Robert Fisher, editor of 'Fodor's Vienna to Salzburg,' answered your questions on Austria.
Robert Fisher: Raindrops on roses. And whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles, and...need I say more? Yes, lots more: glttering Baroque churches, breathtaking Alpine mountains, sugar-coma desserts in Vienna coffeehouses, and Mozart, Mozart, Mozart! Austria remains one of Europe's most dazzling destinations, one that has us all culturally connected--after all, this is the country that gave us not only Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms, but the "Blue Danube," psychoanalysis, the Vienna Boys' Choir, The Merry Widow, apple strudel, the Vienna New Year's Day concert, and Der Schwartzenegger. And these six degrees of separation grew even closer in 2006 when Vienna and Salzburg co-hosted a year-long celebration to honor the 250th birthday of Mozart, Austria's most famous home boy. Like most travelers, I love to savour the white-gloved, champagne gemütlichkeit of once-imperial Austria. But the "hills are alive" not just with the Sound of Music sites but the sounds of bulldozers, as a spate of new concert halls and art galleries help bring this grande dame of a country into the 21st century.
As the editor of Fodor's Vienna to Salzburg, I'm here to help you with questions and advisos about all things Austrian, so for the next hour at least, let's set our pulse to the three-quarters beat of a Strauss waltz.
Denver, Colo.: I'm traveling to Vienna August 22-30, 2007. What are the best places to stay in the center of the city that cost under $150 per night? What side trips are the best from Vienna and which tour companies are the best to book these side trips with?
Robert Fisher: Shhhhhh....Vienna is still one of the most affordable cities in the world, if you know where to look. Hotel options range from the grand palais on the Ringstasse (a not particularly pretty street, sorry to say) to tiny pensions once favored by Mozart (he worked on the Abduction from the Seraglio while housed up in the Pension Nossek, still a bargain option). As for our faves, we are also musically inclined, and recommend two places in your price range within the shadow of Vienna's magnificent and centrally located Opera House. The first, the Romischer Kaiser, looks like a piece of Viennese whipped-cream cake, with its blush-pink stone facade and white marble trim. The guest book here is littered with famous names like Mozart, Lizst, Wagner, Brucker, and Grieg, and, happily, the perfume of history still pervades many areas of the hotel, what with burnished wood trim, chandeliers, tie-back curtains, and the "Louis-Louis" breakfast room. A few of the baths have gone Versace, and these extra gilded touches push up the prices a bit beyond your level, although they say they have doubles starting at about $140 dollars. Just a block south is a less expensive option, the Zur Wiener Staatsoper, which is reputed to be one of the Viennese settings in John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire. A grand, oversize palais exterior--replete with two stone "atlantes" torsos--in best Ringstrasse style--greet you, while inside, things are considerably calmer, with small rooms (but high ceilings), all charmed up with cute fabrics and wallpapers. Prices here are about 111 to 140 euros. Unfortunately, there is no air-conditioning. There are many other lower-priced options around, so you shouldn't ever have a problem landing a bargain-priced (relatively speaking) room. As for side trips from Vienna, why not try a bevy of castles, ranging from the Brothers Grimm-worthy one on the banks of the Danube known as the Burg Kreuzenstein (only 18 miles northwest of the city; kreuzenstein.com) to the three in Modling, some 12 miles southwest of the city, including the Burg Liechtenstein and the Schloss Laxenburg (schloss-laxenburg.at). Other handy daytrips are offered by Cityrama Sightseeing and Vienna Sightseeing Tours. But my best recommendation is just beyond the city limits: the heavenly "heurige" wine-towns of Vienna's suburbs, including Stammersdorf, Grinzing, Sievering, Nussdorf, and Neustift (tram lines easily get you here from the city center). Go to the Weingut Renprecht tavern in Grinzing or the Mayer am Pfarrplatz in Nussdorf (where Beethoven used to hang out). The decors are spectacular--you will feel you're in the set for an operetta and the towns are hyper-charming, too.
Redondo Beach, Calif.: I would like a guided tour of Viennese waltz balls during the season. Please recommend some tour companies. Thank you.
