and he had given us the Postsparkasse building and a sprinkling of other interesting designs in Vienna and its suburbs.
Wagner’s style was much in keeping with the contours of his epoch. He was strongly influenced in his early years by the architects of the Ringstrasse buildings and the revivalist style (which entailed resurrecting mostly the styles of ancient Rome and Greece), and he even (unsuccessfully) submitted his own plans for the new Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) in Vienna in a Ringstrasse revivalist style. Gradually, though, Wagner grew sceptical of revivalism and spoke harshly about his early works, characterising revivalism as a stylistic, masked ball. His buildings dispensed with 19th-century classical ornamentation and his trademark became a creative use of modern materials like glass, steel, aluminium and reinforced concrete. The ‘studs’ on the Postsparkasse building are the perfect example of this. Those who venture out to his 1907 Kirche am Steinhof will find another unusual masterpiece: a functional, domed art-nouveau church built in the grounds of a psychiatric institution.
One of Wagner’s most functional pieces of design was the Vienna U-Bahn (subway) system. He developed the system between 1892 and 1901 during his long spell heading the construction office of Vienna and he was responsible for about 35 stations in all – stops like Josefstädter Strasse on the U6 and Karlsplatz on the U4 are superb examples. One interesting way to get a feel for Wagner’s masterpieces is simply to get onto the U-Bahn and ride the U6 north from Westbahnhof. It’s sometimes called Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) – in this case, one you can literally sit on.
Back to the Future – Neoclassicism & Revivalism
Walk around the Ringstrasse of Vienna today, admire the Burgtor (Palace Gate) fronting the Hofburg on its southwest side and dating from the early 19th century, the Neue Burg (New Palace) from the late 19th century, or the parliament building designed by the Dane Theophil von Hansen (1813–91) and you may feel as though you have been cast into an idealised version of ancient Greece or Rome. In Innsbruck, the 1765 Triumphpforte (Triumphal Arch) is an early work of neoclassicism in Austria and creates a similar impression.
In Austria, the love of all things classical or revivalist moved into full swing from the mid-19th century. The catalyst locally was the tearing down of the old city walls that had run around the Innere Stadt (Inner City), offering the perfect opportunity to enrich the city’s architecture with grand buildings.
Feature: Adolf Loos – ‘Every City Gets the Architecture It Deserves’
In 1922 a competition was held to build ‘the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world’ for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The greats of the architectural world vied for the project, and one of them was Czech-born Adolf Loos (1870–1933). As fate would have it, a neo-Gothic design trumped Loos’ entry, which resembled a Doric column on top of what might easily have passed for a car factory.
Loos studied in Bohemia and later Dresden, then broke out for the US, where he was employed as a mason and also did stints washing dishes. He was influenced strongly by Otto Wagner, but it is said that his time as a mason (less so as a dishwasher) heightened his sensitivity to materials. He detested ornamentation, and that’s why he also locked horns with the art nouveau crew, whose flowers and ornamental flourishes (the golden cabbage-head dome of the Secession building, for instance) were anathema to his functional, sleek designs. Space, materials and even the labour used to produce a building (‘Ornament is wasted labour and therefore a waste of good health’) had to be used as fully as possible. Today, anyone who squeezes into Loos’ miniscule American Bar in Vienna, with its mirrors, glistening onyx-stone surfaces and illusion of space, will get not only a decent cocktail but a good idea of what the architect was about.
Ancient Greek Inspiration
The age of neoclassicism took root during the second half of the 18th century, and over the next 100 years buildings inspired by ancient civilisations would spring up across Austria and elsewhere in Europe. By the mid-19th century, an architectural revivalist fad had taken root that offered a potpourri of styles: neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance, and even a ‘neo’ form of neoclassicism.
Since the early days of the Renaissance, architects had looked to the ancient Greeks for ideas. The architecture of Rome was well known, but from the 18th century, monarchs and their builders were attracted to the purer classicism of Greece, and some of these architects travelled there to experience this first-hand. One of the triggers for this newly found love of all things Greek was the discovery in 1740 of three Doric temples in southern Italy in a Greek-Roman settlement known as Paestum.
Vienna’s medieval fortress had become an anachronism by the mid-19th century and the clearings just beyond the wall had been turned into Glacis (exercise grounds and parkland). In stepped Emperor Franz Josef I. His idea was to replace the Glacis with grandiose public buildings that would reflect the power and the wealth of the Habsburg empire. The Ringstrasse was the result. It was laid out between 1858 and 1865, and in the decade afterwards most of the impressive edifices that now line this busy thoroughfare were already being built. It is something of a shopping list of grand buildings: the Staatsoper (National Opera; built 1861–69), the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK; Museum of Applied Arts; 1868–71), the Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of Natural History; 1872–81), the Rathaus (Town Hall; 1872–83), Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History; 1872–91), the Parlament (1873–83), Burgtheater (1874–88), and the Heldenplatz section of the Hofburg’s Neue Burg (1881–1908).
Hansen’s parliament, with its large statue of Athena out front, possibly best symbolises the spirit of the age and its love of all things classical, but also ancient Greece as a symbol of democracy. One of the finest of the Ringstrasse buildings, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, is not only a neo-Renaissance masterpiece but also a taste of movements to come. This museum, purpose-built by the Habsburgs as a repository for their finest collection of paintings, is replete with colourful lunettes, a circular ceiling recess that allows a glimpse into the cupola when you enter, and paintings by Gustav Klimt (1862–1918). WWI intervened and the empire was lost before Franz Josef’s grand scheme for the Ringstrasse could be fully realised.
By then, however, Gustav Klimt and contemporaries of his generation were pushing Austria in new directions.
Secession & Art Nouveau
They called it a ‘temple for bullfrogs’ or a temple for an anarchic art movement. Other unflattering names for the Secession building were ‘the mausoleum’, ‘the crematorium’ or, because of the golden filigree dome perched on top, ‘the cabbage head’. Others still, according to today’s Secession association, thought it looked like a cross between a greenhouse and an industrial blast furnace.
In 1897, 19 progressive artists broke away from the conservative artistic establishment of Vienna and formed the Vienna Secession (Sezession) movement. In Austria, the movement is synonymous with art nouveau, although its members had a habit of drawing upon a broad spectrum of styles. Its role models were taken from the contemporary scene in Berlin and Munich and its proponents’ aim had been to shake off historicism – the revivalist trend that led to the historic throwbacks built along Vienna’s Ringstrasse. At the time, the Kunstlerhaus (Artists’ House) of Vienna was the last word in the arts establishment, and Secessionists, including Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser and Joseph M Olbrich, distanced themselves from this in order to form their association.
Olbrich, a former student of Otto Wagner, was given the honour of designing an exhibition centre for the newly formed Secessionists. The ‘temple for bullfrogs’ was completed in 1898 and combined sparse functionality with stylistic motifs.
Initially, Klimt, Olbrich and their various colleagues had wanted to build on the Ringstrasse, but the city authorities baulked at the idea of watering down their revivalist thoroughfare with Olbrich’s daring design. They agreed, however, to the building being situated just off it – a temporary building where for 10 years the Secessionists could hold their exhibitions.
Because art nouveau was essentially an urban movement, the scenes of its greatest acts were played out in the capitals or large cities: Paris, Brussels, New York, Glasgow, Chicago and Vienna. Like the Renaissance and baroque movements before it, Secession broke down the boundaries between painting and architecture. But it was also a response to the industrial age (although it used a lot of metaphors from nature), and the new movement sought to integrate traditional craftsmanship into its philosophy. The British were its role models for the crafts, and in 1903 Josef Hoffmann and Kolo Moser founded the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop), which worked together with Vienna’s School of the Applied Arts and the Secession movement to promote their ideas.
Another feature of Secession is its international tone. Vienna was a magnet for artists from the Habsburg-ruled lands. The movement was also greatly influenced by Otto Wagner. The Secession building, for instance, may have been domed by a floral ‘cabbage’, but its form had the hallmarks of Otto Wagner’s strictness of lines.
Austrian architecture is more than historic masterpieces. Up and down the country, a flurry of new-wave architects have revamped, constructed and envisaged some extraordinary contemporary designs in recent years to harbour museums, offices and events venues. Many of these slot neatly in between the grand old buildings – their architectural antithesis.
