‘Best of’ Tirol – national park on the roof of Austria

Here’s a tall feat – 241 peaks over 3,000m. Wow.

The undisturbed rugged mountain terrain of East Tirol (nicknamed the ‘roof of Austria’) is a true reminder that we are really just guests within the natural habitats of our world, and the best way to experience these inspiring settings is by simply – and respectfully – letting nature lead the way.

Those who choose to follow this ‘best of’ experience can be part of a newly launched ‘hands on’ adventure in National Park Hohe Tauern that allows volunteers, accompanied by a park ranger, to lend a hand with sustainable practices such as planting young trees, laying down climbing routes or cutting grass on the farm.

The theme of preservation continues on your visit to Villgratental, one of the most remote valleys in the Alps. A delightful surprise then to find out that this unspoiled valley is the setting for an award-winning restaurant. Enjoy fine dining with a menu of regional specialties made with fresh, local products in a traditional farm house dating back to 1879. You’ll continue to admire authentically Austrian wooden architecture at Oberstaller Alm in nearby Innervillgraten, often cited as one of the most interesting villages in the Alps with its 16 wooden farmhouses and a small chapel.

Your overnight on this tour is at the Zedern Klang Spa Hotel, which holds the distinction as the first hotel in Austria to receive the International Climate Award for its energy-saving and eco-friendly construction. Here, ‘green energy’ is produced through the power of water, and the salt water pools and thermal baths in the hotel’s spa landscape offer natural regenerative effects. A gourmet dinner before you rest upon a sheep wool mattress on a cedar wood bed built with no metal joints. Even sleep seems to come more naturally here!

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 Anna Blum on 26.06.2013  |   No comments

‘Best of’ Salzburg – enjoy a lead-free holiday

While the city of Salzburg has firmly established itself in visitors’ Austrian itineraries year after year due to a host of attractions which include the Mozart birth house, a grand selection of vibrant festivals, an Old Town famous for its baroque architecture, and of course the city’s draw as the setting for the beloved film The Sound of Music, the province of SalzburgerLand, home to Austria’s ‘Lake District’, proves no less alluring.

In fact, on this ‘best of’ experience, you’ll be introduced to a charming mountain town that, for the past 15 years, has been trailblazing its way into eco-friendly (and cool!) mobility initiatives. For guests in the all-season, alpine resort of Werfenweng, getting around is all part of the fun on a car-free holiday. You’ll be introduced to the town’s own soft mobility project – SAMO – as you test drive some of the unique e-vehicles available to visitors and on a horse-drawn carriage ride en route to a hearty snack at an inviting summer lodge amidst high alpine pastures. After adding to Werfenweng’s 250,000 annual visitor overnights tally with one of your own, day two beckons with the promise of outstanding views as you ride the Ikarus cable car up Bischling mountain where you’ll have an incredible vantage point of over 40 peaks.

Be in awe of some of the native inhabitants of SalzburgerLand’s peak region as you enjoy a birds of prey show at 1850m, followed by a circular hike that’s sure to whet the appetite for lunch at one of SalzburgerLand’s 161 certified alpine huts and Bioparadies establishments which take great care in serving fresh, regionally-grown products. Before your ‘so longs and goodbyes’ to this part of Austria, stop in at a farmer’s store for some demonstrations, sampling, and no doubt a bit of ‘take away’!

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 Anna Blum on 11.06.2013  |   No comments

‘Best of’ Lower Austria – the cradle of Austrian wine

In what may be Mother Nature’s most perfect shade of green, let your eyes wander over the gorgeous rolling landscape of Lower Austria, where the distinctive rows of some of the country’s finest grape vines stretch in almost limitless directions. Time changes little in these parts, and to its residents they wouldn’t have it any other way, for here, in this sprawling northeastern province, a laid-back relaxed atmosphere makes everything just that little bit more enjoyable.

Immerse yourself in true Austrian wine culture on this ‘best of’ experience that introduces you to the beautiful sights and tantalising tastes of the Weinviertel (“Wine Quarter”) of Lower Austria.

Gain a bit of history into Austria’s most popular white grape variety, Grüner Veltliner DAC, covering some 50 percent of the vineyards in the Weinviertel. Known for its trademark peppery accent, it can have smoky characteristics but also hints of fruity flare, and has the wonderful adaptability to accompany most foods.