Robert Fisher: "Everybody Waltz--Alles Waltzer!" Those are the magical words that allows everybody to take to the floor after the initial, inaugural ceremonial waltz of the night has been danced by the organizing cotillion. You can actually hear these words at Vienna's fabled dance balls from New Year's Eve through the Life Ball in June. That noted, it remains a dreams for millions to celebrate that most Viennese of holidays, New Year's Eve, at least once in their lives in this historic city. The full Ball Season usually packs January and February with events and coincides with the period from New Year's Eve to Ash Wednesday (about 40 days before Easter), the opening of the Fasching (or Lent) season. The official ball calendar, with all the events, is listed on the website of the Vienna Tourist Board: vienna.info. Go to "event database" and select "balls" for a specific time frame. As it turns out, the New Year's Eve ball, called the Kaiserball (Imperial Ball) is a relatively recent affair, at least compared to some of the balls that go back centuries. As such, it is open to anyone who can pay the steep price and, consequently, is no great shakes in the status sweepstakes. But if a Johnny-come-lately, it has a setting that compares with any: the gilded 18th-century state receptions salons of the Hofburg palace. During January and February as many as 40 balls may be held in a single evening. Many events, however, are organized by a professional group, including the Kaffeesiederball (Coffee Brewer's Ball), the Zuckerbaeckerball (Confectioners' Ball), or the Opernball (Opera Ball). The latter takes place at the Vienna Opera House, is shown on national television, and requires ball gowns and tails--note that white is only allowed for debutantes. There is the Rudolfina Redoubte--the only truly masked ball, the Jagerball (Hunter's Ball), and the even the "Ball of Bad Taste." Prices usually run from 75 to 500 euros and up per person. As for tour groups, the Rolls-Royce option still remains Annemarie Victory Organization's "New Year's Eve Ball in Vienna" (annemarievictory.com)., a week-long event that captures many of the most glamorous sights in Vienna, topped off by the ball. This ball is also included on a shorter trip planned by Value Holidays (valhol.com/viennaball.shtml ) and Allegro Holidays (allegroholidays.com/New_Years_Eve_Celebration_Vienna_Austria.htm). The ball is also included on a full two-week Christmas extravaganza of a trip offered by Maupintour (maupintour.com/tours/tour_108.html).
Vineland, N.J.: Planning a trip, through Munich, to Salzburg/Wien mid October. What is the best way to book rail? What is the cheapest way to book rail? And are there any sites/phone numbers where you can talk directly to a rail agent? Do you have to book rail ahead? Plus any other rail suggestions? We plan on going by rail directly from the Airport to Salzburg, Salzburg to Wien (with a stop in Melk) and Vienna back to Munich.
Robert Fisher: This is actually easier than it looks. I would suggest that you investigate buying a Eurail Pass (only available ahead of time from the USA) and then comparing costs with buying the tickets in Europe. I just had a friend who did that (traveling around Italy and Austria) and she found the cost about the same. In any case, you do not need to book your rail transport ahead of time, although that is possible with the O(E)BB in Austria and the DBB in Germany, even online. The Austrian site is oebb.at and is now also in English. Every LARGE train station features a travel agency, where you can get help, in English, with your travel needs. Watch out! Many of the small train stations no longer have a live person on duty, and tickets are purchased from an automat or on the train itself.
Ancora, N.J.: We are planning 10-12 days by motorcycle next summer. Can you tell me how many days we should plan to stay in Vienna (our starting and ending point), Salzburg, and Graz and any other points of interest we should see on the way? Thanks
Robert Fisher: Great itinerary! You'll get to see the big-city lights and some of the most romantic countryside around. Speaking of romantic, Vienna is, well, not. It's a big, neon-blasted, heaving modern metropolis, and you have to pick your "charming reality" very carefully. I would spend two days to begin with in Vienna, to catch your breath. Do the glitter--the Hofburg palace, the Kunsthistoriches Museum, the Spanish Riding School, the Belvedere palace (sorry--you're not allowed to kiss in front of Klimt's famous painting, The Kiss) , and chill out in one of the little historic Viennese nabes, like the Spittelberg quarter. Try to get to the heavenly gemutlichkeit "operetta" wine villages just outside the town border, like Nussdorf and Grinzing. Then blast off for Salzburg, following the Danube River valley and hitting some of the fairytale Wachau villages like Durnstein, Melk, and St. Florian (all with great Baroque sights). You'll be zooming east to west through the Salzkammergut region to get to Salzburg, so it's pin-the-tail on the donkey time--there are so many beautiful spots to see and overnight here, you'll have to do research. If it's a God's view of nature, hit Gosau; a storybook village, Hallstatt, and my favorite, St. Gilgen, in great Alpine splendor with some indulge-me-now hotels to enjoy. Salzburg is big on museums and churches, so if you don't like.... As for Graz, it's wonderful--especially the Old Town (centered around the supercharming Hauptlatz square). There are tons of adorable streets, rock-candy windows and turrets, a dancing glockenspiel clock, and a staggering Schlossberg (Palace Mountain), where you take a Indiana Jones elevator right through the mountain up to the peak and find a gorgeous park, with great vistas and an elegant restaurant. Thirty miles west of Graz is Piber, home to the Lippizzaner Stud Farm, set on an hyperelegant estate and in the middle of gorgeous countryside. It's great to see the famous white horses here on "vacation" from their jobs in Vienna. Best of all is a ride through the Schilcher Wine Road region, in southern Styria--immensely idyllic, with vineyard inns that offers you "feasts on a plank" and sweet little villages that linger forever in the memory.
Kansas City, Mo.: Where is the good homestyle/native food in Vienna for less than $20 usa?