Schloss Grafenegg near the Danube Valley in the lush, rolling hills of Lower Austria is a fine instance of a postmodern concert location. Here a neoclassical palace on the shores of a lake – long a venue for classical-music events – was given a striking new addition: a 15m open-air stage called the Wolkenturm (Cloud Tower), designed by Viennese architects nextENTERprise. Set in a cleft in manicured parkland, this shiny, jagged, sculpture-like stage is a natural amphitheatre and takes on the hue of the surrounding parkland.
A similar reflection of surroundings is incorporated into the postmodern Loisium Weinwelt in Langenlois. This brings together a modern hotel complex and tours through historic cellars with an aluminium cube designed by New York architect Steven Holl. Meanwhile, further along the Danube River in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, the Lentos Kunstmuseum is a cubic, postmodern construction with a glass facade that kaleidoscopically reflects its surroundings.
States of Flux
This idea of the modern building reflecting or absorbing the tones of its environment contrasts with another approach in modern Austrian architecture: a building that is in a state of flux. Also in Linz, the postmodern Ars Electronica Center received an addition alongside its original modern building. The added dimension of an LED facade encloses both buildings and lights up and changes colour at night. Another example of this style is the Kunsthaus in Graz, which quickly became a new trademark of Styria’s capital. Sitting on the Mur River, this slug-like construction – the work of British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier – has an exterior that changes colour through illumination. The building’s modernity seeks to create an ‘aesthetic dialogue’ with the historic side of Graz rising up on a bluff on the other side of the river. This dialogue is linked by the Murinsel (Mur Island), a swirl-shaped pontoon bridge situated in the middle of the river with a cafe, a children’s playground and an amphitheatre for performance.
One of the most innovative architectural works of recent years has been the MuseumsQuartier in Vienna. The MuseumsQuartier has retained an attractive ensemble of 18th-century buildings that once served as the royal stables for the Habsburgs, added cafes and shops, and augmented these with new buildings, such as the dark-basalt Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK) and the Leopold Museum. These two museums are separated by the Kunsthalle and a bold public space that has grown to become a favourite gathering place in the inner city.
Sidebar: Don’t Miss…
- Vienna: Hofburg, MuseumsQuartier, Karlskirche, Schloss Schönbrunn and Kunsthistorisches Museum
- Graz: Kunsthaus and Schloss Eggenberg
- Salzburg: Festung Hohensalzburg
- Melk: Stift Melk
- Innsbruck: Hofburg and Hofkirche
Friedensreich Hundertwasser abhorred straight lines. He claimed in his Mould Manifesto to have counted 546 on a razor blade. He moved towards spiritual ecology, believing that cities should be in harmony with their natural environment, a philosophy that is represented metaphorically in his ‘wobbly’ KunstHausWien and Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna.
‘People love everything that fulfils the desire for comfort. They hate everything that wishes to draw them out of the secure position they have earned. People therefore love houses and hate art.’ Adolf Loos
‘Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the baroque is over.’ Ernest Hemingway, inadvertently revealing to us what he thought of baroque architecture (and also why he wrote about bullfights and not, say, Austrian churches).
‘Because ornamentation is no longer an organic part of our culture it no longer expresses our culture. An ornament created today has nothing to do with us, no connection to human beings and nothing to do with the world order. It’s not capable of developing any further.’ Adolf Loos
Coffee House Culture
Swing open the heavy wooden door of one of Vienna's Kaffeehäuser and it's as though the clocks stopped in 1910. The waiters are just as aloof, the menu still baffles and newspapers outnumber smartphones. Outside life rushes ahead, but the coffee house is a world unto itself, immune to time and trends. The story of their evolution from the Turkish siege of Vienna to today is an interesting one sprinkled with not just a few grains of fiction.
Like many a good fairy tale, Vienna's coffee house culture began with some magic beans. Back in Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman Turks were conducting their second great onslaught to wrest control of the Occident, the Second Turkish Siege, that saw the Turkish general and grand vizier Kara Mustafa along with his eunuchs, concubines and 25,000 tents, huddle on the fringe of fortified central Vienna in the Vorstadt (inner suburbs; places like Josefstadt and Alsergrund today).
According to legend, a certain Georg Franz Koltschitzky dressed himself up as a Turk and brought a message behind Turkish lines from the field Marshal Karl I of Lothringen and was rewarded for his efforts with some war booty that included sacks of coffee beans. Legend also says that although some dismissed the beans as camel feed or dung, clever Koltschitzky sniffed the beans and knew they had struck gold. He saw his chance to establish Vienna’s first Kaffeehaus and is said to have been the first person to mix milk and sugar into the exotic elixir.
The Hapsburgs went mad for it. Kaffeehäuser soon flourished in Vienna, where coffee was served with a glass of water. Kaffeehäuser in the 17th century also had a billiard table, but playing cards in them wasn’t allowed until the late 18th century.
Gradually, newspapers were introduced, and from the late 18th century the Konzertcafe (concert cafe) took hold – places where music was played. This cast the humble Kaffeehaus into a new role of being a place where the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and later Johann Strauss (the elder) could try out their works in the equivalent of open-stage or ‘unplugged’ performances.
When Austria adopted Napoleon’s trade embargo against Britain in 1813 it lost almost its entire source of imported coffee beans. Although alternatives like chicory, rye and barley were tried, in the end the Kaffeehäuser started serving food and wine, which is why today you can still get a light meal or a drink in a traditional Kaffeehaus.
Feature: Coffee Conundrums
Coffee really is rocket science here and you'll need to know your Mokka (black coffee) from your Brauner (black coffee with a tiny splash of cream) to order Viennese style. A quick glance at a menu will uncover a long list of choices, so brush up on the ones below. A good coffee house will serve the cup of java on a silver platter accompanied by a glass of water and a small sweet. The selection of coffee includes the following:
- Brauner Black but served with a tiny splash of milk; comes in Gross (large) or Klein (small)
- Einspänner With whipped cream, served in a glass
- Fiaker Verlängerter with rum and whipped cream
- Kapuziner With a splash of milk and perhaps a sprinkling of grated chocolate
- Maria Theresia With orange liqueur and whipped cream
- Masagran, Mazagran Cold coffee with ice and Maraschino liqueur
- Melange Viennese classic; served with milk, and maybe whipped cream too; similar to a cappuccino
- Mocca, Mokka, Schwarzer Black coffee
- Pharisäer Strong Mocca topped with whipped cream, served with a glass of rum
- Türkische Comes in a copper pot with coffee grounds and sugar
- Verlängerter Brauner weakened with hot water
- Wiener Eiskaffee Cold coffee with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream
Literary Coffee Houses
Come the late 19th century, elegant Kaffeehäuser sprang up along Vienna’s Ringstrasse and everywhere a new ‘literary coffee house’ developed where writers could work in the warm. Café Grienstedl was the first, but Café Central, the favourite of writers Peter Altenberg and Alfred Polgar, and architect Adolf Loos, is the best-known literary Kaffeehaus.
The writer Stefan Zweig saw them as an inimitable ‘democratic club’ bearing no likeness to the real world, but your average Kaffeehaus did have a clear pecking order. At the bottom of the heap was the piccolo who set the tables and topped up the guests' water glass, while flirting like a gigolo with the grand ladies whenever a spare moment presented itself. The cashier (in the ideal case of coffee-house tradition, buxom, blonde and with jewellery dripping from her ears) wrote the bills and kept a watchful eye on the sugar.
At the top of the heap was the Oberkellner (Herr Ober, for short, or head waiter), who until 1800 used to be a ponytailed fellow with a dinner jacket, white tie, laced shoes, striped stockings and often a green apron. No Herr Ober dresses like this today (there are hints of the old garb, but none of the kinky stuff), but they do still rule the tables and the spaces between them in their dark attire.
Today you find more of a Konditorei (cake shop) atmosphere, and most continue to be the living rooms of the Viennese. These are places where you can drink coffee or wine, eat a goulash or light meal, read the newspapers or even enjoy a lounge vibe.
