A beautiful mountain sunrise not far from Mieming in the Tirol region of Austria.
Striking mountains, cools lakes, picturesque villages. That’s what you’ll see when driving around Austria. It’s tough not to stop at every lookout point because each location is so stunning but we were on a mission to reach the most stunning location of all, Hallstatt.
It was the Budget Traveller who convinced me to go to Hallstatt, insisting it was one of the most beautiful places he’s visited and I can totally understand why. A UNESCO World Heritage listed town located right on the water and surrounded by massive snow capped mountains, I too loved it as soon as I arrived.
Hallstatt has always been a wealthy city due to its situation at the base of a prosperous salt mine and it shows as you walk around the town. Perfect cobblestone streets, with perfect houses and perfect geraniums growing in window boxes. Unfortunately that perfection has lead to the biggest problem; many, many, many tourists. Bus loads of tourists and independent travellers descending upon a small town of less than 1000 inhabitants does not make for a nice visit. That’s not the fault of Hallstatt of course but nonetheless, it’s not my idea of fun.
Thankfully there is always a solution to a problem and the way to avoid the hoards of tourists in Hallstatt is to hire a boat and head out onto the peaceful lake. As soon as I got away from shore everything changed and I could admire the historic town and finally relax.
The lake is the best place to get photos of the town and I’d suggest going out for at least half an hour.
Later in the day many of the tourists moved on and the evening in the town was much quieter.
What to Eat
Your best option would be to eat the local specialty which is fish fresh from the lake. We weren’t too hungry so just had pumpkin soup from one of the restaurants in the main square. I was worried it was going to be poor quality and overpriced but it was actually quite good and affordable.
We weren’t very hungry because we had splurged on hot chocolate and cake that afternoon at the bakery just inside the main entrance to Hallstatt. This was a great little place; the cakes were delicious and the staff very friendly.
Where to Stay
Not realising Hallstatt is super touristy, I thought we could just rock up and organise accommodation when we arrived. Not so. Most places were already fully booked by the early afternoon and in the end the tourist office found us one of the last rooms in Hallstatt at Gasthof Simony. €100 for a double room with dirty bathroom in a 2 star B&B isn’t exactly good value but at least we had a room over our heads and the location and view of the main square was fantastic. I would suggest booking something at Booking.com before you arrive.
While I don’t enjoy having to push through tourists to visit a place, the fact is it’s touristy for a reason. Hallstatt is one of the most scenic locations in Europe so it’s definitely worth visiting if you are going to be in Austria or nearby.
Going 100 miles an hour* down a mountain on an electronic bike is not an activity I would usually volunteer for but that’s what I ended up doing one sunny afternoon in Mieming, near Innsbruck. In fact, there are a number of activities available in the Tirol region which I never imagined partaking in and which to my surprise were loads of fun. So here is my list of fun things to do near Innsbruck.
Ride an E-Bike Around Tirol
Mieming is only 30 minutes from Innsbruck but it’s well worth spending a few nights there to enjoy the fresh mountain air and striking scenery. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from but riding an electronic bike is a great way to get up and down the rolling hills without exerting too much energy. My kind of activity in other words. I hadn’t ridden a bike for about 20 years so there were a few precarious moments but it ended without incident and I did get to snap a few photos along the way.
See a Stunning Mountain Sunrise
I am not a morning person. At all. I rarely get up before 9am. But heading out at 5am to hike up a mountain and see the sun rise was one of my best travel experiences ever. It took my breath away both figuratively and literally. It’s amazing how I felt like the air was thinner up there even though we were only 1700 metres above sea level. I would totally fail as a mountaineer. My photos really don’t do it justice but it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. We went to Lacke Mountain near Mieming but you could ask at the tourist office for other options.
Once the sun came up we had champagne followed by a little mountain yoga and then a hearty Austrian breakfast at Lehnberghaus.
Practice Your Golf Swing
I have never played golf before but I quickly discovered I’m completely useless at it. I thought that being a former cricketer may have helped me but apparently not. Nevertheless, attempting to hit those little balls as far as I could was not only fun but surprisingly relaxing. In Mieming you can play a full round of golf, follow a 9 holes course or you can just have a hit on the driving range like I did. When it’s time for a golf break you can eat a typical Tirolean snack of cured meats, cheese and pickled chillies at the very cute Stottlalm.
I don’t know if that dish is meant for one person or not but there’s a hell of a lot of pork on that plate!
Catch Your Own Dinner
Even though there are no photos of me biking through the Tirol mountains, I do have proof (well a photo) that I caught a couple of trout which were later prepared for my dinner at Hotel Holzleiten.