Robert Fisher: Austria, right now, is having a fascinating moment. This grande dame of a county is acting like it's been given a whole bottle of pep pills, and its kicking up its heels with an array of avant-garde art museums and a panoply of restarurants that are serving up nouvelle novelties--click your heels three times for Tirolian eagle garnished with three caviars. That noted, we all know that as new-fangled as the food may be getting in Vienna, nothing beats a homecooked blow-out at one of the city's beisl-bistros, where dishes dated back to the "wurst" traditions of the imperial past and nap-inducing meals can leave you stuck to your seat like a suction pad. Top restaurants that offer this old style Wiener Kuche include Gasthaus Puerstner (ever want to set in an enormous wine barrel for dinner?); the great Gulasch at Alt Wien; the comfort food on tap at Brezl Gwolb, a medieval cellar right out of the Phantom of the Opera; the four-century-old Gosser Bierklinik; the known-to-the-locals only Reinthaler; and best of all, the great istoric wine tavern Weinkeller, often built below ground in old monasteries; such as the Esterhazykeller, the Augustinerkeller, and the Melker Stifskeller. The Gulaschs and the sausages are dee-scrumptious. But the best taste treat of all? Vienna's sausage stands are famous so I had to enjoy the best of the wursts--a Käsekrainer at the Oper stand, located behind the state opera house. This bratwurst--succulently studded with melted cheese bits, grilled to perfection, and served with a mountain of mustard and a mug of beer--was so delicious, I "went native" the next morning and had it for my breakfast!! Do not miss!!
Kansas City, Mo.: What is the best Burg to stay at near Munich or Vienna? Two adults are traveling April 2008
Robert Fisher: Sad to say, there are not many options handy to Vienna for the full Sleeping Beauty, turrets-in-air, Rapunzel experience. Many of the castles that dot the countryside are full-scale museums, and only a few allow you to enjoy people to satisfy their "Queen for a Stay" fantasies (there are more options around Salzburg and other districts). But if you travel south a good 80 miles from Vienna, you'll discover one of Austria's most famous Castle districts--Burgenland. The reward is the Schlosserstrasse (Castle Road), an itinerary that leads from the Vienna A2 authobahn down to the Hartberg exit and about 15 historic castles open to the public. The first is the Schloss Hartberg, a 13th century showplace. Highway 54 leads south to Kaibing and the Schloss Herbenstein and Schloss Stubenberg. Then the Allhau exit off the A2 goes north to Hartberg and Highway 50 and Bernstein. This is the home of Burg Bernstein, the famous castle owned by Count Almasy, the character played by Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient, and now a wonderful castle hotel. Indoor plumbing is the only concession to modern life, and the Count's room is just as he left it. The hilltop location gives a bird's-eye view of the peaceful Tauchen Valley. Décor is very mid-1800s, with grand receptions rooms and meals, prepared by Countess Berger-Almasy herself, are served in a baronial hall in 18th-century style. To get the full scoop, log on to burgbernstein.at.
Lafayette, La.: A girlfriend and I are planning to visit Germany with a quick 3-day visit to Austria in September. If you had one city to visit in Austria for three days, which would it be?
Robert Fisher: Geographically, there is only one magical "Sound of Music" answer: Salzburg, the home town of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, set only 70 miles east of Munich (I trust you are going to Munich, heart of Bavaria, and gateway to Castle Country--Neuschwanstein is a don't-miss and is set just a few miles from a gorgeous and very posh historic town, Fussen). Even in July, Salzburg looks like a Christmas card--its Altstadt is nearly all constructed from gray stone, which looks like snow. Take in a performance at one of Salzburg's modern concert halls (three of which host the famed Salzburg Music Festival every August) but be sure to time-warp back to Wolfie's day at the Mozart Dinner Concert, offered in the candlelit Baroque Hall of St. Peter's Abbey (mozartdinnerconcert.com). The room's decor seemed squeezed out of a whipped-cream tube, the musicians are in brocade and velvet, the food is deli-schloss, and, the cherry on top, the melodies magnificent. Then time-travel through the centuries by heading up to Winkler's Terrace (where Julie and the kids started to warble "Do-Re-Mi" ) to take in the eye-knocking Museum der Moderne Salzburg. Don't forget to grab a bite in the museum restaurant--all psychedelic lavender and deer horns--which now offers cuisine as haute as its lofty aerie. Even better, a three-day trip to Salzburg would allow you a "vacation from your vacation"--a one-day trip into the gorgeous Lake District (see my comments about St. Gilgen, elsewhere in this forum) of the Salzkammergut.
Tucson, Ariz.: Since we'll only have about 1 1/2 days in Vienna (while our ship on the Danube is docked), what's the best way to spend the time? We have been offered an "excursion" to hear a concert and drink champagne, but that seems awfully touristy. We like walking and we like art and music, if that helps. Thanks.
