Austria is a country with rich historical past. The first traces of human presence date back to prehistoric times. Later in the 6th century, Bavarian tribes started to invade these lands. They drove the people that lived there, including not a few Slavs. Talking about the first years of what is today Austria we have to note the year of 976 when the area fell under the rule of Otto 1st (known also as Otto the Great). For 270 years these lands remained under the rule of Babenberg Dynasty.
In 1278 the Habsburgs, one of the greatest families ever reigned in Europe, came to power.
They ruled until 1918 creating real ‘network’ of connections with royal families from all over Europe through a great number of judicious and strategic marriages.
Several Roman emperors were descendants of the Habsburg Dynasty. Austria-Hungary itself is among the greatest powers that existed in Europe ever.
Probably one of the greatest merits of Austro-Hungary was the successful repulsion of the Ottoman Empire in 1529 and again in 1683.
Geographic location, boundaries and size. Austria is an inland country. It is located in the Alpine region of Central Europe, bordering with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy.
It occupies an area of 83,871 sq.km. The Gulf of Trieste, which is part of the Adriatic Sea, is located just 83 km from the southern border.
Austria can boast a crossroads geographical location between Eastern and Western Europe, as well as between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.
Relief. Austria is a mountainous country. Around two thirds of its territory is occupied by young-folded mountains. Only the northern and eastern regions have lower altitude.
The lowest point in the country is located on the bank of Lake Neusiedler See and is about 115 meters above sea level.
The highest peak in Austria is the Grossglockner (3797 m high). It falls within the Hohe Tauern National Park and is located in southern Austria.
Climate. Austria has a temperate continental climate with cold and snowy winters and warm sunny summers. Spring traditionally is more pleasant than autumn.
The average daily temperatures in the country are comparatively moderate and vary between 2°C in January and 26°C in August.
However, prolonged cold periods of subzero temperatures in winter and heat in summer are not excluded. The annual rainfall is about 620 mm and is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year.
In the mountainous areas of Austria the temperatures are traditionally much lower, summers – shorter and winters – longer. During the winter season are also possible strong snowstorms and blizzards.
Natural features. Austria is a land of enchanting scenery. The most characteristic feature of the local landscape is the Alps. The highest parts of the mountain chain are covered with eternal snow and ice.
The mountain peaks are jagged and the slopes are steep and breathtaking. Glaciers have carved among the ridges deep valleys with characteristic shape, leaving behind hundreds of incredibly beautiful glacial lakes and streams.
Traditionally, the most attractive from a tourist point of view is considered the western parts of the country, especially Tyrol. The beautiful Austrian scenery is preserved within the borders of 7 national parks and 60 other protected areas.
According to FAO, approximately 47.1% of the total area is covered by forest. At high altitudes, but still below 2000 m there are beautiful coniferous forests, and the low-lying parts are dominated by mixed and deciduous species.
Above the forest zone there are green and fresh meadows, which are covered with carpet of beautiful alpine flowers during the warmer months of the year.
Fauna. Austria has a diverse fauna. The country has a small population of bears that live in predominantly detached and isolated woodland areas.
There are also evidences for the presence of lynxes. More commonly found species are jackals, badgers and foxes.
Austria’s forests are home to herds of deer. Goats and rams inhabit some remote mountainous areas. Austria is home to more than 400 species of birds.
In Austria’s forests and grassy areas live dozens of rodent species and the most popular one is the marmot.
Economics. Austria is an EU member since 1995 and is part of the Eurozone from January 1, 1999. The official currency is the euro. Austria is considered one of the most developed, stable and rich countries in the world.
It is characterized by a very high standard of living and moderate and well-thought-out social policy. The local economy is agro-industrial and versatile, like many other highly developed countries such as France. Austria develops car manufacturing, high technology, chemical and food industry.
The sectors of timber and wood processing are also very well developed. The tourism industry is versatile and is a major source of income for the population of Austria.
The country is a worldwide educational and cultural center. Austria’s agriculture is highly productive and satisfies the needs of food in a large extent.
Only some kinds of food and products that are unlikely to be produced under local soil and climatic conditions are regularly imported from abroad.
Population. Austria’s population is over 8.2 million people. Approximately 10% of them are foreigners legally residing in the country.
According to a report by Eurostat in 2010, the number of local residents that were born outside the borders of Austria is approximately 15.2% of the total population.
In religious terms the majority of the inhabitants of Austria are Christians (mostly Roman Catholics).
Here live also small groups of Muslims, Jews, and many others. Official language in Austria is German, and about ½ of the population can speak English.
