Set at an elevation of 1640m, the Eisriesenwelt Caves are the largest accessible ice caves in the world. They comprise more than 40km of explored passageways and 30,000 cubic m of ice. Entry to the caves is regulated and a 75-minute tour takes in several immense caverns containing elaborate ice formations and frozen waterfalls. The caves were first entered in 1879, but it was one Alexander von Mork who pioneered the most extensive exploration: when he signed off, his ashes were placed in an urn in the 'cathedral' cave. Be sure to wear warm clothes because the passageways are as close as you'll ever come to feeling you've been trapped in your Westinghouse icebox. The caves are open between May and early October and are located near Werfen.
For a fantastic 50km mountain tour, load up the car and head for the Grossglockner Road, Austria's No1 panorama drama. The road was built between 1930 and 1935, but the course it follows has been an important trading route between Germany and Italy since the Middle Ages. Most of the juicy bits are in the Hohe Tauern National Park where there are dramatic views of numerous unpronounceable peaks, including the mighty Grossglockner which looms across the vast tongue of the Pasterze Glacier and looks every centimetre of its 3797m. The Grossglockner Road requires a toll and is open to traffic between May and November. Start the journey in Zell am See and end in Heiligenblut.
Austria's home town of Baroque, and the birthplace of that talented tunesmith Mr Mozart, is picturesquely sheltered by surrounding mountains and straddles the Salzach River near the border with Germany. The Salzburg that everyone knows and loves was largely built by three bishop-princes in the late-16th and early-17th century, which is what gives the city its Italian flavour and its skyline punctuated by countless medieval spires, domes, belfries and turrets. The old town, on the south bank of the river, is a Baroque masterpiece of churches, plazas, courtyards and fountains, oozing so much charm that it's enough to make you forgive young Wolfgang for being so precocious and omniscient. Museums, houses, squares, chocolate bars, liqueurs - you name it and it's got a Mozart tag stuck on it.The high point of a visit to Salzburg (literally and metaphorically) is a tour of the 11th-century Hohensalzburg Castle, which stands on a rock outcrop about 120m above the city. It's almost a separate village in its own right, with all the usual self-sufficient accoutrements of a tiny settlement like torture chambers, state rooms, a tower and two museums. On the east side of the old town, the stunning Museum of Natural History has the standard flora and fauna displays, good hands-on physics exhibits and some stomach-churning deformed human embryos. To round off the grisly experience, there are tours of the catacombs in the graveyard of the 9th-century St Peter's Abbey.If you're on a musical pilgrimage, you can visit Mozart's birthplace, his home, the grave of his father and widow, and the house of a person who once knew someone who knew someone whose great-great grandfather once played second bassoon in a Mozart opera.The Summer International Festival held in Salzburg in July-August naturally gives his tunes a good workout. If you're looking for kitsch, try The Sound of Music tour: ten bucks to the best rendition of Julie Andrews singing 'The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music'. Four km south of Salzburg's old town is the Baroque Hellbrunn Palace, built in the 17th-century by bishop Marcus Sitticus. The grounds contain ingenious trick fountains and water-powered figures thanks to the bishop's strange fascination with soaking unsuspecting visitors. Expect the tour guides to continue the bishop's perverse tradition.
The Arlberg region comprises several linked resorts and is considered to have some of the best skiing in Austria. St Anton is the largest and least elitist of these resorts, but even here budget travellers can kiss their savings goodbye amid the easy-going atmosphere and vigorous nightlife. St Anton has good, medium-to-advanced runs as well as nursery slopes on Gampen and Kapall. The resort went down in skiing history as the place where Hannes Schneider pioneered the 'Arlberg method' in the early 20th century. This basically involved skiing with your legs glued together and fortunately is no longer used by the footloose crowds on the slopes today. St Anton is on the main railway route from Bregenz to Innsbruck.
Vienna is the glorious legacy of the Habsburg dynasty, which controlled much of Europe for over 600 years. Although it's full of architectural gems and has an impressive musical ancestry, a few years ago the city seemed to be the exclusive preserve of genteel old ladies whiling away their autumn years sipping coffee in Konditorei. Thankfully, in recent years, Vienna has regained its panache and verve, and has a spanking new role as Austria's ambassador in the united club of Europe. Tradition, culture and vitality now make a heady combination that even listening to the Blue Danube thirty or forty times a day can't seem to ruin.The city's golden years as the cultural centre of Europe were in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the majestic architecture you see today is due to the efforts of Emperor Franz Joseph I, who had deep enough pockets to match his ambitious plans for a city that would reflect the power of the Habsburgs. Franz tore down a few redundant fortifications and exercise grounds surrounding the Innere Stadt and laid out the Ringstrasse between 1858 and 1865. In the decade that followed most of the impressive edifices which line this circuit began to be constructed.The Hofburg (Imperial Palace) nearby was the home of the Habsburgs and is a monumental repository of Austria's cultural heritage. It includes the 14th-century Augustinian Church, the opulent Imperial Apartments, the Royal Chapel (where the Vienna Boy's Choir sings at Sunday mass), the Imperial Treasury (including religious relics such as one of the nails from the Crucifixion and one of the thorns from Christ's crown), the National Library, the Baroque Prunksaal hall and the fascinating Collection of Old Musical Instruments.If you still haven't quenched your cultural thirst, the Museum of Fine Arts shows off the artwork funnelled back to Vienna by the Habsburgs. The museum is a delightful no-expense-spared work of art itself, and includes unrivalled collections of paintings by Rubens and Peter Brueghel the Elder. Don't even think about checking out everything in a single visit and try not to get neck strain staring at the superbly decorated ceilings. The Sigmund Freud Museum in the apartments where Siggi worked and lived contains his furniture, possessions, documents and photographs. Quite what the great man wanted with that terracotta male genitalia (exhibit 24) is a bit of a worry though.Outside the city centre is the splendid Baroque Belvedere Palace built for Prince Eugene of Savoy. The upper palace is now home to the Austrian Gallery, which has among its exhibits Gustav Klimt's famous painting The Kiss. The city's other famous Baroque palace is the Schönbrunn Palace, once home to Maria Theresa, and later to Napoleon. It has an interior kitted out with Rococo excesses and contains the Mirror Room where Mozart played his first royal concert and the Napoleon Room, which strangely contains a stuffed crested lark.Accommodation can be a nightmare for low budget travellers - especially at Easter, Christmas and between June and September - so make reservations as far ahead as possible. Staying within the Innere Stadt is convenient for sightseeing but there are no hostels in this elegant area so it ain't cheap. Hotels and pensions between the Ring and the Gürtel are better value. The area north-west of the city centre, near the university, has numerous inexpensive restaurants. The best area for a night on the town is around Ruprechtsplatz, Seitenstettengasse, Rabensteig and Salzgries in the central zone near the Danube Canal. This area has been dubbed the 'Bermuda Triangle' because drinkers disappear into its numerous pubs and clubs and become lost to the outside world.
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