Robert Fisher: Good and interesting question, if only because you need to pick your Vienna carefully. Or actually find it. To tell the truth, perhaps overwhelmed with delusions of grandeur, red velvet, and crystal chandeliers, I found Vienna to be surprisingly lacking in charm and old-world ambience. Heresy? Perhaps. Even the fabled coffee-houses were either falling apart and very dour or too Trumply renovated. Nearly every building is now covered in tacky neon signs, every other facade is covered in construction cloth (whole streets look like Christo sculptures), but perhaps I was wrong in thinking of Vienna as an open-air museum. It is a living, thriving city. But if you're out for old-world charm, you need to hunt for it. As for top time-traveling, go to St. Stephan's cathedral right in the center of town, then head a block southeast to find the old Blutgasse quarter that was once Mozart's home. In fact, visit the Mozarthaus at Domgasse 5, then explore the quiet streets and alleys to the south. Heading southwest you come to the Museum quarter, where pride of place goes to the Kunsthistoriches Museum, fabled for its room of Pieter Brueghel the Elder paintings (including the Hunters in the Snow, one of the ten greatest paintings ever); try to catch the evening buffet served in the spectacular central rotunda, perhaps before you do an opera or concert at night at the nearby Musikverein, a truly splendid 19th-century concert hall. For your afternoon, I would suggest making a tram ride out to Furstengasse and take in the "new" Palais Liechtenstein--a few years ago the Princes of Liechtenstein restored their 17th-century palace to full pomp and wallpapered it with their great old master paintings, so this is a full blast of Viennese grandeur. For more splendor, check out the Prunksaal--the Grand Hall of the National Library in the Hofburg, right in center of town; next door is the Spanish Riding School (but who knows if they treat those Lippanzers right?). For a real blast from the past, the most atmospheric restaurant remains the Greichenbeisl (Greeks' Tavern)--everyone from Mark Twain to Wagner ate here. It's on the Fleischmarkt, now unfortunately a horror of neon signs. But not far away is Schonlaterngasse, the Street of the Beautiful Lantern, lined with historic mansions and post-card Vienna pretty.
Easto, Pa.: How can we take a train from Vienna to Salzburg then Salzburg to the Danube for a boat excursion down to Vienna? We are two mid-60's aged travelers attempting to develop an itinerary for trip in late spring (no arrangements made as yet).
Robert Fisher: Trains for Salzburg leave from Vienna's Westbahnhof (West Station) on Europaplatz. Most days there are nearly hourly departures for Salzburg's Haputbahnhof (on Sudtirolerplatz), which is then a 20-minute walk from the Old Town. Heading in the other direction, to the Danube region from Salzburg, is not difficult: take the trains going to Krems/Donau on the northern banks of the Danube, a trip of about 150 miles. Krems is the famous gateway to the Wachau Valley region of the Danube, and its Old Town (Altstadt) is an 17th century jewel. Visit the Weinstadt Museum Krems, a wine museum, then head down to the piers to take the famous boat cruise back to Vienna; most people opt to train to Krems from Vienna, then boat back, because the return trip is longer, thanks to fighting the river currents. There are two main companies that offer this trip. Blue Danube Schifffahrt/DDSG (ddsg-blue-danube.at) and Brandner Schifffahrt (brandner.at). The first usually has boats returning to Vienna at 4:30 PM (getting back to Vienna at 8:45 PM); one way is 19.50 euros. However, since Krems is just downriver from two of the most beautiful sights along the Danube, why not investigate using a Brandner Schifffahrt boat (leaving at 1 PM) to pay a quick trip to the spectacular, clifftop Melk Abbey and the once-upon-a-timefied town of Durnstein. This may be packing too much in one day, so perhaps you should add in a lovely overnight stay in either Krems or Durnstein.
Heber City, Utah: After 13 road trips through Austria, we took a break for about a decade. When we were ready to return, I asked their Tourist Info office to send a copy of the most useful booklet we had ever found on our many car trips around Europe--the annual complete list of gov rated hotels in the country that listed address, prices & amenities & the gov star rating system for every hotel. They sent some mini brochure of high priced hotels designed to appeal to Americans (not the kind of place one should stay). Do they still produce the complete list?
Robert Fisher: The Austrian Tourist Board now advises me that for for consumer requests, they now offer a 1-to-3 star hotel guide (moderately priced) and a separate 4-and-5 star hotel guide. Also, in their Austria travel magazine, they include a smaller selection of hotels through categories 3-to-5 throughout Austria. Their travel information telephone number is 212/944-6880 and their main web site is: wien.info.
Portland, Ore.: We're traveling to Austria for a week in mid-September--never been there before--focusing on Salzburg and Vienna. We don't know classical music very well but would love to enjoy some inexpensive venues. Recommendations on where to look for the programs and what would you suggest for the novice or first timer to these beautiful cities? Vocals and dancing are not of interest to us, only classical music. Thanks so much!