Yep, that’s a photo of me holding a dead fish and no, I did not take a wooden mallet to its head, that was someone else’s job (thankfully).
I wish I could say I’m a skilled fisherman but that little lake in Stams was jam packed with trout so the odds were totally in my favour. Those poor fish didn’t stand a chance.
Spoil Yourself at a Spa
Austria is a great place to visit for outdoor activities but they are also big on spas. So you can have a massage, sauna, spa and all kinds of beauty treatments in your hotel all the while surrounded by stunning alpine scenery.
I was lucky enough to spend the night at Hotel Holzleiten in Obsteig where the early morning views from the rooms are something like this:
This was by far my favourite hotel in on this trip to Austria. The rooms were stylish and contemporary in design, the restaurant food focused on local produce and included a fantastic breakfast with local butters, jams and cheeses, and along with the usual spa treatments you can sign up to do yoga, Qi Gong and other classes or just swim in the heated swimming pool. This is my top choice for a pampered weekend getaway.
Kaysers is another great option for a stay in Tirol and the views there aren’t too bad either.
Most people opt for the half board option when staying here and it’s not surprising when that includes a 6 course meal for your dinner. I was a bit worried how that would go seeing as I’m a fussy eater but I loved everything.
Kaysers offer all the usual spa treatments but also provide a large range of sporting activities to get you out experiencing the great outdoors. Golf, tennis, hiking, mountain climbing, horse riding etc can all be arranged by the hotel and with a guide or trainer if you prefer. The e-biking was a lot of fun but I would love to do the adventure walk next time. You can also take exercise classes like Pilates and water aerobics so there are activities for everyone.
Last wellness option is Schwarz Resort which is the largest of the hotels/resorts we went to. It’s walking distance to the golf course and they have multiple swimming pools, spas, and saunas. Again, the views aren’t too shabby.
The weird crystal room was my favourite of the relaxing rooms.
Obviously that’s just the tip of the iceberg on things to do in Tirol. It’s a great summer destination but is also good for a ‘soft winter’ as they call it.
* Total exaggeration
I have always loved travelling by train but the freedom you have when driving trumps all other forms of transport in my books. So now that I finally have my own wheels I am determined to take as many road trips as possible and forget about public transport for good.
My first trip in my little car, from Paris to Innsbruck, was a 10 hour drive, taking in 4 countries. I wanted to take my time so spread the trip over 3 days, stopping in Belfort, France (just near the Swiss and German borders), Vaduz, Liechtenstein and then Innsbruck, Austria.
Day 1 – Paris to Belfort
Prior to leaving Paris, I played around with Google Maps and figured Belfort would be a good place to stop after 5 hours of driving. In retrospect, it would have been more interesting and cheaper to stop somewhere like Fribourg in Germany but I was trying to avoid driving too far in one day.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to discover about Belfort. It’s known for the ‘Belfort Lion’ a statue to commemorate the Siege of Belfort during the Franco-Prussian War.
After getting up close to the statue and exploring the adjacent Citadel, there isn’t much else to see or do. Belfort is trying to reposition itself as a cultural centre with recent upgrades and expansions to its museums but it’s hard to get away from its main industries which are mostly for chemicals and plastics. It’s a region with high unemployment and a depressing feel. Not a great choice for where to spend the night.
Where to Eat
The two main squares were buzzing with many restaurants and cafes and judging by the packed terraces I’d say they all offer decent meals. We ate at a little Italian place, L’Angelo on Place de la Republique. The food was standard Italian fare which I would happily recommend to anyone heading to Belfort.
Where to Stay
I arrived in Belfort without a hotel booking so was lucky enough to stumble upon the All Seasons hotel which is part of the Accor group. I prefer staying with Accor when I don’t have time to check online reviews because I don’t need any nasty surprises when sleeping in a strange place. The All Seasons is a 3 star hotel which is within easy walking distance of the main square and the Belfort Lion. It’s priced at 55 euros per night on the weekends and 85 during the week and includes free wifi, breakfast and parking. I would definitely recommend this place.
All Seasons Belfort
Rue Gaston Defferre
Day 2 – Belfort to Vaduz
There was no point in sticking around Belfort so we headed straight for Liechtenstein. Vaduz is around 3 hours from Belfort and getting there includes a brief trip through Switzerland. For some reason I thought Switzerland used tolls on their motorways but it turns out you need a vignette/sticker which is only available as an annual pass for 40 euros. Un peu cher when you’re just driving through. The clever Swiss use radars to check you have the sticker so the only way to avoid paying is to avoid the toll roads but that’s almost impossible to do and probably not worth the effort. It just means I’ll have to go back to Switzerland before the end of the year to get my money’s worth.
