To the south of Vienna, undervisited Burgenland is all but the typical Austria of the holiday brochures; you won't find soaring mountains, glacial lakes and bombastic architecture here, just bucolic flatlands spread like a well-tenderised schnitzel around the jewel in its crown – Neusiedler See – a shallow mecca for extreme water sports fans, paddling toddlers and clued up wi.
The Danube Valley
The Danube, which enters Lower Austria from the west near Ybbs and exits in the east near Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, carves a picturesque path through the province’s hills and fields. Austria’s most spectacular section of the Danube is the dramatic stretch of river between Krems an der Donau and Melk, known as the Wachau.
Klagenfurt may not be up there with Vienna or Graz in terms of urban lifestyle, but it's an enjoyable, vibrant and sunny city with a compact Inner Stadt and offers easy access to lakeside villages on and around the beautiful Wörthersee. At the city’s western limit is the wide green space of Europapark along with Austria's largest bathing complex.
Heading north from Graz the landscape of Styria begins to change; gentle hills and flat pastures are replaced by jagged mountains, virgin forests, deep valleys and cold, clear mountain streams. This is also the region’s industrial heartland, home to the Steirische Eisenstrasse (Styrian Iron Road), where for centuries iron mining was the backbone of the economy.
Sandwiched between the Tuxer Voralpen and the Kitzbüheler Alpen, the Zillertal (Ziller Valley) is storybook Tyrol. A steam train chugs through the broad valley, passing fertile farmland and wooded mountains, and affording snatched glimpses of snowy peaks and the fast-flowing Ziller River.
What a view! Ah yes, the locals proudly agree, Bregenz does indeed have the loveliest of views: before you the Bodensee, Europe’s third-largest lake, spreads out like a liquid mirror; behind you the Pfänder (1064m) climbs to the Alps; to the right you see Germany, to the left the faint outline of Switzerland. Just wow.
Ask an Austrian to rattle off the top ski resorts in the country, and Kitzbühel will invariably make the grade. Ever since Franz Reisch slipped on skis and whizzed down the slopes of Kitzbüheler Horn way back in 1893, so christening the first alpine ski run in Austria, Kitzbühel has carved out its reputation as one of Europe's foremost ski resorts.
St Anton am Arlberg
Once upon a time St Anton was but a sleepy village, defined by the falling and melting of snow and the coming and going of cattle, until one day the locals beheld the virgin powder on their doorstep and discovered their happy-ever-after… In 1901 the resort founded the first ski club in the Alps and downhill skiing was born, so if ever the ski bug is going to bite you it will .
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.
Carinthia’s central region is wedged between the Saualpe in the east and the Nock Mountains in the northwest. Small, historic villages dot lakelands and alpine slopes: beyond the relatively lively city of Villach, this a a profoundly rural and often very conservative place.
The Dolomites rise like an amphitheatre around Lienz, which straddles the Isel and Drau Rivers 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.
The Hallstätter See, set among sharply rising mountains at an altitude of 508m in the Southern Salzkammergut, is one of the prettiest and most accessible lakes in the region. It offers some of the best hiking and swimming in summer, good skiing in winter, and a fascinating insight into the cultural history of the region any time of year.
Neusiedler See, Europe’s second-largest steppe lake, is the lowest point in Austria. Fortunately that lowliness does not extend to metaphor – it's in fact a delight. The lake’s average depth is 1.5m, which means the water warms quickly in summer. Add to this the prevailing warm winds from the northwest and you have a landlocked Austrian's dream come true.