Robert Fisher: What other national say with words, the Austrians say with music. Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Bruckner are just a few of the geniuses that helped make music an indispensable part of everyday life--not just "entertainment"--shared alike by countesses as well as shopkeepers and janitors. While the latter often took their music in the little rustic Heurige wine taverns tucked among the hillsides of the Vienna Woods, many listened to peras, symphonies, and oratorios in magnificent settings, and you can still do this today in Austria--one of the wonders of an Austrian trip. I'll start out with the smallest and probably the oldest venue. My favorite place to hear Mozart in Vienna (and the world) is the exquisite 18th-century Sala Terrena of the Deutschordenskloster (Singerstrasse 7, 01/911-9077, mozarthaus.at. Here, in a tiny room--seating for no more than 50 people--a bewigged chamber group offers Mozart concerts in a jewel box overrun with Rococo frescoes in the Venetian style. The concerts are scheduled by the nearby Mozarthaus. Said to be the oldest concert "hall" in Vienna, the Sala Terrena is part of the German Monastery, where, in 1781, Mozart worked for his despised employer, Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg--just outside is the courtyard where Mozart received his infamous kick in the pants when he was fired by the majordomo of the palace complex. Concerts are usually scheduled for Thursdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. Of course, there is a plethora of period-era, chocolate-box, jeweled concert salons in Vienna. Perhaps the most opulent is the Schlosstheater Schonbrunn, Schonbrunner, on Schloss-strasse, 01/71155-158, mdw.ac.at, built for Empress Maria Theresa in the Valerie Wing of the palace, with glittering chandeliers and a gigantic mural painted on the ceiling. Students of the Universitat fur Musik und Darstellende Kunstand and other troupes give concerts here during the fall to spring season. Built in 1754, the Orangerie Schonbrunn, Schonbrunner, on Schloss-strasse, 01/8125004, imagevienna.com offers Mozart and Strauss concerts in the Orangerie "greenhouse" of the palace. Here, legend has it, Mozart and Salieri once battled it out in their only head-to-head musical competition. On special occasions the orchestra moves into the palace's Great Gallery. For a grand evening of Strauss and Mozart in imperial surroundings, head to the Wiener Hofburgorchester concerts given in the Hofburg palace auditoria of the Redoutensaal (enter this one, once destroyed by bombs, now rebuilt, using the Josefsplatz) and the mammoth 19th-century Festsaal on the Heldenplatz, 01/587-2552, hofburgorchester.at. The concerts are offered Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, May until October.
As for Salzburg, total enchantment can be yours at the Mozart Dinner Concerts offered in the beautiful Baroque Hall of the Stiftskeller St. Peter (mozartdinnerconcert.com). The "dining hall" of this 18th-century abbey is so magnificent--all gold, chandeliers, and stained glass, that it might have been designed as a ballroom. Chances are your tablemates will be music lovers from around the world--a piano teacher from Montana, an opera singer from Romania. A chamber troupe performs Mozart between courses and, wonder of wonder, the food and the wine are deli-schloss! Across the river lies the Mirabell Gardens (famed for its role in The Sound of Music) and the Mirabell Palace's most gilded room, the Marble Hall, is now the glittering setting for lovely chamber concerts (salzburger.schlosskonzete.at). As for bargains, just check out the many concerts often offered in the historic churches of Vienna and Salzburg--hearing a Mozart mass in the church where he first performed it can be an ascension-into-heaven experience.
Reston, Va.: We are planning a driving drip from Salzburg to Croatia. We want to drive across the Grossglockner range. We understand that the road is opened from May to November. Can you give more specific dates when it opens & closes? Also, how much time should be allocated for the drive from Salzburg to entering Solvenia?
Robert Fisher: The drive from Salzburg to Split, Croatia is 809 Kilometers and will take about 8 hours. It's about two hours to the border with Slovenia, then on through Lubljana and into Croatia. This is a DIRECT drive to Croatia, and of course, a drive over the Grossglockner is another matter. This could be best accomplished by exiting the Autobahn A10 going south at Bischofshofen, then going west on Hwy. 311 to Bruck, the northern terminus of the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. At the southern end of the GHS, the drive is east through the lovely but highly traffiked Drautal to Spittal, where you again pick up the Autobahn south to Villach, Slovenia, and on to Croatia. As for the hard facts about the spectacular, sky-kissing Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse highway (grossglockner.com), it is open April 28 to June 15, from 6 am to 8 pm; from June 16 to September 15, it is open 5 am to 8:30 pm; from September 16 to the end of October, it is open 6 am to 9:30 pm. Happy travels!
Falls Church, Va.: I've spent time in both Salzburg and Vienna but would really like to explore the surrounding scenery near Salzburg. Do you have any suggestions for a town that would make a good touring base for exploring the Salzkammergut area? Do you have any suggestions for a hotel and sites of interest?