Vienna Coffee Houses
- Old-school: Café Sperl
- Postmodern: Café Drechsler
- Rustic: Café Leopold Hawelka
- Views: Café Gloriette
- Grand: Café Sacher
- Quirky: Café Jelinek
- New-wave: Supersense
- Literary: Café Central
- Retro: Espresso
- Cat loving: Café Neko
‘The coffee house is a place where people have to go to kill time so that time doesn’t end up killing them.’ Alfred Polgar
‘In Café Central there are creative people who can’t think of anything to write; everywhere else, though, there are fewer of them.’ Writer Alfred Polgar (1873–1955)
Coffee house etiquette? Wait to be seated in formal places, take your pick of the tables in casual coffee houses. You're welcome to linger over a single cup if you wish; the waiter shouldn't move you on until you ask for the Rechnung (bill).
For total immersion into the scene, hook onto one of Space and Place's English-language Coffeehouse Conversation evenings, where visitors get the chance to chat to locals over dinner in a local coffee house.
The Austrian Alps
For many people, Austria is the Alps and no wonder. After all, these are the alpine pastures where Julie Andrews made her twirling debut in The Sound of Music; the mountains that inspired Mozart’s symphonies; the slopes where Hannes Schneider revolutionised downhill skiing with his Arlberg technique. Olympic legends, Hollywood blockbusters and mountaineering marvels have been made and born here for decades.
The Alps engulf almost two-thirds of the 83,858 sq km that is Austria. It’s almost as though someone chalked a line straight down the middle and asked all the Alps to shuffle to the west and all the flats to slide to the east, so stark is the contrast in this land of highs and lows. Over millennia, elemental forces have dramatically shaped these mountain landscapes, etched with wondrous glaciers and forests, soaring peaks and gouged valleys.
The Austrian Alps divide neatly into three principal mountain ranges running in a west–east direction. The otherworldly karst landscapes of the Northern Limestone Alps, bordering Germany, reach nearly 3000m and extend almost as far east as the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods). The valley of the Inn River separates them from the granitic Central Alps, a chain which features the highest peaks in Austria dwarfed by the majestic summit of Grossglockner (3798m). The Southern Limestone Alps, which include the Karawanken Range, form a natural barrier with Italy and Slovenia.
From snow-melt streams to misty falls, water is a major feature of the Austrian Alps. Mineral-rich rivers like the Enns, Salzach and Inn wend their way through broad valleys and provide a scenic backdrop for pursuits like rafting in summer. Lakes, too, come in all shapes and sizes, from glacially cold alpine tarns to the famously warm (around 28°C) waters of Wörthersee in Carinthia.
Feature: Season’s Greetings
Spring When the snow melts, the springtime eruption of colourful wildflowers sets senses on high alert. Look out for bell-shaped purple gentian and startlingly pink alpine roses.
Summer Stay overnight in a mountain hut, bathe in pristine alpine lakes and bring your walking boots for some highly scenic hiking on passes above 2000m.
Autumn The larch trees turn a beautiful shade of gold in late autumn and you might spot rutting stags. Come in late September for the Almabtrieb, where cows adorned with flowers and bells are brought down from the pastures for the winter.
Winter Snow, snow and more glorious snow. Enjoy first-class skiing, crisp mountain air and cheese-loaded alpine food. Your snug wood chalet on the mountainside awaits.
Feature: What a Picture
Photo ops abound in the Austrian Alps, but capturing the moment can be tricky. Here are our tips for getting that mountain shot just right:
- Make the most of the diffused early morning and evening light. Stay overnight in an alpine hut to get a head start.
- To get really white snow, you may need to increase the exposure.
- Get close-up wildlife photos with a telephoto zoom lens; moving too close unnerves animals. Stay calm and quiet.
- Think about composition: a hiker or a cyclist in the foreground gives your photo scale and highlights the immensity of the Alps.
- A polariser filter can help you capture that true blue sky.
Wildlife in the Austrian Alps
Nature reigns on an impressive scale in the Austrian Alps. The further you tiptoe away from civilisation and the higher you climb, the more likely you are to find rare animals and plant life in summer. Besides a decent pair of binoculars, bring patience and a sense of adventure.
Below tree line, much of the Austrian Alps is thickly forested. At low altitudes you can expect to find deciduous birch and beech forests, while coniferous trees such as pine, spruce and larch thrive at higher elevations. At around 2000m trees yield to Almen (alpine pastures) and dwarf pines; beyond 3000m only mosses and lichens cling to the stark crags.
A highlight of the Austrian Alps are its wildflowers, which bring a riot of scent and colour to the high pastures from May to September. The species here are hardy, with long roots to counter strong winds, bright colours to repel some insects and petals that can resist frost and dehydration.
Spring brings crocuses, alpine snowbells and anemones; summer alpine roses and gentians; and autumn thistles, delphiniums and blue aconites. Tempting though it may be to pick them, these flowers really do look lovelier on the slopes and most are protected species.
Men once risked life and limb to pluck edelweiss from the highest crags of the Alps for their sweethearts. The woolly bloom is Austria’s national flower, symbolising bravery, love and strength.
Floral High Five
- Edelweiss Star-shaped white flowers found on rocky crags and crevices.
- Gentian Bell-shaped blue flowers of the high Alps.
- Alpine crowfoot Early-flowering anemone-like blooms.
- Arnica Bright yellow daisy-like flowers found in alpine meadows.
- Alpine roses Hot-pink rhododendron-like flowers.
Dawn and dusk are the best times for a spot of wildlife-watching, though a lot boils down to luck. High on the must-see list is the ibex, a wild goat with curved horns, which was at one stage under threat but is fortunately now breeding again. It is the master of mountain climbing and migrates to 3000m or higher in the Austrian Alps come July. The chamois, a small antelope more common than the ibex, is equally at home scampering around on mountain sides. It can leap an astounding 4m vertically and its hooves have rubber-like soles and rigid outer rims – ideal for maintaining a good grip on loose rocks.
At heights of around 2000m, listen and look out for marmots, fluffy rodents related to the squirrel and native to the Alps. This sociable animal lives in colonies of about two dozen members. Like meerkats, marmots regularly post sentries, which stand around on their hind legs looking alert. They whistle once for a predator from the air (like an eagle) and twice when a predator from the ground (such as a fox) is approaching and the whole tribe scurries to safety down a network of burrows.
Ornithologists flock to the Austrian Alps for a chance to see golden eagles, falcons and vultures – both bearded and griffin.
Austria’s most endangered species is the Bayerische Kurzohrmaus (Bavarian pine vole), which is endemic to Tyrol and found only in six localities. Following close behind is the Kaiseradler (imperial eagle), at one time extinct in Austria but fortunately staging a comeback through re-immigration. The Europäische Hornotter (long-nosed viper) may be a venomous snake at home in Carinthia, but humans are a far greater threat to its survival than its bite will ever be to ours.
Teetering on the brink of extinction, the Austrian Alps’ population of brown bears is very low (estimated at less than 10), boosted now and then by inquisitive souls arriving from Slovenia and Italy. They only really appear in the Karawanks (Karawanken), Karnisch Alps (Karnischen Alpen) and Gailtal Alps (Gailtaler Alpen) in Carinthia, as well as in Osttirol. The survival of local populations and safety of transitory bears very much depends on the efforts of organisations like Austria’s Brown Bear Life Project and the WWF who have invested millions of euros into bringing the bear back to the Alps and fostering awareness.
For the lowdown on endangered species, consult the Rote Liste (www.umweltbundesamt.at, in German), collated by the Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environment Agency).
National Parks in the Austrian Alps
For an area of such mind-blowing natural beauty, it may come as a surprise to learn that there are just three national parks (Hohe Tauern, Kalkalpen and Gesäuse) as well as one major nature reserve (Nockberge) in the Austrian Alps. But statistics aren’t everything, particularly when one of these national parks is the magnificent Hohe Tauern, the Alps’ largest and Europe’s second-largest national park, which is a tour de force of 3000m peaks, immense glaciers and waterfalls.
The national-park authorities have managed to strike a good balance between preserving the wildlife and keeping local economic endeavours such as farming, hunting and tourism alive. The website www.nationalparksaustria.at has links to all national parks and a brochure in English to download.
Aside from national parks, protected areas and nature reserves are dotted all over the Austrian Alps, from the mesmerising mountainscapes of Naturpark Zillertaler Alpen in Tyrol to the lakes of the Salzkammergut. See www.naturparke.at for the lowdown on Austria’s nature parks.