Cities. The largest cities in Austria are Vienna, the Province of Vienna (1.6 million people), Graz, the Province of Styria (250,000 people), Linz, the Province of Upper Austria (190,000 inhabitants), Salzburg, the Province of Salzburg (approximately 150,000 inhabitants) and Innsbruck, the Province of Tyrol (120,000 inhabitants).
A characteristic feature of Austria is that much of the population lives in smaller towns and between 30 and 40% of all Austrians live in rural areas.
Provinces. Austria is administratively divided into 9 districts. Their names are Lower Austria, Styria, Tyrol, Upper Austria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Burgenland, Vorarlberg and Vienna, the capital, which is a separate province.
The largest in area and population is the province of Lower Austria. The province of Vienna is the smallest in area but is the second most populated.
Cuisine. If you are very hard on yourself and you have decided to stick to a healthy diet, you better stay away from Austria because this country is a true haven of culinary delights, and local cuisine is without doubt one of the best in worldwide.
Perhaps only a few countries such as France or Italy can boast a similar palette of flavors and fragrances. The wealth of desserts is immeasurable.
Cakes, pastry, rolls, candy, pastries, creams and hundreds of other amazing desserts will welcome you on arrival in the country. And not to mention the world famous Austrian apple strudel, which will make you lick your fingers.
Austrians are considered probably the greatest masters in producing of bread, muffins, tortillas, bagels and many, many others. The consumption of meat products in the country significantly exceeds that in the Mediterranean countries.
One of the reasons is the cold weather, especially in the mountains. Pork, beef and chicken present on the table of the Austrians quite often. Schnitzel and sausages are part of the traditional local cuisine.
If you think, however, that Austria’s people eat only sweets and meat, then you are deeply wrong. They consume huge amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic and especially potatoes present in the menu of the Austrians quite often.
The most popular fruits are apples, pears, cherries, plums, strawberries, berries, grapes, and others. Most popular drinks are coffee, wine and beer. By the way the Austrians are considered to be the first coffee drinkers in Europe.
When to visit Austria? Austria is known as year-round tourist destination that has something to offer whatever the season. From December to April, the country is a magnet for skiers from all around the world.
However, at higher elevations you will find some very good ski resorts that remain open practically all summer, offering fluffy snow combined with plenty of sunshine but still low temperatures.
Besides being known for its ski resorts, the country is a world leader in the practice of year-round cultural tourism.
The Austrian capital is known for its ball season, which takes place in autumn. If you want to see Austria bathed with brilliance, then you should visit the country in December, when everything boils in feverish preparations for the forthcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.
If the purpose of your trip to this beautiful Alpine country is just to spend some time in nature, dealing with hiking or other outdoor activities, then it is best to select June, July and August.
What not to miss? While in Austria you should not miss the capital Vienna with its unique parks and fabulous gardens, including Prater Amusement Park, the palaces of Schönbrunn and Hofburg, the cathedral of St. Stephen (which is 137 meters high), the numerous great cafes and theaters in Vienna, as well as the home of the great composer Mozart in Domgasse Street No 5. Don’t miss to visit Saltsburg that is true masterpiece under the open sky with its fabulous baroque architecture.
Do not miss also the magnificent Tyrolean Alps and the Hohe Tauern, the largest national park in Europe, as well as the limestone mountains in the Karwendel Alps, known for its stunning landscapes.
What clothes should I wear? The clothing is strongly dependent on the season during which you are planning to travel and the places you want to visit.
During the winter months you will need a lot of warm clothes and shoes, suitable not only for the low temperatures but also for the heavy snow that covers most of the country.
During the summer months you should have near at hand a thin jacket, even if you do not need to use it.
Warm clothes are mandatory even in the hottest summer months if you are planning to climb in higher-lying areas into the mountains. In Vienna, summer clothing is appropriate from June to late August – early September.
Thin jackets, sweater, anorak and other similar clothes are suitable until the end of October. From November to March you need your warmest winter clothing as the weather is cold.
Spring is relatively mild and your clothing has to be appropriate for the changing weather conditions.
Transport. While in Austria you will understand what it really means well-arranged transport system. In practice, buses and railway lines reach even the remotest corners of the Alpine country.
If you have decided to rent your own car you should know that the Austrian Infrastructure is perfectly developed, and the dense network of motorways and first class roads reach to all parts of the country.
Dangers while in Austria. The risk of avalanches is one of the biggest dangers while in Austria. The danger grows in isolated and secluded locations that remain far from the regular tourist routes.
If you are planning to rent a car and drive across Austria in winter is better to be careful because the weather conditions during the winter season are often quite complicated.