In Austria, the “hills are alive” with the sound of the cowbells worn by dairy cattle grazing in lush green pastures; the chatter of hikers striding along Alpine paths; and, in winter, the crisp sounds of skiers schussing down challenging, snowy slopes. More than an uber-scenic vacation playland, though, this country is rich in history, culture, and cuisine, and boasts several of Europe’s most visited cities.
Austria is a landlocked German-speaking country located in central Europe. It is bordered by Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the west, Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, and Italy and Slovenia to the south. The country’s position as a crossroad of Europe has lent a cosmopolitan flavor to its larger cities without lessening the quaint country charm of its smaller towns and villages.
Once the center of power for the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria as a modern republic was first recognized in 1918. The country was annexed by Germany and its leaders supported the Nazis during World War II. As a result, the country suffered from Allied bombing and subsequent economic hardship after Germany’s defeat. In 1955 Austria again established itself as an independent nation, and a constitutional law declared “perpetual neutrality.” Today it is a federal republic consisting of nine states: Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Styria, Tyrol, Carinthia, Salzburg, Vorarlberg, and Burgenland.
Major cities include the sparkling capital city, Vienna; equally delicious Salzburg; and historic Innsbruck, the capital of the mountainous Tyrol region. Along with Switzerland, Austria is considered the winter sports capital of Europe. The Winter Olympics have been held twice in Seefeld and once in Innsbruck, and the downhill ski course on Kitzbuhel’s craggy Hahnenkamm—or Rooster’s Comb—is considered the World Cup circuit’s most demanding.