I’ve always been curious about Liechtenstein and was looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. Surprisingly and disappointingly it has little to offer in the way of tourism! I did read some good reviews about the country before going but it didn’t strike me as a particularly interesting place. Vaduz is tiny and the main attraction, Schloss Vaduz, is off limits to visitors as it’s inhabited by the Prince of Liechtenstein and his family who govern the country along with the elected government.
It was a stinking hot day when we were there and decided to take the little train tour to get out of the heat. The most interesting thing about the tour was the Liechtensteiner Polka folk music they played. Very catchy tune!
Where to Eat
We had lunch under the trees at our guest house/pub. The food and service was great but 60 CHF (54 euros) is super expensive.
We later had great cocktails at Nexus but they were also expensive at 15 CHF (13 euros) each. It looks like Liechtenstein is not a budget friendly destination but if you head to the Coop supermarket you can get wine in a carton for 2.50 euros. Thanks Italy!
Where to Stay
The little tourist office in the city centre (at the bus station) can give you a list of places to stay in the region but they don’t make bookings. I picked a place for us based purely on the pretty picture in the brochure. The best aspect of Landgasthof Au guest house was their shady beer garden serving local specialities and the worst was the uncomfy bed and the price (118 euros).
At least now I can tick Liechtenstein off my list of countries to visit in Europe.
Day 3 – Vaduz to Innsbruck
The GPS lady (I should give her a name) took us through countless back streets in Liechtenstein and just as I was starting to think we were lost we found ourselves back on the motorway crossing the Austrian border. In Austria you also need a vignette to travel on the motorways but you can get them for the day for a few euros at any petrol station.
Innsbruck is only 2 hours from Vaduz so we arrived well within time for a Wiener schnitzel lunch at Cafe Central. Tastier and cheaper then Vaduz and in a stunning setting, I was so happy to finally be in this beautiful Austrian city.
I’ve already posted my first impressions of Innsbruck and there are more posts on Austria to come including my trip up a Tirolean mountain to enjoy the sunrise and a champagne breakfast.
Innsbruck is a beautiful little Austrian city nestled between Italian, German and Swiss mountain ranges. It’s the idyllic location of the second Travel Bloggers Unite conference where I’ve been having fun meeting fellow travel bloggers and going on a few photo walks.
The 600 year old altstadt is the heart of the city and great place to start exploring (not to be confused with the 300 year old ‘new town’).
The Baroque Dom St Jakob is a must visit for church lovers or for those of us who just want to get out of the heat.
Buildings of note in the old town include the Helblinghaus and the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) building.
Kaiserliche Hofburg (Imperial Palace) is another main attraction. The building itself is beautiful but it’s well worth a visit to see the Riesensaal (Giant’s Hall) if you like over the top design.
The Hofgarten has been my favourite place so far. Great for a walk, to sit and relax or even to play (or watch) chess.
There is still plenty of see as well as the second day of the conference to attend so I’m looking forward to seeing more of Innsbruck.
Vienna is one of my favourite cities in Europe. I’d put it in my top 5 cities for sure. I love the extravagant architecture, the beautiful parks and gardens, the musical history and, of course, the food.
The first time I visited Vienna was in December of 1999. I distinctly remember it being –5 degrees as it was the first time I had experienced negative maximum day time temperatures. It didn’t stop me from exploring the city and the best way to do so is on foot. On my first day I walked the entire ring road in awe. You don’t need to walk the entire ring road to see the most beautiful attractions but I wanted to keep walking to see what else was ahead. The numerous museums, the opera house, the parliament, the squares, the parks, all took my breathe away. When the cold got too much, I would stop in a traditional coffee house and indulge in a delicious Vienna chocolate. On subsequent trips to Vienna, I did pretty much the same thing and loved it every time.
What to Do in Vienna
- Walk. There is really no better way to see everything. Start in the centre of the city at St Stephen’s Cathedral, walk down to the opera house, turn right and enjoy.
- Staatoper. I did a tour of the State Opera House and found it really interesting. It is not as beautiful or opulent as the Opera Garnier in Paris but it’s still worth visiting to hear about its history and just to have a good look around. If you are interested you can see a show and prices start at just a few euros for the nose bleed seats which can be purchased on the day.
- Hofburg Palace. The Hofburg Palace is great to admire from the outside but there are also a number of museums inside, if you like museums.