Feature: Alpine National Parks
Hohe Tauern (1786 sq km)
classic alpine scenery with 3000m mountains, glaciers, lakes, high alpine pastures
ibex, chamois, marmots, bearded vultures, golden eagles
hiking, rock climbing & mountaineering, skiing, canyoning, paragliding
Gesäuse (110 sq km)
rivers, meadows, gorges, thick forest, limestone peaks
owls, eagles, falcons, deer, bats, woodpeckers
hiking, rafting, caving, mountain biking, rock climbing
spring, summer, autumn
Kalkalpen (210 sq km)
high moors, mixed forest, rugged limestone mountains
lynx, brown bears, golden eagles, owls, woodpeckers, butterflies
hiking, cycling, rock climbing, cross-country skiing
Nockberge (184 sq km)
gentle rounded peaks, alpine pastures, woodlands
marmots, snow eagles, alpine salamanders, butterflies
walking, climbing, cross-country & downhill skiing
www.national parknock berge.at
Austria’s Alpine Environment
Given the fragile ecosystem of the Austrian Alps, conservation, renewable energy and sustainable tourism are red-hot topics. In the face of retreating glaciers, melting snow, dwindling animal numbers and erosion, the people of the Alps come face-to-face with global warming and human impact on the environment on a daily basis.
Measures have been in place for years to protect Austria’s alpine regions, yet some forest degradation has taken place due to air and soil pollution caused by emissions from industrial plants, exhaust fumes and the use of agricultural chemicals.
The good news is that Austrians are, by and large, a green and nature-loving lot. Recently, everyone from top hoteliers in St Anton to farmers in Salzburgerland has been polishing their eco-credentials by promoting recycling and solar power, clean energy and public transport.
The government has moved to minimise pollutants, assist businesses in waste avoidance and encourage renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. Some buses are gas powered and environmentally friendly trams are a feature of many cities.
With global warming a sad reality, ‘snow-sure’ is becoming more wishful thinking in resorts at lower elevations in the Austrian Alps. Every year, the snow line seems to edge slightly higher and snow-making machines are constantly on standby.
A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on climate change warned that rising temperatures could mean that 75% of alpine glaciers will disappear within the next 45 years, and that dozens of low-lying ski resorts such as Kitzbühel (762m) will be completely cut off from their slopes by 2030. Forecasts suggest that the snowline will shift from 1200m to 1800m by 2100. As well as the impact on Austria’s tourist industry, the melting snow is sure to have other knock-on effects, including erosion, floods and an increased risk of avalanches.
Austria’s highly lucrative ski industry has its own environmental footprint to worry about. As their very survival has become threatened by warming temperatures, resorts find themselves pressured to develop higher up on the peaks to survive. For many years, ski resorts have not done the planet many favours: mechanically grading pistes disturbs wildlife and causes erosion, artificial snow affects native flora and fauna, and trucking in snow increases emissions.
However, many Austrian resorts now realise that they are walking a thin tightrope and are mitigating their environmental impact with renewable hydroelectric power, biological wastewater treatment and ecological buildings.
Feature: Eco Snow
In a bid to offset the impact of skiing, many Austrian resorts are taking the green run with ecofriendly policies.
- Lech in Vorarlberg scores top points for its biomass communal heating plant, the photovoltaic panels that operate its chairlifts and its strict recycling policies.
- Zell am See launched Austria’s first ISO-certified cable car at the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. It operates a free ski bus in winter and runs an ecological tree- and grass-planting scheme.
- Kitzbühel operates green building and climate policies, and is taking measures to reduce traffic and the use of nonrenewable energy sources.
- St Anton am Arlberg has created protected areas to reduce erosion and pumps out artificial snow without chemicals. Its excellent train connections mean fewer cars.
- Ischgl uses renewable energy; recycles in all hotels, lifts and restaurants; and has a night-time driving ban from 11pm to 6am.
- Mayrhofen operates its lifts on hydroelectricity, separates all waste and has free ski buses to reduce traffic in the village.
A right pair of love birds, golden eagles stay together for life. See www.birdlife.at (in German) to find out more about these elusive raptors and other Austrian birdlife.
www.umweltbundesamt.at/naturschutz is a one-stop shop for info on Austria’s landscape, flora and fauna.
Melting ice is a hot topic in the Hohe Tauern National Park. The Pasterze Glacier has shrunk to half its size over the past 150 years and is predicted to disappear entirely within 100 years.
Sidebar: Best Places to (Maybe) See…
- Marmots: Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, Grossglockner Rd
- Golden eagles: Hohe Tauern National Park
- Lynx: Nationalpark Kalkalpen
- Falcons: Nationalpark Gesäuse
- Ibex: Northern Limestone Alps
Sidebar: Speaking of Superlatives
- Europe’s highest waterfall: the 380m-high Krimmler Wasserfälle
- The world’s largest accessible ice caves: Eisriesenwelt, Werfen
- The largest national park in the Alps: Hohe Tauern (1786 sq km)
- The longest glacier in the Eastern Alps: the 8km Pasterze Glacier
- Austria’s highest peak: 3798m Grossglockner (literally ‘Big Bell’)
The Austrian Table
Schnitzel with noodles may have been Maria’s favourite, but there’s way more to Austrian food nowadays thanks to a generation of new-wave chefs adding a pinch of imagination to seasonal, locally grown ingredients. Worldly markets, well-stocked wineries and a rising taste for organic, foraged flavours are all making Austria a culinary destination to watch.
Cookery courses have really taken off in the past couple of years and are popping up all over the place in the cities. Besides learning how to bread a schnitzel the Austrian way or roll the perfect Knödel, many focus on specific ingredients, fish and cookery styles, from Asian to French, Easter desserts to autumn game. Here are a few worth checking out:
- Babettes Brush up your kitchen skills with cookery courses from finger food to nice-and-spicy curries.
- Hollerei Cook vegetarian food with the chef and enjoy the results.
- Cook & Wine A trendy newcomer to Salzburg, combing a deli, wine bar, restaurant and cookery school.
- Magazin Hands-on cookery courses in Salzburg, focused on everything from the perfect pasta to 'erotic food'.
- Wrenkh Viennese bistro with cookery classes and foraging expeditions.
Though Austria can't be put on the same culinary pedestal as France or Italy, food is still likely to be integral to your travels here: whether you're sipping tangy cider in the apple orchards of the Mostviertel, sampling creamy alpine cheeses in the Bregenzerwald or eating local fish on the shores of the Salzkammergut's looking-glass lakes.
It's not all about fine dining: some of your most memorable food experiences are likely to be on the hoof. Vienna's Würstelstände (sausage stands) are the stuff of snack legend, but there's more to street food here. Falafel, bagels, organic burgers, healthy wraps, salads and sushi to-go – you'll find it all in the mix in Austria's worldly cities.
On almost every high street there is a Bäckerei (bakery), where you can grab a freshly made roll, and a Konditorei for a pastry or oven-fresh Krapfen (doughnut). Many Metzgereien (butchers) have stand-up counters where you can sink your teeth into a wurst, schnitzel or Leberkässemmel (meatloaf roll), often with change from €5.
Dare to Try
- Graukäse The Zillertal's grey, mouldy, sour-milk cheese is tastier than it sounds, honest!
- Käsekrainer A fat cheese-filled sausage, way off the calorie-counting Richter scale. It's a popular wee-hour, beer-mopping snack at Vienna's sausage stands.
- Leberknödelsuppe Dig into liver dumpling soup, the starter that gets meals off to a hearty kick all over Austria.
- Rindfleischsulz Jellied beef brawn, often drizzled in pumpkin-seed oil vinaigrette.
- Schnecken Escargots to the French, snails to English speakers, these gastropods are slithering onto many of the top menus in the country.
- Waldviertel Mohn Poppy dumplings, desserts, strudels and noodles add a floral addition to menus in the Waldviertel.
- Zillertaler Bauernschmaus We dare you to try this farmer's feast of cold cuts, sauerkraut and dumplings. Not because of the ingredients, but because pronouncing it will surely get your tongue in a twist!
Meals of a Lifetime
- Esszimmer Andreas Kaiblinger works culinary magic with market-fresh ingredients at this Michelin-starred number in Salzburg.
- Obauer The Obauer brothers believe in careful sourcing at this address of foodist rigour in the Alps.
- Mayer's Michelin-starred dining with a dash of romance at this lakefront palace in Zell am See.