Robert Fisher: The Salzkammergut (or Lake District) is Austrian Heaven. Austrians consider it their "Disneyland" and when they get dreamy-eyed for an idyllic vacationland, this is where they head. Salzburg is a city whose architecture comes "mit schlag" (with whipped cream); nearby meadows are just made for Julie Andrews to prance in; and the region is filled with towns so picturesque they practically click your cameras for you. As for the best base, geographically, it would be Bad Ischl: right in the heart of the district and the transportation hub for the rail-lines that run north-south (due to the mountain ranges) and the many bus lines that thread the villages. Ten miles to the north is the area around the Attersee, so beautiful it inspired some of Gustav Klimt's greatest landscapes. Ten miles to the south is that postcard icon, Hallstatt, "the world's prettiest lakeside village," which precariously perches on the shore almost ready to tumble into the dark waters of the Hallstattersee: You'll use up all the pictures on your Compact Flash Card by the time the ferry pulls up to the pier. And five miles west is Gosau, am Dachstein, where the snowy mantle of Austria's "Matterhorn"--the Dachstein--is mirrored in three pristine lakes (a sight which inspired some of the greatest passages of Richard Wagner's Parsifal). However, Bad Ischl, while famed as the summer home of the Habsburg emperors (don't miss its gilded 1880s Kaiservilla or its sumptuous Villa Lehar, where the composer of The Merry Widow once lived) has grown a bit too big for comfort, or beauty--parts of it that won't win any charm prizes--it is too "touristic." The same might be said for Mondsee, the town famous for St. Michael's Church, where Maria finally wed her Captain von Trapp (and where Julie Andrews and Chris Plummer recreated the event)--a rather flat, boring largish town seemingly surrounded by large shopping centers. Many people love St. Wolfgang, and the church and lake ride are wonderful--the tourist tat shops are not. For my money, the most beautiful base is St. Gilgen, famous as the birthplace of Mozart's mother but most astounding for its splendid panorama of mountains and lake. As the car comes over the hill, you practically scream at the first sight of the town, set on the banks of a sweet lake which is borders by five of the most soaring, picturesquely shaped mountain peaks you will ever see. While there are tourist shops, there is an impressive array of soignè and charming hotels--the ultimate hotel here is the Hotel Hollweger (hollweger.at), which is atop a hillock with the most sublime panorama vista of St. Gilgen and its mountaineous backdrop. Six miles to the north is Fuschl, home to the hyperluxe Schloss Fuschl, which has hosted many of the world's great and good. Set on a promontory over Fuschl lake, with historic salons lined with Old Master paintings (thanks to a famed Munich-based gallery), a spectacular lake terrace restaurant (you can go fishing with Tyrolian fishermen in the morning for your lunch), and the best that money can buy. This hotel has a series of smaller houses on the grounds that probably are cheaper than the main castle and, even better, you get to see the castle from your hotel room balcony!
Atlanta, Ga.: I would like to know where to look for the best fares and where would be the best airport as well as an inexpensive hotel to stay in Vienna/Salzburg? Is bus the best transportation when you arrive there? Also, what is the best time of year to go--less crowds, etc.?
Robert Fisher: I'm afraid I can't give you the best advice about air fares--all I can say (from the trip I just took to the Amalfi Coast), is that the discounter web sites are not all they are cracked up to be--I found the cheapest fare was offered to me by Air France NYC to Naples, and they gave flawless service. Speaking of flawless service, the two flights I've taken on Austrian Airlines were the best I've ever experienced--the food is way above other options. Most everybody flies into Vienna's Schwechat Airport (phone 01/7007-0; viennaairport.com). You take the double-decker CAT, or City Airport Train, into the Wien-Mitte (center of city), a trip that takes only 16 minutes and costs about 8 euros one way. As for getting around Vienna, the U-Bahn, the city's Metro, services the center, with seven stops in the touristic areas, including Stephansplatz, at the very heart; there's another stop south near the big opera house (with an easy connection to the Belvedere palace at the very southern edge of the city). Herrengasse stop is right by the Hofburg palace and Schottenring is on the Ringstrasse avenue, offering quick tram connections. Speaking of them, these street cars (Strassenbahnen) are fine, with famous No 1 traveling the Ringstrasse clockwise, and No.. 2 which travels it counter-clockwise. Where streetcards don't run, buses do. Inexpensive hotel? Perhaps you might like the Pension Nossek, where Mozart worked on the Abduction from the Seraglio while he lived here in the early 1780s. Front rooms have great views of the great Graben square (pension-nossek.at). I love the Zur Wiener Staatsoper for the money; John Irving set one novel here and it's got real 19th century style (zurwinerstaatsoper.at). And just behind the grand Rathaus town hall is the Graf-Stadion, set in the charming, lowkey, real Viennese nabe of the Josefstadt (graf-stadion.com).
Fremont, Calif.: Is daily public transportation available from Marie Alm or Hinderthal to Salzburg?
Robert Fisher: Yes, there is a combination of bus and rail that will get you there and back. The bus from Hinderthal-Marie Alm center runs about every hour between 6:30 and 6:17 to Saalfalden. From the Saalfelden train station you will take the regional train to the Sbg. Hbf. The entire trip will take about two and a half hours. Cost EUR 19 (2nd class).
Irvine, Calif.: We are thinking of going to Austria for our honeymoon. Can you recommend a spot or two that would combine city charm with a relaxing wilderness component?