- Kunsthistorisches Museum. I’m not big on museums but when it’s below freezing outside, they suddenly become interesting. Vienna’s Art History museum is actually a great place to wonder around and relax for a couple of hours.
- Schonbrunn Palace. Seen one palace, seen them all. That is generally my view but if you like palaces, this one is less boring than most. But really, how many over the top, opulent, gold leaf covered rooms can you enjoy in one lifetime? The only reason I would recommend this palace is for the beautiful gardens.
- Parks. Vienna’s parks and gardens are beautiful all year round. Wiener Stadtpark (with it’s statue of Strauss), Volksgarten (for it’s roses), and Rathauspark are some of the best but there are smaller parks worth visiting too.
- Classical music concert. There are loads of classical concerts playing around the city. I went one night to the Kursalon. It’s 100% for tourists but the music is great, although the experience was almost ruined by the uncomfortable chairs.
Where to Eat in Vienna
- You can’t get away from the Vienna schnitzel when in Vienna. It’s everywhere. One of the top rated is at Figlmueller. I’ve been there twice and had the chicken schnitzel which was fantastic. It is quite touristy and you’ll need to make a reservation if going during busy times but it’s well worth it. I’ll definitely be going back there. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad schnitzel though so chances are you can enjoy this anywhere.
- Vienna chocolate or Vienna coffee if you prefer. Vienna chocolate is my hot drink of choice and it’s one of the specialties of the city. I’m still doing my research as to where to find the best one but any of the traditional style coffee houses should put on a good show. You can also get your hot drinks with a shot of hard liquor which can’t be a bad thing.
- Cake. When you have your afternoon coffee or hot chocolate, you must have a cake to go along with it. It’s the law. Cakes in Vienna are generally small and expensive unlike their German equivalent which are huge and inexpensive. All are delicious though (not that I’ve tried them all or want to try them all, that would be crazy).
Stephansdom, right in the centre of Vienna.
Vienna’s Opera House is beautiful inside and out.
The grand Hofburg Palace. There are loads of traditional coffee houses in this area as well shops selling local crafts (ie. tourist shops).
The other side of the Hofburg Palace. Visit the boring very interesting museums here.
Surely this guy must have a bad back holding up that thing?
Wander around the roses in the Volksgarten.
Surround yourself in history at the Kunsthistorisches Museum or just play in the formal gardens.
The beautiful neo-classical parliament, just opposite the Volksgarten.
The neo-baroque Burgtheatre, one of Vienna’s many theatres.
Rathaus – Vienna City Hall in neo-gothic style – relax in the gardens in summer or visit the Christmas markets in December.
Musical genius and golden man, Johann Strauss Jr.
New and old in Vienna.
The tradition veal schnitzel at Figlmueller is about twice the size of the chicken ones. They’re so big that they hang off the side of the plate. I loved my smaller chicken version though.
A strong competitor for the best schnitzel is at Cafe Schwarzenberg. They have all kinds of traditional Austrian meat and potato dishes. I skipped the meat had the vegetarian option instead which was a bread and egg dish. Yep, bread and eggs. I don’t know how vegetarians survive in Europe. Be sure to head back here for your obligatory afternoon coffee and cake.
Last time my parents were here, we spent 2 or 3 weeks driving around Germany, visiting most of the country’s biggest cities as well as many smaller cities and villages. The plan was to visit Budapest and Prague as well but it was a bit too much driving for them so we just stuck to Germany.
This time I planned it a little better and got them to fly to Budapest instead of Paris and we met them there, driving the 1500km from Paris. This way we can visit Budapest, Vienna, and Prague and then slowly make our way back to Paris.
I allowed two days for the drive to Budapest which was perfect. We left Paris quite late in the day because we had a problem with the hire car but we still managed to easily do 750km which got us to Nuremburg. We stayed at a little hotel by the road and then left first thing the next morning, arriving in Budapest at 2:30pm.
The drive was pretty uneventful. As usual there were very high road tolls to pay in France, none in Germany, and it was 6 or 7 euros to drive on the Austrian freeway (you need a sticker to show you have paid).
Another thing I noticed that the roads and petrol stations got progressively cleaner the further away you got from France. Toilets in French petrol stations are filthy and to be avoided at all costs. In Germany you have self cleaning toilets which you pay 50 cents to use but you get that money back if you buy something at the shop. Austria had the cleanest toilets I’ve ever seen in my life and the eateries at their petrol stations were amazing too – a great choice of freshly prepared food and the place was spotless. I like Austria.