- Die Wilderin A welcome addition to Innsbruck with foraged flavours, occasional live jazz and a bistro buzz.
- Waldgasthaus Triendlsäge Hop in a horse-drawn sleigh to reach this woody winter wonderland of a restaurant, hidden in the forest above Seefeld.
- Meierei im Stadtpark Lots of style, a bright ambience and Vienna's finest goulash.
- Schulhaus Once a school house, now a hilltop restaurant in Tyrol's Zillertal, with farm-fresh ingredients and big Alpine views.
- Hermagorer Bodenalm Still a rustic hunger and thirst with a Brettljause (cold platter) at this alpine meadow hut above Weissensee.
- Aiola Upstairs Good food enjoyed with a sensational view over Graz's historic centre.
Fill your picnic baskets with fixings from these five favourites:
- Naschmarkt Global grazing for olives, cheese, wine, spices and more at Vienna's must-shop food market.
- Non Solo Vino Deli delight in Linz for a picnic beside the Danube.
- Genussmanufaktur All-Austrian goodies from forest honey to chocolate, wine and pesto in central Salzburg.
- s'Speckladele Go for regional hams and chilli-spiked sausages made from ‘happy pigs’.
- Stiftsbäckerei St Peter Pick up an oven-warm sourdough loaf at Salzburg's 700-year-old bakery.
Top Five Snack Spots
- Bitzinger Würstelstand am Albertinaplatz Join opera-goers and late-night nibblers to bite into a cheesy Käsekrainer or spicy Bosna bratwurst at the king of Vienna's sausage stands.
- Kröll Strudels sweet and savoury at this busy-as-a-beehive cafe in Innsbruck's Altstadt.
- Yppenplatz 4 Does excellent organic Würstel produced by nearby Ottakringer brewery, along with freshly cooked crisps, right in the middle of the marketplace.
- Cafesito Pair deliciously chewy bagels with smoothies and fair-trade coffee at this boho cafe in Bregenz.
- IceZeit Salzburg's best ice cream. Enough said.
Regional & Seasonal
Locavore is huge in Austria, where locals take genuine pride in their home-grown produce. Bright and early Saturday morning, you'll see them combing farmers markets, baskets and jute bags in hand, for whatever is seasonal. It's as much a matter of ethics as taste: Austrians believe firmly in supporting their farmers, cheese-makers and vintners, many going out of their way to buy organic, regionally sourced goods.
Chefs often make the most of seasonal, regional ingredients, too, and many have been quick to piggyback on the Slow Food trend (look for the snail symbol) in recent years. Piquant Bergkäse mountain cheese in Bregenzerwald, lake fish on the shores of Neusiedlersee, dark, nutty pumkin-seed oil in Styria and tangy Rieslings from the Wachau never taste better than at the source.
Like Lower Austria, Burgenland is one of Austria’s premier wine regions, but it is also famous for its Neusiedlersee fish – species like perch-pike, pike, carp and catfish. Toss in nuts, orchard produce and ham from a species of woolly pig called the Mangalitza and the region makes for a mouth-watering trip.
Cheese, hams and salamis, game, lamb and beef count among the regional produce in mountainous Carinthia. Wherever there are lakes you’ll also find trout and other freshwater fish on menus. On meat-free Fridays, some Carinthians dig into local pasta known as Kärntner Nudel, filled with potato, cheese, mint, wild parsley-like chervil, mushrooms and any number of combinations of these.
If one fruit could sum up this region, the Wachau's tiny, juicy Marille (apricot), made into jam, schnapps and desserts, would rise to the challenge. Spreading north of the Danube Valley, the rural Waldviertel peps up everything from pasta to desserts with poppy seeds, while the orchard-wealthy Mostviertel to the south is cider and perry country. Some of Austria's finest wines are produced in the vines that march up the hillsides here, including tangy Grüner Veltiner and riesling whites, fruity Zweigelt and medium-bodied Blauburgunder (Pinot noir) reds. Trout, carp and asparagus are also fished and grown locally.
Salzburg & Salzburgerland
Salzburg’s Mozartkugel is a chocolate-coated pistachio marzipan and nougat confection that ungraciously translates as ‘Mozart’s Ball’. Like Upper Austrians, Salzburgers lean heavily towards noodle and dumpling dishes like cheese and onion-topped Pinzgauer Kasnocken, but this gives way to fish in the lakeside Salzkammergut. Salzburger Nockerln, the town's favourite desserts, are massive soufflé-like baked concoctions (don’t even ask how many egg whites are in them!) sprinkled with icing sugar.
Styria is also a producer of Mangalitza ham, as well as beef locally produced from Almochsen cattle, raised in mountain meadows in the region about 30km northeast of Graz. What the visitor to Styria, however, will immediately notice is that pumpkin oil is used to dress everything from salads to meats. This healthy, dark oil has a nutty flavour and here it often stands on tables alongside the salt and pepper.
Tyrol & Vorarlberg
These two regions have one thing in common: cheese, most notably what is called locally Heumilchkäse (hay-milk cheese), which aficionados claim is the purest form of milk you can find. Gröstl, or Gröstel in some other regions, is a fry-up from leftovers, usually potato, pork and onions, topped with a fried egg, but there are sausage varieties and the Innsbrucker Gröstl or Gröstl Kalb has veal.
Upper Austria & Salzburg
With Bavaria in Germany and Bohemia in the Czech Republic just over the border, it's unsurprising that Upper Austria is one of the country's Knödel (dumpling) strongholds. Sweet tooth? Well, you won't want to miss Linzer Torte, a crumbly tart with a lattice pastry top, filled with almonds, spices and redcurrant jam.
Nothing says classic Austrian grub like the classic Wiener schnitzel, a breaded veal cutlet, often as big as a boot, which is fried to golden perfection. Imperial favourites with a Hungarian flavour – paprika-spiced Fiakergulasch and Tafelspitz mit Kren (boiled beef with horseradish) are big. Wines produced on the city's fringes are served at rustic Heurigen (wine taverns) with hunks of dark bread topped with creamy, spicy Liptauer fresh cheese. Regionally grown Suppengemüse (soup vegetables such as carrots, celery, radish and root vegetables) pop up at markets and on menus.
Vienna is naturally also king of Austria's Kaffeehaus (coffee house) scene.
The Year in Food
- Spring (Mar–May)
Chefs add springtime oomph to dishes with Spargel (asparagus) and Bärlauch (wild garlic). Maibock (strong beer) is rolled out for beer festivals in May.
- Summer (Jun–Aug)
It's time for Marille (apricot) madness in the Wachau, touring dairies in Tyrol and the Bregenzerwald and eating freshwater fish by lake shores. Bludenz reaches melting point in July with its Milka Chocolate Festival. Every village gets into the summer groove with beer festivals and thigh-slapping folk music.
- Autumn (Sep–Nov)
Misty autumn days dish up a forest feast of mushrooms and game and Sturm (young wine) brings fizz to Heuriger (tavern) tables. Sip new Most (perry and cider) in the Mostviertel's orchards. Goose lands on tables for St Martin's Day (11 November).
- Winter (Dec–Feb)
Try Vanillekipferl (crescent-shaped biscuits) and mulled wine at twinkling Christmas markets. Vienna's coffee houses are the perfect winter warmer.
- Vienna Wiener schnitzel or Tafelspitz (boiled beef)
- Lower Austria Waldviertel beef, lamb, game or fish
- Upper Austria Knödel (dumpling) – what else?
- Carinthia Kärntner Nudel (Carinthian noodle)
- Styria Steirischer Backhendl (Styrian chicken) with Kürbisöl (pumpkin oil)
- Burgenland Neusiedler See fish, local beef
- Tyrol Tiroler Gröstl (fry-up), cheese and hams
- Vorarlberg Heumilch (hay milk) dairy products
- Salzburg Salzburger Nockerln, Mozartkugeln (sweets)
Where Austrians Eat & Drink
Clicking into the Austrians' culinary groove is easier than you might think. Read on to find out why breakfast is big, lunch is great value and coffee and cake are the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
Austrian wine is having something of a moment, with wine bars popping up all over the country and quality continuing to rise. Austrian wine hails from 16 winegrowing areas, mostly situated in Lower Austria and Burgenland (known as the Weinland Österreich region), Styria (Steierland) and the vine-strewn fringes of Vienna.