Now, who’s ready to raise a toast? As you sit down to a cosy evening meal in one of the area’s charming ‘cellar alleys’ (Kellergassen), you’ll no doubt add your approval to the many accolades that Austrian Grüner Veltliner DAC has already been honoured with by the international wine community. You’ll overnight in one of the region’s specially appointed Genießerzimmer rooms (literally meaning to ‘savour’ / ‘enjoy’). These rooms are in beautifully located hotels / guest houses that proudly reflect the bon vivant spirit of Lower Austria and are filled with luxurious amenities and delightful surprises. Sweet dreams!

Fully revitalised, you’ll visit the 2013 Lower Austria “Bread & Wine” exhibition – bread being another proud regional tradition – then take part in a guided bike tour taking you through the area’s wine-growing villages en route to a ‘vintner’s picnic’ (scrumptious!).

Your visit to Lower Austria ends with a stop at the castle of Schloss Hof. A magnificent display of baroque style and architecture, this 18th century castle, once a country escape for the Imperial family, has grounds covering some 50 hectares including terraced gardens and a manor farm. So, for a royal good time, why not visit Lower Austria?

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 Anna Blum on 07.06.2013  |   No comments

‘Best of’ Styria – get to know the culinary side of Graz


Sure, “bon appétit” works too, but when in Austria, why not give the local lingo a try and wish your fellow travelers “Mahlzeit” (“mealtime”) as you sit down to your latest delicious discovery on this ‘best of’ experience to Austria’s capital of culinary delights.

Graz is a foodie’s dream come true, an epicurean experience at every turn amidst a vibrant city scene. Here, in the Styrian capital on the banks of the River Mur, a host of internationally-acclaimed restaurants, friendly bars and colourful local markets can be found dotted amongst the visually-striking buildings. It is clear that in Graz the architectural highlights of the region come together and the various styles collide in the most pleasing of ways.

On a culinary themed city tour, you’ll have a chance to stroll through one of Graz’s 16 farmers’ markets that are a source of fresh and organic products to the city’s culinary outlets. Bet you won’t resist a tempting taste here and there! At a relaxed pace, discover the historic Old Town (a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site) as you exchange stories with fellow visitors. You’ll also enjoy an exclusive tour of the newly re-opened Natural History Museum.

Attention chocolate lovers – a special treat for you: a guided visit to the Zotter Chocolate Factory is sure to make a sweet impression. At Zotter, an Organic and Fair Trade philosophy starts with the bean and there is no flavour that’s unimaginable. Olive & lemon anyone? Or how does “I’ll try a bit of the peanuts & ketchup bar” sound?!

Just a short journey outside the city takes you to the Rogner Bad Blumau thermal spa hotel, where two natural hot springs provide not only the mineral-rich waters for the hotel’s thermal pools, but are also a key source of the hotel’s power. This unique resort is a true visual feast for the eyes and relaxation for body and soul. Ahhh…

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 Anna Blum on 04.06.2013  |   No comments

‘Best of’ Carinthia – natural cuisine and jewels of nature

In its enviable sun-kissed location on the ‘southern balcony of the Alps’, Carinthia truly splashes out on visitor fun with over 200 warm bathing lakes, the majority of which have drinking water quality!

Marvel at the sights of National Park Hohe Tauern, home to Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, and the largest natural protected area in the Alps. Originally established in Carinthia in 1981, its boundaries now stretch over three provinces – Carinthia, Salzburg and Tirol. Surrounded by mountains that stretch some 3000m skywards, and amidst tranquil greenery, on a ‘best of’ experience you tuck into lunch on a terrace at the charming 4-star Holiday Village Moserhof, set upon a historic manor house estate.

With energy levels up, it’s then time for a tour through the impressively scenic wilds of the Rabisch gorge in the company of a national park ranger. Cameras at the ready for even a waterfall or two! Dinner is at your choice of one of the cosy, traditional guesthouses which uphold a centuries-old tradition and a culinary philosophy adhering to organic ingredients.

Overnight at the Hotel Alpengarten in the 1200m resort town of Mallnitz, with dreams of tomorrow’s guided e-biking tour through the Seebachtal Valley, followed by a walking excursion with the national park’s animal warden. And, just one last taste of Carinthia to be had: a traditional buffet lunch – the so-called ‘Jause’ – with the freshest of products from local farms and businesses.

