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Although not as well known as regional varieties in France and Italy, Austrian wines, particularly whites, are now recognized by wine experts around the world for their excellent quality. The center of wine production in Austria is found in northern and eastern Lower Austria, in Burgenland, in Styria, and on the hilly terraces overlooking Vienna. Whites account for nearly 70% of production, but the quality of Austrian reds continues to improve. The most popular white variety is Grüner Veltliner, followed by Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc (often labeled as Weissburgunder). The major red varieties are Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. Wines to look for include:
Wieninger. Some of the best wine in the Vienna region comes from this winery—and at reasonable prices. Look for Sauvignon Blanc and Grüner Veltliner, but also a very complex Chardonnay.
Bründlmayer. This house in Kamptal in Lower Austria produces some of Austria's most acclaimed whites, especially Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
Umathum. Austrian reds are drawing more and more attention from the wine press, including those produced in south Burgenland at this winery known for its full-bodied Pinot Noirs and a very interesting St. Laurent.
Austria is synonymous with great skiing. Aside from world-class runs, the close proximity of the many ski areas to one another and an excellent infrastructure make moving around from one place to another quick and easy. The action is concentrated on the big ski regions of the Arlberg, Tirol, and Land Salzburg for good reason—here, many individual ski areas span and connect multiple mountains and valleys, and they are linked together with common ski passes. The question, then, is where to begin? The answer depends on what you're looking to do. Posh resorts such as Lech and Kitzbühel are popular with the society crowd—and usually come with the price to fit. Nearby villages, however, are often much less expensive, and their lifts serve the same large ski domain.
Here are some classics to get you started:
Lech and St. Anton, Voralburg. Exclusive, and a paradise for purists.
Kitzbühel, Tirol. The elegant resort in the heart of Tirol has well-groomed pistes.
Sölden, Tirol. The snow conditions are excellent, and so are the spa facilities.
Castles, Palaces, and Abbeys
It seems that if you travel a few miles in any direction in Austria, you are confronted with a fairy-tale castle, an ostentatious palace, or an ornate Baroque abbey. It's easy to be overwhelmed by all of the architectural splendor, the fanciful decorations, and the often impossibly intricate mythical lore attached to these sites. The secret to overcoming the "not-another-castle" syndrome is to take your time at each, and not to limit yourself to the site alone.
Discover how rewarding it can be to leave the palace grounds or castle walls and to explore the surroundings, whether a city, small village, or mountainside. Around the corner might be a lovely chapel, a spectacular view, or an excellent local restaurant that, because it is somewhat off the beaten path and perhaps not (yet) in any guidebook, is yours alone to appreciate.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna. You could spend an entire day here (and still not see all the rooms in the palace), or choose from several shorter tours of one of Austria's premier attractions, the palace built by Empress Maria Theresa.
Melk, Lower Austria. Perched on a hill overlooking the Danube and the Wachau, the giant abbey of Melk features imposing architecture, lovely gardens, and one of Europe's most resplendent Baroque libraries.
Fortress Hohensalzburg, Salzburg. The medieval fortress, central Europe's largest, towers over Salzburg and offers lavish state rooms, a collection of medieval art, a late-Gothic chapel, and magnificent views of the entire region.
Over the last decade or so, Austria has invested a lot in the construction and maintenance of thousands of kilometers of cycle routes along its rivers and through its lush valleys. The close proximity of many sites of interest means that cycling is often the best means of leisurely exploration. Many hotels now provide bikes to their guests for a nominal fee, or your hotel can direct you to a nearby bike-rental shop. It helps to have a Radkarte (a map with the local bike routes), available at hotels or at the local tourist office. Here are some of the best routes that combine cultural attractions with stimulating landscapes:
The Wachau, Lower Austria. The Donauradweg—or Danube bike route—follows the Danube all the way from Passau to Vienna. The Wachau is not far from Vienna, and it offers one of the most spectacular landscapes along Austria's stretch of the Danube. Very well-maintained bike paths take you past the abbey of Melk and through Krems and other charming wine-making towns. The best time to go is spring, when the apricot trees are in glorious blossom, or in early fall, when grapes hang ripe and heavy on the vines of the terraced slopes.
Mozart Radweg, Salzburg. The Mozart Route is a circuit around Salzburg, the city where the great musician was born. Leaving Salzburg the route passes through stations associated with Mozart's life and work, and continues through an arrestingly beautiful landscape of mountain lakes, castles, and small villages.
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