A wine that is typical of the region is labelled DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus), which is similar to the French AOC and the Italian DOC or DOCG, and if it is labelled reserve then the wine has been made for cellaring. Well-known varieties to look out for include crisp Grüner Veltliner and Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) whites, fruity Blauburgunder (Pinot noir) and full-bodied Zweigelt reds, and sweet Eiswein, made from grapes that have frozen on the vines.
In wine-growing regions, many vintners open their doors for tasting and rustic Heurigen pair wine with hearty grub like roast pork, blood sausage and pickled vegetables. Often identified by a Busch’n (green wreath or branch) hanging over the door, these simple establishments date back to the Middle Ages and have the right to sell their wine directly from their own premises in winegrowing regions.
Because they are seasonal and are open on a roster, the easiest thing to do when in a winegrowing region is to pick up the local Heurigenkalendar (Heurigen calendar) from the tourist office. September to mid-October, following the harvest, is when the new wines are sold, and this is the time to indulge in Sturm (literally ‘storm’ for its cloudy appearance and chaotic effects on drinkers).
Ein Bier, Bitte!
Some common beer-glass sizes and types of beer:
- Pfiff (0.125L)
- Seidl, ein Glas (0.3L)
- Krügerl or Krügel, ein Grosses (0.5L)
- Eine Flasche, a bottle
- Zwickl, unfiltered beer
- Märzen, a lager
- Weizen/Weissbier, wheat beer
- Dunkel, dark beer or stout
- Pils, pilsener
- Radler, lemonade shandy
- Vom Fass, draught beer
- Table reservations Booking is highly advisable to snag a table at popular and top-end restaurants, especially in peak season. Call around a week in advance.
- Menus English menus are not a given, though you'll often find them in city hotspots like Salzburg and Vienna and in ski resorts. If in doubt, there's usually a waiter/waitress who can translate.
- Bon appétit Dining with a group of Austrians? It's polite to wish them guten Appetit or Mahlzeit before digging in.
- Water You can try your luck by asking for complimentary tap water (Leitungswasser), but it's not really the done thing, especially in upmarket places. Go local and order stilles (still) or prickelndes (sparkling) Mineralwasser (mineral water).
- Dress Smart casual is the way to go in fancier establishments, where the locals dress up for dinner. In more relaxed places, jeans, trainers (sneakers) and T-shirts are fine.
- Paying Zahlen, bitte or die Rechnung, bitte are the magic words if you want to pay.
- Tipping Around 10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Add the bill and tip together and hand it over waiter/waitress by saying stimmt so (keep the change).
Look Into My Eyes
Every drink bought deserves a Prost (cheers) and eye contact with your fellow drinkers; not following this custom is thought of as rude. Even worse, it’s believed to result in bad sex for the next seven years.
Take the lead of locals and save euros by making lunch your main meal of the day. Most restaurants offer an inexpensive Tagesteller (day special) or Mittagsmenü (lunch menu), which can cost as little as €7 for two courses.
- Degustationsmenü Gourmet tasting menu
- Hauptspeise Main course or entree – fish, meat or vegetarisch (vegetarian)
- Kindermenü Two-or three-course kids' menu; sometimes includes a soft drink
- Laktosefrei/Glutenfrei Lactose-/gluten-free
- Mittagstisch/Mittagsmenü Fixed lunch menu; usually two courses, with a soup or salad followed by a main
- Nachtisch Dessert, sometimes followed by coffee or a glass of schnapps
- Speisekarte À la carte menu
- Tagesteller Good-value dish of the day; generally only served at lunchtime
- Vorspeise Starter, appetiser
- Weinkarte Wine list
When to Eat
- Frühstuck (breakfast) Austrians are the first to reel off the old adage about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. During the week, the locals may just grab a jam-spread Semmel (roll) and a coffee or a bowl of muesli, but at the weekend breakfast is often a leisurely, all-morning affair. A rising number of coffee houses and cafes have Sunday brunch buffets for around €15 to €20, with everything from sunny-side-up eggs to salmon, antipasti, cereals, fresh-pressed juices and Sekt (sparkling wine). You won't need to eat again until dinner.
- Mittagessen (lunch) Another meal locals rarely skip, lunch is often a soup or salad followed by a main course. Standard hours are 11.30am to 2.30pm.
- Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) The exception to not snacking between mealtimes is this three o'clock ritual. Indulge at a local Konditorei (confectioner's) or coffee house.
- Apéritif The trend for pre-dinner drinks is on the rise. The pavement terrace tipple of choice? Aperol spritz.
- Abendessen (dinner) Late-night city dining aside, Austrians tend to dine somewhat earlier than their European counterparts, with kitchens open from 7pm to 9pm or 9.30pm. Many places have a Kleine Karte (snack menu) outside of these hours.
Where to Eat
- Beisln/Gasthäuser Rural inns often with wood-panelled, homely interiors and menus packed with gutbürgerliche Küche (home cooking) – Tafelspitz, schnitzel, goulash and the like.
- Brauereien Many microbreweries and brewpubs serve meaty grub, too. Their beer gardens are popular gathering spots in summer.
- Cafes These can range from bakery-cafes for a quick coffee and sandwich to all-organic delis and Eiscafés, or ice-cream parlours.
- Heurigen Going strong since medieval times, Austria's cosy wine taverns are often identified by a Busch’n (green wreath or branch) hanging over the door.
- Imbiss Any kind of snack or takeaway joint, the most famous being the Würstelstand (sausage stand).
- Kaffeehäuser Vienna's 'living rooms' are not only famous for their delectable tortes, cakes and arm-long coffee menus. Many also serve inexpensive breakfasts, lunches and snacks around the clock.
- Konditoreien Traditional cake shop cafes; many do a sideline in confectionery.
- Neo-Beisln New-wave Beisln often with retro-cool decor and a creative, market-fresh take on Austrian classics. Typically found in the cities (especially Vienna).
- Restaurants Cover a broad spectrum, from pizzeria bites to Michelin-starred finery.
Visual Arts & Music
For a country of such diminutive proportions, Austria’s impact on the arts has been phenomenal. The Hapsburgs left a legacy of historic paintings, sculptures, concert halls and the Vienna Philharmonic – one of the world’s finest orchestras. This is where child prodigy Mozart excelled and where Strauss taught the world to waltz; it is also the birthplace of golden wonder Klimt and expressionist Schiele. Today, art and music are still ingrained in the weft and warp of the Austrian psyche.
The Great Fresco Artists
Austria's tradition of fresco painting dates back to the mid-Romanesque era of the 11th century, when frescoes appeared for the first time in churches, depicting religious scenes. Around 1200 original Romanesque frescoes were painted inside the former Dom (cathedral) in Gurk in eastern Carinthia, and in 1270 these were revamped with a ‘zigzag’ style, giving naturalistic figures long, flowing robes with folds; you can see some of these in Gurk today.
In the Gothic era that followed from about the 14th century (as for instance in Vienna’s Stephansdom), fresco painting reached spatial limits due to vaulted ceilings and large windows (this encouraged glass painting). The height of magnificent fresco painting was therefore achieved in the baroque period of the 17th and early 18th centuries, when fresco painting is associated with three major figures: Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654–1730), Daniel Gran (1694–1757) and Paul Troger (1698–1762). Today the works of these three greats predominate in Vienna and especially in Lower Austria.
Rottmayr and Gran were active during the high baroque, which spans the late 17th century and early 18th century. Paul Troger, however, produced most of his work during the late baroque or rococo period from the mid-18th century. Troger spent several years in Italy learning techniques there and worked in Salzburg before moving to Vienna, where Rottmayr had been setting the tone for fresco painting since 1696. Over time Troger became the painter of choice for churches and monasteries in Lower Austria, and fine examples of his work survive in Stift Melk, Stift Zwettl and Stift Altenburg, as well as in the Dom in Klagenfurt, where you can find a Troger altar painting. Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna also has work by Troger.
Rottmayr was Austria’s first and the country’s foremost baroque painter. He spent his early years as a court painter to the Habsburgs in Salzburg before he moved to Vienna in 1696, dominating the scene there for the next three decades. He became the favoured fresco painter of the architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and is often compared to the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. His work brought together Italian and Flemish influences into a style that featured plenty of bouncy, joyous figures and bright colours. Fine frescoes from Rottmayr can be found in Vienna decorating the Karlskirche, where a glass lift ascends over 70m into the cupola for a close-up view. In Lower Austria his work adorns Stift Melk and Klosterneuburg.