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 Anna Blum on 31.05.2013  |   No comments

‘Best of’ Vienna – two wheels instead of the big wheel

While many visitors to Vienna enjoy a unique bird’s eye view of the city from atop its landmark 200m Giant Ferris Wheel, another unique vantage point can be had on two wheels along Vienna’s 1200km of cycle paths.

This ‘best of’ experience in the Austrian capital gives you access to Velo-city 2013. Held at the impressive city hall, this is the largest international conference on cycling, bringing together some 1000 participants ranging from planners and architects to social marketers, environmentalists and industry representatives. Highlighted themes this year include ‘cycling cities’ and ‘cycling benefits’, along with the newly introduced topic of ‘cycling cultures’.

What better way to toast Vienna’s rich cycling traditions than with a fine award-winning wine! Treat yourself to a spot of wine-tasting at Heuriger Wieninger, a traditional Viennese wine tavern, where your third-generation host Leo Wieninger will guide you through the tavern’s wine cellar and offer you a taste of authentic Viennese wine. And did you know that Vienna is only city in the world that boasts vineyards fully within its boundaries? We say a hearty ‘cheers’ to that!

Enjoy a dinner at Vestibül Restaurant, impressively set within Vienna’s ornate Burgtheater, serving fresh and innovative new twists on well-loved Austrian specialties. Follow with an overnight stay at the Boutiquehotel Stadthalle, the world’s first city hotel maintaining a zero energy balance. Your ‘best of’ experience concludes the next day with a guided cycling tour through Vienna, passing by some of the city’s most celebrated sights.

And this is just one of your choices…

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 Anna Blum on 16.05.2013  |   No comments

An Irish Storyteller visits Austria – Part 3

As a professional storyteller I had already heard about the Fabelhaft International Storytelling Festival  from colleagues in the United States and Germany. I caught up with festival director Tessa Tegetthoff in Café Promenade, a light airy coffee house and popular meeting place in Graz.

This international festival was founded in 1988 by Tessa’s father, storyteller Folke Tegetthoff. Originally based in Graz, the festival is nowadays centred on Bad Schönau in the Bucklige Welt region, with other festival locations in St. Pölten, Baden and the Schallaburg Castle. By taking the event out of the city, the aim is to attract visitors to the beautiful landscape and to encourage local people to share their stories.  Special signs have been erected at places of interest, telling stories about them. There are specially organised tours so that visitors can meet local craftspeople and learn about the culture of this picturesque and “un-touristy” part of Austria.

The rich culture of music is also to be found all around the city of Graz. I was fortunate to have been shown around by Professor Hermann Härtel, an expert on Austrian folk music. We drove to Gasthof Jaritz in Gratkorn, a picturesque little place just 15 miles from Graz. This inn is one of a wide network of places where visitors can stay and experience true Austrian folk music. Johann Jaritz, the owner, is himself a fine singer, and on the night we were there I heard some wonderful yodelling from people who had gathered to join Hermann. I plan on returning to stay at the place that offers a wonderful welcome. What they say on their  brochure was true for me  – “Come as a guest and leave as a friend”.

The next day saw us heading up into the Alps. I was charmed to see the cows grazing on the upland pasture and to hear their bells just as I had read about in my childhood stories. Our destination was a mountain hut above the village of Übelbach where music sessions often take place. A treat awaited us as husband and wife singing duo Veronika and Hansjörg Aigner performed some folksongs with a beautiful backdrop of the valley.

I had the good fortune to experience one of Veronika’s home-cooked meals the next day. She had promised local Styrian fare and we were not disappointed. We scoffed the lot, from the delicious noodle soup to a main dish of Styrian pot roast, dumplings then delicious cake, washed down with chilled home-made elderflower wine. I felt that this was the real Austria – the mix of scenery, excellent local food, folksongs and yes, even some more yodelling!


LIZ WEIR is a professional storyteller who works with all age groups promoting the traditional art for which Ireland is world famous. A children’s librarian by training, she now travels the world telling stories to adults and children, organising workshops on storytelling, and speaking at courses for parents, teachers and librarians. Her wealth of stories is drawn from both the oral and written traditions.
Find out more about Liz’s work at: www.lizweir.net

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 Anna Blum on 16.11.2012  |   No comments

A Storybook Christmas

Advent festivities and Christmas Markets on a seasonal trip to Salzburg

Christmas is a beautiful time of year for relaxing with loved ones, witnessing children’s faces light up and immersing in beautiful music and décor. But for many, it can be a stressful time, being busy with holiday preparations or, worse yet, left disappointed because their magical expectations of a joyous season fell below the mark.

