This landlocked, mountainous country is bordered by Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. Austria comprises nine Federal Provinces over an area of 383,858 km, most of which is densely forested. It is a largely mountainous country, located in the Alps. Only about a quarter of Austria is low lying, and only 32% of the country is below 500 metres above sea level. The Alps of western Austria begin to give way into lowlands and plains in the East.
Austria enjoys a moderate continental climate: summers are warm with cool nights, and winters are sunny, with snow levels high enough for a variety of winter sports and temperatures between -10 and 0 degrees Celsius.
Facts and Figures
83,858 sq km (32,378 sq miles).
Vienna – population 1,714,200 (2011)
German in the official language. Regional dialects are pronounced and within the different regions of the country one will encounter marked variations from Hochdeutsch, ie ‘standard’ German. There are Croatian and Slovene-speaking minorities in the Burgenland and southern Carinthia respectively.
78 per cent Roman Catholic, 5 per cent Protestant, 4.5 per cent other denominations.
GMT + 1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October.)
Austria’s capital Vienna is home to the River Danube and an impressive selection of architectural monuments including the Schonbrunn Palace. The Kunsthistorisches Museum has an exquisite art collection, as does The Academy of Fine Arts (Bosch). The Austrian National Library at Josefplatz is regarded as a masterpiece of Baroque period. The Spanish Riding School is one of Vienna’s most famous landmarks and well worth a visit. It is located in the Hofburg, once the central Palace of the Austrian Empire which also has the Crown Jewels and Imperial Apartments. Salzburg is dominated by gorgeous baroque architecture, with an array of courtyards and winding pathways up to the mountains, and boasts the majestic Hohensalzburg Fortress looking across from the hills. Don’t miss Mozart House, nor the Mozart Museum.
Make sure you visit Donau-Auen National Park, Europe’s last protected rainforest, as well as one of Austria’s crystal clear lakes – choose from Wörthersee, Wolfgangsee, Traunsee, Hallstättersee and Mondsee, amongst hundreds of others. The Alps in summer are perfect trekking territory, with year-round ice caves and sculptures at Eisriesenwelt in Werfen. And last but by no means least, engage in all manner of winter sports, from skiing to snowboarding, tobogganing to skating. Innsbruck is often considered the capital of the Alpine region, as its dual status as university town and ski resort gives it a fantastic nightlife as well as some beautiful architecture and, of course, world class winter sport facilities.
Austria is European beauty at its peak, pleasing arts and nature lovers alike. Quite aside from world class ski resorts in the Alps, where you can enjoy a steaming apple strudel looking out at the mountain scenery from a wooden chalet, Austria enjoys a rich cultural heritage, with Mozart, Strauss and Sigmund Freud gracing the list of famous fellow Austrians. Art and music abound, with first class museums, gorgeous architecture and sumptuous, hearty cuisine all combining to make Austria one of Europe’s hidden gems.
From the first settlements in the Danube Valley, to the Celts, Illyrians, Romans and Bavarians, and fiunally the Babenburg and the Habsburg dynasties, this land has been ruled by many peoples.
During the 640-year Habsburg dynasty Austria became one of Europe’s greatest powers. In 1867, the Austrian Empire was reformed into Austria-Hungary. When the Habsburg (Austro-Hungarian) Empire finally collapsed with the end of the First World War, the First Austrian Republic was established.
During the Second World War the region was occupied and annexed by Nazi Germany, and the country’s Jewish community were persecuted. Post Holocaust, Austria’s former democratic constitution was re-established, and the Jewish community began to rebuild itself. After Austria was liberated by the Allies in 1944, foundations were laid for the Second Republic, and the Austrian State Treaty finally re-established the country as a sovereign state. That same year, the Austrian Parliament declared that the Second Austrian Republic would become permanently neutral.
In 1995 Austria joined the European Union, and also signed the Schengen Agreement. Today, the country is a parliamentary representative democracy comprising nine federal states.
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