Daniel Gran, the third in the triumvirate of baroque fresco greats, also studied in Italy, but unlike those of Troger and Rottmayr his style reined in the most extravagant features and offered a foretaste of neoclassicism – perhaps best illustrated by his ceiling fresco in the Nationalbibliothek (National Library) in Vienna.
Jugendstil & the Secession
Vienna's branch of the Europe-wide art nouveau movement, known as Jugendstil ('Youthful Style'), had its genesis from within the Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts). The academy was a strong supporter of neoclassicism and wasn't interested in supporting any artists who wanted to branch out, so in 1897 a group of rebels, including Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), seceded. Architects, such as Otto Wagner, Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908) and Josef Hoffman (1870–1956), followed.
By the second decade of the 20th century, Wagner and others were moving towards a uniquely Viennese style, called Secession, which stripped away some of the more decorative aspects of Jugendstil. Olbrich designed the Secession Hall, the showpiece of the Secession, which was used to display other graphic and design works produced by the movement. The building is a physical representation of the movement's ideals, functionality and modernism, though it retains some striking decorative touches, such as the giant 'golden cabbage' on the roof.
Hoffman, who was inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement, led by William Morris, and also by the stunning art nouveau work of Glaswegian designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, ultimately abandoned the flowing forms and bright colours of Jugendstil in 1901, becoming one of the earliest exponents of the Secession style. His greatest artistic influence in Vienna was in setting up the Wiener Werkstätte design studio, which included Klimt and Kolo Moser (1868–1918), set out to break down the high-art-low-art distinction, and brought Jugendstil into middle-class homes. In 1932 the WW closed, unable to compete with the cheap, mass-produced items being churned out by other companies.
No-one embraced the sensualism of Jugendstil and Secessionism more than Gustav Klimt (1862–1918). Perhaps Vienna's most famous artist, Klimt was traditionally trained at the Akademie der bildenden Künste but left in 1897 to pursue his own colourful and distinctive, non-naturalistic style, which had revitalist flavours. Klimt’s fascination with women is a common thread in his paintings, and his works are as resonant and alluring today as they were when he sent ripples of scandal through fin-de-siècle Vienna, with his exotic, erotic style. The use of gold-leaf and mosaic-like detail is typical of Klimt’s golden period, which was inspired by the Byzantine imagery he saw on his travels to Venice. Home to the world’s largest Klimt collection, Vienna’s Schloss Belvedere provides total immersion.
Schiele, Kokoschka & the Expressionists
Tulln is a sleepy town slaked by the waters of the Danube River, with one major claim to fame: it is the birthplace of Austria’s most important expressionist painter, Egon Schiele (1890–1918), and a museum there tells the story of his life through a sizable collection of his paintings and sketches. Other works are held in Austria’s foremost museum for expressionist art, the Leopold in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, where Schiele’s art hands alongside the expressionists Oskar Kokoschka, Klagenfurt-born Herbert Boeckl, as well as Gustav Klimt.
In his day, Schiele was one of the country’s most controversial artists. He left Tulln in 1906 to attend the Vienna’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), one of Europe’s oldest academies. It is now famous, incidentally, for having turned down Adolf Hitler in 1907. Schiele cofounded a group in Vienna known as the Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group) and around that time his work began to resonate with the public. Although he was very strongly influenced by one of the leading forces behind the Secession movement and art nouveau in Austria, Gustav Klimt, he is much more closely associated with expressionism than Klimt.
Vienna’s famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud, apparently felt no affinity with expressionists like Schiele, preferring classical art and its neoclassical incarnations, but both Freud and Schiele were bedfellows in one way: the concept of the erotic. While Freud was collating his theories on Eros and the unconscious, Schiele was capturing the erotic on canvas, often taking death and lust as his explicit themes.
He had come a long way from the conservative, idyllic Tulln countryside – a little too far, some thought. In 1912 Schiele was held in custody for three weeks and later found guilty of corrupting minors by exposing them to pornography. His arrest and imprisonment were the culmination of a series of events that saw the painter and his 17-year-old lover and model ‘Wally’ Neuzil flee the Vienna scene and move to Bohemia (Ćesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic), from where the two soon fled again. Today the Tulln museum dedicated to Schiele has a reconstruction of the prison cell near St Pölton where he was imprisoned.
Like Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, the second of the great Austrian expressionists, was born on the Danube River. Kokoschka comes from Pochlarn, near Melk. Like Klimt, he studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Vienna. Like Schiele, he was strongly influenced by Klimt, but another of his influences was Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh. From 1907 he worked in the Wiener Werkstatte (Vienna Workshop). His earliest work had features of the Secession and art-nouveau movements, but later he moved into expressionism. The Österreichische Galerie in Schloss Belvedere (Oberes Belvedere) has a collection of about a dozen of his oil paintings; some of these portraits highlight Kokoschka’s skill for depicting the subject’s unsettled psyche without in any way resorting to bleak colours.
Kokoschka’s long life was punctuated by exile and travel. He moved to Prague in 1934 to escape the extreme right-wing politics of the day; once the Nazis came to power and declared his works ‘degenerate’ in 1937, seizing over 400 of them in German museums, Kokoschka packed his bags for Britain and became a UK citizen.
If Kokoschka was ‘degenerate’ and shocked the Nazis, it was a good thing the ‘brown’ men and women of the Thousand Year Reich were not around to see what would come later. It was called Viennese Actionism – and now even the mainstream art establishment was being sent into a state of shock.
Feature: Would It Have Changed History?
Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts was famous not only for being a place Oskar Kokoschka unkindly described as ‘a hotbed of conservatism and somewhere you went to become an artist in a velvet skirt and beret’. In 1907 an aspiring young Adolf Hitler sat the entry exam at the academy (the exam themes were Expulsion from Paradise, Hunting, Spring, Building Workers, Death – you get the idea). There were 128 applicants in Hitler’s year and 28 were successful. Not Adolf. He desolately crawled back to Linz to lick his wounds and lived from his allowance as an orphan (his mother had died) before trying and failing a second time. Disillusioned, Hitler enlisted to fight on the Western Front in WWI. The rest is history.
Actionism Shocking the Republic
Art has always loved a juicy scandal. The expressionist Egon Schiele and the architect Adolf Loos were – rightly or wrongly – embroiled in moral charges that resulted in partial convictions. Kokoschka and Klimt explored themes of eroticism, homoeroticism, and adolescence and youth. One day in 1968, however, the stakes were raised significantly higher when a group of artists burst into a packed lecture hall of Vienna’s university and began an action that became known as the Uni-Ferkelei (University Obscenity). According to reports, at least one member of the group began masturbating, smearing himself with excrement, flagellating and vomiting. Lovely, but was it art? One member was possibly singing the Austrian national anthem, another seemed to be rambling on about computers. Court cases followed, and so too did a couple of convictions and a few months in prison for two of those involved. It was all about breaking down social taboos.
If some of the art of the 1960s, like the Fluxus style of happenings (picked from a similar movement in the US), was theatrical and more like performance on an impromptu stage, Actionism took a more extreme form and covered a broad spectrum. Some of it was masochistic, self-abasing or employed blood rituals. At the hardcore end of the spectrum a picture might be produced in an orgy of dramatics with colour and materials being splashed and smeared collectively from various bodily cavities while the artists ascended into ever-higher states of frenzied ecstasy. At the more harmless end, a few people might get together and squirt some paint.
Actionism doesn’t lend itself to the formal gallery environment. Some of it has been caught on video – salad-smeared bodies, close-ups of urinating penises, that sort of thing – and is often presented in Vienna’s MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst). The Uni-Ferkelei action survives only in a few photographs and a couple of minutes of film footage. Günter Brus (b 1938), one of the participants, was convicted of ‘denigrating an Austrian symbol of state’. His colleague of the day, Oswald Wiener (b 1935), is now an author and respected academic who went on to win one of the country’s most prestigious literary prizes. Meanwhile, Hermann Nisch (b 1938), who staged theatrical events in the early 1960s based on music and painting and leaned heavily on sacrificial or religious rituals, has advanced to become Austria’s best-known contemporary Viennese Actionist. His work can be found in Vienna’s MUMOK, the Lentos Museum in Linz and in St Pölten’s Landesmuseum.
