From its geographical status as a landlocked country surrounded by eight European neighbours, the Austria of today reflects its unique position at the centre of the continent where influences meet and a centuries-long history and tradition are celebrated and respected. There is a strong sense of identity – or culture if you prefer – in Austria, and, as visitors will soon experience, one that is showcased naturally and inclusively. See and hear it in the finest of music and the arts, admire it in the most splendid architecture, step into it on a mountain adventure, taste it at tables across the country, and be embraced by it in the most charming of hospitality.
The fine sounds of music can be heard throughout Austria, whether in the setting of a grand opera house, modern concert hall, mountain venue or festival stage. Music is an art form that crosses borders, with beloved compositions able to transcend language, gender and ethnicity. Mozart, Haydn, Liszt and Mahler are just a few of the names having composed melodies recognised globally, and while their origins may be Austrian, their influence is international. Come and see where some of these composers got their start. In Salzburg, the home that Mozart was born in is open to visitors, as is the Haydnhaus in Vienna in which Haydn composed the majority of his works over his 12 years in residence. From chords to canvas, Austria also holds a strong reputation in the world of visual art, with pieces by Austrian painters in galleries around the world. Even for those not so well-versed in art, The Kiss created by Austrian-born Gustav Klimt in 1908/09 in an eye-catching gilded style – and today hanging in Vienna’s Belvedere Gallery – is almost at once recognisable.
An Architectural Arch through the Ages
Think you’ll see lovely baroque architecture and picture-perfect alpine chalets adorned with flower-bedecked balconies on your visit to Austria? Yes, quite likely. But look a bit closer, stand back a bit, and you’ll also get amazing views of an Austria that you perhaps weren’t expecting. In the past few decades, there have been many developments in Austria’s architectural identity, most notably, a blending of the old and new. For a futuristic feel, let your gaze wander up the fluorescently lit sides of the Kunsthaus Graz (Graz Art Museum), dubbed ‘the friendly alien’ with its bulbous shape and shiny blue plexi-glass panes that reflect Graz’s Old Town within them. The sky’s the limit in the former imperial town of Innsbruck, where London-based architect Zaha Hadid has left her mark on the city’s Bergisel Ski Jump as well as its Nordkettenbahnen cable car stations, a series of structural modern marvels with fluid lines inspired by natural ice formations. Need more evidence for this old-meets-new trend? The province of Vorarlberg has become somewhat of a hotbed of building innovation, catching the attention not only of those in the architectural world, but also visitors to the region. The traditional wood architecture is complemented by amazing glass constructs that proudly take a place alongside their more long-standing neighbours. This blending of building styles has become a real hallmark of Austria’s westernmost province.
Lofty Alpine Traditions
While Austria’s geographic position alone ensures its alpine designation, it’s the observances and evidence of this association with the mountains throughout the centuries that make it part of the cultural landscape. In 1991, the well-preserved body of a pre-historic man was discovered on a glacier in the Ötztal Alps at an elevation of 2300m. Nicknamed ‘Ötzi the Iceman’, he is thought to have lived some 5,300 years ago and perhaps been a trader in this region of criss-crossing alpine routes. Plenty of evidence of this centuries-upon-centuries-long trade and movement across Austria’s alpine region remains. The landmark protected Berliner Hütte at 2044m in the Zillertal opened in 1879 and still welcomes guest today. The 46km Grossglockner High Alpine Road connecting the federal provinces of Salzburg and Carinthia was constructed in the 1930s and remains one of the most famous roads in the Alps.
Getting a Taste of Things
While Austrian chefs are quite happy to be associated with beloved favourites such as crisp Apfelstrudel and Wiener Schnitzel, there is a fresh and innovative culinary trend evident in a lot of Austria’s kitchens. An Austrian menu nowadays reflects wide cultural influences in the re-invention of many traditional dishes. An old adage reworked as ‘The way to a visitor’s heart is through his/her stomach’ may succinctly sum up why visitors to Austria can’t wait to take their place at the table, be it at a Michelin-starred restaurant or cosy family-owned hut serving up local specialities. Not to forget the ever-important wine, of course! Austria’s reds and whites have a long tradition in the country’s wine regions which consistently produce many award-winning varieties worthy of global attention.
Do Stay Awhile
For most Austrians, a strong passion for tradition and a respect for the past that is so clearly reflected in contemporary culture, characterise a way of life. As a consequence, visitors to Austria can’t help but feel the authenticity of their interactions with local hosts who help bring destination Austria to life in a real and unedited way. From the concierge at a luxury 5* hotel to the vendor at a farmer’s market, from the city tour guide to the friendly face at the ski hire shop, and from the moment you arrive until the time you depart, you can be sure of a charming tradition of hospitality unmatched throughout the world.
Tags: Cities, City Breaks, Cuisine, Culture, Food & Wine, Hidden Treasures, Museum