If you have felt this way about Christmas in the past, a visit to the city of Salzburg can renew your joy in this enchanting time of year. For the entire Advent season, this city located in SalzburgerLand becomes alive and contagiously spreads the Christmas spirit to every visitor that enters its realm.

Music is a very important facet of Salzburg’s Advent season. The city is not only known as the birthplace of Mozart, but also of Joseph Mohr, a priest who composed the famous Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night”. It was first sung on Christmas Eve in 1818 at a chapel in Oberndorf (just outside of Salzburg). Throughout the lead up to Christmas, the Silent Night Museum in Oberndorf offers pageants, lantern walks and a Christmas Eve memorial in honor of the carol.

Numerous captivating concerts take place right in Salzburg, generally beginning the first week of December or earlier. From the 200 singers on stage at the Great Festive Hall to Advent serenades and carol singing get togethers, there are plenty of musical celebrations to choose from throughout the festive city.

While exploring Salzburg, you’ll undoubtedly feel like a child on Christmas morning again as you take in the streets adorned with lights and the medieval and Baroque architecture of the Old Town, observe the snow-capped trees and roofs and breathe in the crisp, fresh air. Several visual art forms are showcased especially for the holiday season, such as numerous nativity displays and a special Christmas exhibit at the Cathedral Museum. You might even be startled by the mystical Krampus and Perchten roaming the streets or surrounding hills. Krampus refers to the wild costumed characters that punish bad children and accompany St. Nicholas who rewards the well-behaved children. Perchten are frightening creatures and come out on St. Nicholas eve, Winter Solstice and Epiphany to try and scare winter away.

But one of the true highlights of the Advent season are the Christmas Markets in Salzburg. The Christkindlmarkt tradition dates back more than 500 years. Salzburg’s first Christmas Market was set up in the Cathedral Square (also known as “Domplatz”) and is the city’s most popular yuletide bazaar. Named the Salzburg Christmas Market, it generally opens at the end of November. Visitors are tempted by the alluring aromas of Glühwein or roasted chestnuts and the sound of choirs, church bells and brass ensembles. The wooden stalls offer a selection of Christmas treats and gifts, from traditional baked goods like “Lebkuchen” (the German term for gingerbread) to handcrafted items.

However, this is not the only Christmas Market in Salzburg. There are numerous others that take place during or for the entire season of Advent. For example, the Advent Magic market at Hellbrun Palace allows visitors to wander the romantically lit courtyard and feast their eyes on a gigantic advent calendar. Children adore attending this market where they get to meet reindeer and other animals face to face.

Another market situated within royal splendour is the Mirabell Square Market situated in front of the palace by the same name. With Christmas performances three or four times a week, patrons will marvel at the sheer variety of items the stalls offer. From jewellery, wool products and fragrant oils to chocolates, liqueurs, nativity carvings and toys, Mirabell Market seems to have it all. Whether you prefer seasonal music, vibrant decorations or holiday magic that stimulates all of the senses, you are sure to experience a Storybook Christmas in Austria’s Salzburg.


For more information on SalzburgerLand and walking holidays in Austria (including winter walking ideas), visit: TouchingNature.co.uk

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 Anna Blum on 09.11.2012  |   No comments

Life in Saalbach Hinterglemm

My name is Anna-Theresa Brettermeier, I am 19 years old and I attend the tourism college in Bad Hofgastein. This summer I got to spend two months in London doing an internship at the Austrian National Tourist Office.  London is an exciting city with lots of great places to visit, but it is very different from my small village Saalbach Hinterglemm in Austria. My parents own the Theresia Gartenhotel ****Superior and the attached Aparthotel**** Johann.  Since I was a small girl I have loved welcoming guests to our family-run hotel, and it has always been my dream – as the fourth generation – to continue with our tradition and take over the hotel.

Even though I have enjoyed my time in London, the past two months have also made me realise just how beautiful my home really is.  Unique landscape surrounds the valley all year round, and the mountains literally make you feel free. In summer, Saalbach Hinterglemm offers a wide choice of hiking trails across the grassy hills of the Pinzgau, as well as lots of fantastic mountainbike paths. For those who like a challenge and are in good physical condition, I highly recommend the Seven Summits Tour.