Robert Fisher: The Salzkammergut, playground of Emperors and Empresses, would be as romantic as it comes. Another that comes to mind is Bad Gastein, an elegant spa town nestled in a spectacular mountain setting, with all the amenities lovebirds might want. The town enjoys excellent train service from Salzburg and Vienna. But's let talk about Salzburg and its adjacent Lake District (Salzkammergut) region. Salzburg is pretty, often described as the "Rome of the North" with a skyline studded with Baroque church cupolas and towering over by the gigantic Fortress Hohensalzburg--a big, stout, Wagnerian affair that is fairly cold and scary. There are any number of sweet little restaurants and fancy hotels where you can sit in the lobby and watch the off-duty rich and famous go about. Palaces galore, including the charming gardens of the Schloss Hellbrunn (hellbrunn.at) a few miles outside of town--to get there you can take the most delightful bike ride in Salzburg, the Hellbrunner Allee from Freisaal to the palace, with the more adventuresome going farther on the Salzach cycle path north to the village of Obendorf, where "Silent Night" was composed. But for nature par excellence, head to the southeastern sector of the Lake District to find Gosau am Dachstein--an entire valley set with three lakes, incomparable hikes, and all backgrounded by the Dachstein massif, whose snowy mantle inspired Wagner's Parsifal and whose lush, verdant forests were the original setting for Bambi, which was a novel written by Felix Salten, an Austrian, and based around here, before Walt Disney bought the book to make it into his cartoon classic. Gosau is spread around three lakes, the Vorderer Gosausee, which is the crown jewel, some 5 miles south of the village itself--the lake perfectly mirrors the soaring mountain. You can also take a cable car up to the Gablonzer Hutte on the Zwieselalm (and ski on the Gosau glacier!), or tackle the three-hour hike up to the summit of the Grosser Donnerkogel. Back in the village, rest up at one of the charming Gasthofe inns. To get a peek at all the peaks, log on to gosau.at.
Medford, Ore.: In late September, 2008, we will be spending two weeks in Kuchl south of Salzburg on an Untours vacation. I am interested to know what would be reasonable day trips by train (time-wise, not cost) and the best way to do a Danube Wachau river day trip, understanding that it would be best to stay overnight in Melk or Krems--which city for the overnight?
Robert Fisher: For daytrippers, the Salzkammergut is heaven: Traunkirchen, a storybook village with a church perched on a rock; Hallstatt, a Hansel-and-Gretel village on the shores of a "Swan Lake"; Gosau am Dachstein--perhaps the most beautiful spot in all Austria and an inspiration Richard Wagner; the Attersee lake area, where Klimt painted his greatest landscapes; and St. Gilgen, where Mozart's mother was born--this town is backgrounded by five extraordinarily shaped mountain peaks, the most spectacular backdrop I've ever seen in the Alps. As far as the overnight (Melk vs Krems) I would say Krems, since the choices of accomodations and gastronomy are greater (larger town) and it has a wonderful Old Town with lots of shopping opportunities. From Krems, time permitting, one can take the boat to Melk and back. The cruise company--Brandner Schifffahrt (brandner.at) even offers a "picnic" cruise, where they provide a boat ride to Melk Abbey, a picnic lunch, and bike rental. After touring the Abbey, you take the (mostly) flat bike path back to Krems.
Torrance, Calif.: I will be in Austria Oct. 1 through Oct. 7, visiting Hallstatt and Vienna. I plan to take a river cruise down part of the Danube as well. What kind of weather can I expect and will I see fall foliage?
Robert Fisher: October can be, like fall most places, cool, rainy and changeable. It can also be crisp, clear and beautiful. Plan to have a good wind and waterproof jacket, sweater, and hat. The fall foliage is limited around much of Austria, since it is mostly evergreens. However, the views on a clear fall day can be spectacular!
York, Maine: My husband and I will be in Austria in September. We are flying in and out of Vienna. For 7 days we are cycling with a group in the lakes area near Salzburg. We have an additional 7 days to tour on our own with a car. We have never been to Austria before. Do you have any "must-see" recommendations? Should we try to go to Innsbruck? Any suggestions for good and reasonable lodging in B&B's near Vienna and elsewhere. Any help is much appreciated.
Dave and Roni
Robert Fisher: Yes, of course Tirol and Vorarlberg, as far as the Bodensee would be great if you like the mountains. Since you are in Salzburg, you might want to decide to go East or West, but not both. East being Vienna and the Blue Danube tour, or West being Tirol, Vorarlberg, and maybe South Tirol down over the Italian border to the Gardasee (Lake Garda). Innsbruck and environs would make a great base for day trips throughout Tirol, V-berg and South Tirol!
Damascus, Md.: Hello! My husband and I are planning a trip to Vienna in October. We'll have about 5 nights there and we're wondering what would be the top 3 sites that are must-see sites in Vienna? Also, what would be the best suggested day trip/tour outside of Vienna? Thanks so much.