Vertical Timeline: Visual Arts
- 20 BC Roman
With the building of the fortress of Carnuntum in Lower Austria, the Romans use decorative mosaics, some of which survive today in Carnuntum’s open-air museum.
- 8th–12th Century Romanesque
Salzburg becomes the centre for frescoes, many of which have Byzantine influences.
- 13th Century Early Gothic
A transition from Romanesque to Gothic occurs, exemplified by frescoes today found in the former cathedral of Gurk.
- 14th Century High Gothic
Ribbed Gothic interiors and high windows leave little space for frescoes but create new opportunities for glass painting. Altar painting establishes itself in churches.
- 16th Century Danube School
In the transition from late Gothic to the Renaissance, a Danube School of landscape painting arises from the early 16th century, later absorbed into the Renaissance.
- 1680–1740 High & Late Baroque
Fresco painting reaches dizzying heights of achievement in the age of Johann Michael Rottmayr, Paul Troger and Daniel Gran.
- Early 19th Century Biedermeier
Amid a wave of neoclassical and revivalist painting, the Biedermeier painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller becomes Austria’s best-known painter of the era.
- 1900 Art Nouveau
Vienna becomes the world’s art nouveau capital, with the likes of Gustav Klimt, Hans Makart and Kolo Moser working in the city.
- 1910–20 Expressionism
Seeking a new language of art, expressionists Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka move to the forefront of Austrian painting.
- 1918–1939 New Objectivity
Post-expressionism takes root and international movements such as surrealism, futurism and cubism reach Austria, while from 1925 Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) moves away from the ‘subjective’ approach of expressionism.
- 1960s Viennese Actionism
After the Nazi era (when little of lasting significance was achieved), a period of post-WWII fantastic realism adopted esoteric themes; later Viennese Actionism brings ‘happenings’: pain, death, sex and abasement move to the fore.
- 21st Century Contemporary
A neo-expressionist Neue Wilde (New Wild Ones) movement of the 1980s gives way to 21st-century explorations using digital graphics to complement conventional forms of painting.
Sidebar: The Habsburgs
The Habsburgs were avid supporters of the arts, commissioning fresco painters to lend colourful texture and new dimensions to their buildings and using music as an expression of their own power and pomp.
Hapsburg Musical Tradition
The Hapsburgs began patronising court musicians as far back as the 13th century, and by the 18th and 19th centuries they had created a centre for music that was unrivalled in the world. Many of the Habsburgs themselves were gifted musicians: Leopold I (1640–1705) composed, Karl VI (1685–1740) stroked a violin, his daughter Maria Theresia (1717–80) played a respectable double bass, while her son Joseph II was a deft hand at harpsichord and cello.
Wiener Klassik (Vienna Classic) dates back to the mid- and late 18th century and very much defines the way we perceive classical music today. Music moved away from the celestial baroque music of the royal court and the church and brought forms of classical music such as opera and symphonies to the salons and theatres of the upper-middle classes of Vienna and Austria.
The earliest of the great composers was Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), who in his long career would tutor a budding young German-born composer by the name of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Other well-known figures of the epoch include Franz Schubert (1797–1828), followed by a wave of classical composers in the 19th century, such as Franz Liszt (1811–86), Johannes Brahms (1833–97) and Anton Bruckner (1824–96).
That Mozart Magic
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91) was born in Salzburg. The ultimate child prodigy, he tinkled out his first tunes on the piano at the age of four years, securing a dazzling reputation as Austria’s Wunderkind. Aged just six, he performed for a rapturous Maria Theresia in 1762 at Schloss Schönbrunn. According to his father, Leopold, ‘Wolferl leapt onto Her Majesty’s lap, threw his arms around her neck and planted kisses on her face.’
In the years following Mozart’s meteoric rise, Salieri, an Italian composer, was appointed by the Habsburgs to head Italian opera at the royal court. The stage was set for rivalries and intrigue, eventually culminating in rumours that Salieri had murdered Mozart. We will never know whether he did or not (it’s extremely unlikely that he did), but this is a moot point. The interesting thing is how much art has been born of the rumours. The most recent artistic masterpiece is the film Amadeus (1984), directed by Miloš Formann (b 1932). It won eight Academy awards and is widely considered to be the best of its ilk.
Mozart was insanely prolific during his lifetime: he wrote some 626 pieces, among the greatest are The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Così fan tutte (1790), and The Magic Flute (1791). The Requiem Mass, apocryphally written for his own death, remains one of the most powerful works of classical music. Have a listen to Piano Concerto nos 20 and 21, which comprises some of the best elements of Mozart: drama, comedy, intimacy and a whole heap of ingenuity in one easy-to-appreciate package.
When not composing, Mozart enjoyed billiards, heavy drinking sessions and teaching his pet starling to sing operettas. It has been speculated that he had Tourette’s syndrome, which would have accounted for his sudden outbursts of rage and compulsive utterance of obscenities. But his genius is undisputed. Indeed, when a boy once asked him how to write a symphony, Mozart recommended he begin with ballads. ‘But you wrote symphonies when you were only ten years old,’ said the boy. ‘But I didn’t have to ask how,’ retorted Mozart.
Vormärz & Revolutionary Eras
The epoch of Wiener Klassik began losing momentum in 19th-century Vienna and, with Mozart, Salieri, Haydn, Beethoven and the other great proponents dead or dying off, Austrian society and Europe as a whole experienced a period of repressive conservatism that culminated in revolutions across the continent in 1848 aimed at liberal reform. The pre-revolutionary period was known as the Vormärz (‘Pre-March’ – the revolutions began in March 1848); the Vormärz sounded the final death knell for Wiener Klassik and produced a creative lull in music. It was only once the noise of the revolutions had died down that a new wave of composers – the likes of Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner – arrived on the scene to seize the reins of the Wiener Klassik and transform it into new and exciting forms.
Life After Mozart
Austria has some great musicians and contemporary acts. Although none so far has achieved the international fame of Falco (real name Hans Hölzel; 1957–98), whose ‘Rock Me, Amadeus’ topped the US charts in 1986, there are some great acts to check out.
Klagenfurt, the provincial capital of Carinthia, has brought forth some good musicians. While Penny McLean (born as Gertrude Wirschinger) gave the 1970s one of its iconic disco songs in the form of 'Lady Bump', the indisputable king is the crooner Udo Jürgens. He has been long seen as a Schlager singer (a broad genre of folksy soft pop with a sentimental edge), but he composed hits for US greats such as Shirley Bassey and Frank Sinatra, and his style is comparable with Sinatra's.
Naked Lunch (www.nakedlunch.de) is probably the best-known Austrian indie band. Going a bit deeper into the underground, the duo Attwenger (www.attwenger.at) has a large following for its music with flavours of folk, hip-hop and trance. Completing the triumvirate of relative old hands, Graz-based Rainer Binder-Krieglstein has gone from an eclectic blend of headz, hip-hop, groove and nujazz to concentrate on folk music today.
For pure hip-hop, Linz-based Texta (www.texta.at) is the most established in the art. The vocal groove project from Lower Austria Bauchklang (www.bauchklang.com) is remarkable for using acapella – only voices, no instruments – for its reggae- and ethnic-influenced hip-hop and trance. Other names to watch out for are funky pop duo Bilderbuch, drum ’n’ bass duo Camo & Krooked and Fatima Spar, whose worldly beats shift from Balkan to Swing.
Those into electric swing might be familiar with Parov Stelar, a musician, producer and DJ from Linz. His clubby tracks blend jazz, house, electro and breakbeat.
Feature: Today's Music & Artists
- Naked Lunch
- Parov Stelar
- Fatima Spar
- Camo & Krooked
- Anna F
- Manu Delago
The innovative composer Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) stretched tonal conventions to snapping point with his 12-tone style of composition. The most influential of his pupils were Alban Berg (1885–1935) and Anton von Webern (1883–1945); both were born in Vienna and continued the development of Schönberg’s technique.
For more on what’s happening in contemporary music (rock, jazz, pop, electronic, world music, classical and everything between and beyond) check out Music Austria: www.musicaustria.at/en.