My mum especially loves to show our guests the local treasures of the region. The Sinnlehenalm in Leogang is one of those places. After a 30 minute hike, the guests can look forward to a guided tour of the Organic Dairy Farm.  Mr. Scheiber explains how the cheese is produced fresh everyday, thanks to his 18 cows. Afterwards, the guest can of course sample the delicious goods. On the way back to the hotel there is a stop at the traditional weekly market in Saalfelden. When I visit this market, the first thing I do is to eat the freshly made Bladln mit Sauerkraut. This is one of the favourite Austrian recipes, made out of pastry filled with bacon and Sauerkraut.

Someone else to visit when you are here is the 76 year old bee keeper Sepp Grünwald, who lives at the end of the Glemm Valley. Sepp will show you his bees and tell you about the organic honey they produce. As you might have guessed, organic food is really important for my family and our hotel. My mum places great value on high quality food, and because of that we provide organic cuisine for our guests every day. We get fresh vegetables from the organic farm Stechausbauer several times a week, which is 30 km away.

Not to forget winter in Saalbach Hinterglemm, when the whole valley is covered in white snow. In winter, I always get up very early in the morning, put on my snowboard gear and start my day with a healthy breakfast. At 9 a.m, my day tour on my board starts at the lift opposite our hotel. My favourite hut, where I always have lunch, is the Hintermais Alm, and it was here that my grandmother born. If you enjoy traditional Austrian food like cheese dumplings with butter and chives, then you will love it there. Who knows, maybe I will see you on a hiking or skiing tour in Austria soon?!

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 Anna Blum on 29.08.2012  |   No comments

World of Coffee Vienna

Guest blogger Emsal Leo wants to know what all the fuss is about over Viennese coffee, so heads to the Austrian capital for the World Barista Championship 2012.

“Full bodied, bright, with a grapefruity finish” is my verdict for what could be my 6th coffee of the day. In front of me is an assortment of brewing equipment. The barista describes the method of brewing and the beans she’s using as she pours another sample, this time from the central highlands of Kenya, for me to taste.  Around me, music is pumping. A cheer goes up from the crowd in the seats to my left, as they watch a contender vie for the title of World Barista Champion 2012. A chocolatey aroma from the coffee roasting competition tickles my nostrils. Another cheer goes up from further down the hall, where contestants are competing in the Coffee Tasting Championship.

We’re at an exhibition hosted by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, which aims to bring the coffee community, including farmers, roasters, brewers and drinkers, together. This year the event is being held in Vienna, a fitting city for it. This is where the first western coffee house is alleged to have opened a few hundred years ago, after a defeated Ottoman army left sacks of unroasted beans behind as they fled following the Battle of Vienna. From this unassuming beginning, grew what is now an integral part of Viennese culture.

As the exhibition closes for the day, we take the metro into the city centre, emerging at Stephensplatz. “Tickets for tonight’s opera?” says a man dressed as Mozart. A pair of grey horses trot past, pulling a traditional open carriage. In the shadow of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, two couples in evening dress stand at a bar table sipping champagne.

We stroll along Kärntner Strasse to the Vienna State Opera House. In the square outside, people are gathering for the evening’s performance. From bow tie to backpack, everyone is welcome. In the foyer we squeeze past the queue for pre-booked tickets and head for the cloak room, at the back of the Opera House. In contrast to the opulent foyer with its sparkling chandelier, thick carpets and heavy drapes, this room is purely functional. Just a long white marble counter to serve the audience and a discreet kiosk in the corner selling last minute, standing room only tickets.

For €3 per person we are expecting severely restricted viewing, however, from our vertiginous position we can see most of the stage, the orchestra pit and nearly all of the audience. The buzz of conversation and the cacophony of instruments being tuned rises up to us. There are no empty seats, and only a few spaces left in the standing room section. A hush descends as the opening notes of Puccini’s Tosca sound and the curtain rises. For two hours we are captivated by a mesmerising performance, and as the curtain falls, the audience rise to their feet, thunderous applause filling the auditorium.

We make our way down flights of marble steps back to the square. As we walk to our hotel, uplifted by the evening’s entertainment, an assortment of cakes catches our eyes and we are drawn into the café. This is Vienna after all, and there’s always time for one more coffee.

by Emsal Leo

 Anna Blum on 16.07.2012  |   No comments