Robert Fisher: In a city with as many richly stocked museums and marvels as Vienna, visitors risk seeing half of everything and all of nothing. One could easily spend two solid weeks exploring the many layers of this rich Sacher Torte of a city, but if time is limited, you'll need to plan carefully. A good question to ask is "Which Vienna?" If you're into music, you'll want to make sure the Mozarthaus (his residence in Vienna), the Musikverein (site of the famous New Year's Day concert), the Theatre an der Wien (where famed Lehar operettas premiered), the Haus der Musik (a great interactive museum) are all on your Santa Claus list. When it comes to art, the showstopper is the Kunsthistoriches Museum, which has the room devoted to Pieter Breughel the Elder's finest paintings, along with Vermeer's Artist in his Studio, and other eyeknockers; the Palais Lichtenstein, awash in gold, crystal, and wallpapered with massive Old Master paintings; and the Belvedere Palace, home to the most fabled Gustave Klimt painting in the world, The Kiss (sorry, you can't kiss your mate in front of it--I tried!). When it comes to pomp and circumstance, make for the Hofburg palace, whose Ritersaal--main Reading Room--of the court library is probably the most spectacular Baroque room in Austria (just next door is the Spanish Riding School, where the Lipizzaners minuet to Mozart). And don't forget to have some Kaffee und Kuchen at Demels--on the Graben, but only in the historic room (it has expanded to more modern salons), which is a wow. Last time I was there they even had a marzipan version of Durer's famous Hare. Vienna is a bottomless Christmas stocking, overflowing with goodies--so enjoy!
New York City, N.Y.: Please tell me a little bit about biking along the Danube Valley. Thank you.
Robert Fisher: The "classic" trip is the Passau (Germany)--Vienna trip, which many travelers do as a combination Boat/Bike trip, alternating the boat trip with sections of the Danube River bike path. If just biking, this would take up to a week, so you would think this would only be for Lance Armstrongs, but the terrain is totally flat and the scenery sublime. The best web site for planning is upperaustria.at, but there is also a Danube Cycle Track brochure offered at the niederoesterreich.at web site. Also, donauradweg.com offers lots of bike info. Pedal Power, based in Vienna, has a whole guidebook, The Danube Bike Train, for 13 euros (pedalpower.at). You would simply need to take the train to Passau (right over the border in Germany) to start the trip. An alternative would be to take the train to Linz from Vienna, then boat to Krems (and Melk Abbey) and on to Vienna. Please see one of my answers above for more details about the two main companies offering Danube River cruises from Krems back to Vienna. The boats offered by Blue Danube Schifffahrt/DDSG leave the company's piers at Handelskai 265 every Sunday between May 11 and September 28 at 8:45 a.m. Departing from the Reichsbrucke (Vienna piers) on the city's Danube Canal, they arrive in Krems at 1:55 p.m, Durnstein at 2:30 p.m., returning from Durnstein at 4:30 p.m, Krems at 4:50 p.m. and get back to Vienna by 8:45 p.m. One way is 19.50 euros. Web: ddsg-blue-danube.at. Brandner Schifffahrt is another line (brandner.at). Of course, from Krems, one can continue on to Bratislava, the beautiful old capitol of Slovakia, and on to one of Europe's most beautiful cities, Budapest.
Dallas, Tex.: Will be resident in Steyr, Austria as a Fulbright Scholar from February 2008 through August 2008. Would like to use this opportunity to serve as a base to travel throughout the continent (guest lecturing at universities as well as playing tourist. I have speaking invitations from Sweden, England, Latvia, and Spain) so will likely be traveling once a week. My wife will be traveling with me. I'll be located in Upper Austria in the middle of the country, our closest airport is 30 kilometers north in Linz (Ryan Air). Suggestions on best way to get around. We do have east-west rail service. Will worry about lodging later...right now am most interested in how best to get there.
Robert Fisher: You might need to be a train conductor to get to the bottom of this question! Happily, you are not that far, as you point out, from Linz, and the main east-west line from Vienna to Linz closely follows the Danube Valley south bank for much of its route, including Krems (lucky you, to be based there, and what a great profession you'll be enjoying this coming year!). Linz's airport has regular flights that connect with many of Europe's biggest cities. For the full scoop, you're going to want to deal with the OBB Osterreichisches Bundesbahn (05/1717) but I imagine if you get ahold of a helpful person at Krems's tourist board or some academic institution thereabouts, you'll get all the info you need. The train system in Austria is amazingly easy to use, and the web site now even features an English version.
Houston, Tex.: My business travel will take me to several European cities in the next 3 months. Vienna is one of them. I will have the entire Sunday and the weekday evenings to enjoy the city. Unfortunately, I am temporarily handicapped with a broken leg. I can walk for about a city block but not much more. I would appreciate recommendations on how to best use the Sunday and the evenings to make a business trip fun.
Robert Fisher: With your injury, it will really pay off being at the center of things--and I'm talking the Ringstrasse area around the Opera House, and the nearby Museums Quartier (with the big new museum complex and the Kunsthistoriches Museum cheek by jowl) just a few blocks away. The Musikverein concert hall is here too. So I would base myself right around the Opera House area. Just a block north is the Hofburg palace complex, but those parking lots and marble hallways are endless, so you're going to have to draw the line. Within a few blocks are the great drama of the Naschmarkt food market and also the charming Spittelberg historic quarter, but you'll be dealing with crowds--so just stay put on the Ringstrasse and use its great trams to sightsee for free!
Robert Fisher: Many thanks for your interest and questions. Happy travels, and may your trips to Austria be safe and fascinating journeys!
editor of Fodor's Vienna to Salzburg