Austria - once the mightiest nation in Europe, the home of Mozart, Sachertorte and the Spanish Riding School. From Bregenz in the West of the country on the shores of Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to Vienna in the East, just over an hour's boat ride from Bratislava in Slovakia, there is a wealth of natural beauty with lakes, rivers and the famous Austrian alps. Vienna is a beautiful imperial city with plenty to do for a long weekend and a range of top hotels, including Starwood's Luxury Collection members, Hotel Bristol and Hotel Imperial, a Park Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, a Kempinski and a number of independent 5* properties, such as the stunning Palais Coburg. Further South and you will find wonderful mountain resorts, offering exciting skiing in the Winter and beautiful scenery for hiking in the Summer. We recommend a relaxing break at Schloss Fuschl, near Salzburg, which has its own lake stocked with a variety of fish. Here it feels like you are staying in an art gallery, albeit a very luxurious one, complete with superb dining, beautiful rooms and a well-equipped spa - if visiting in summer be sure to book a massage on the hotel's private jetty!
Austria sits in the middle of the European continent and, as such, has hot summers, cold winters and plenty of rain.
In mid-Summer, it can be uncomfortably sticky in the cities and it is a welcome (and popular) relief to spend a weekend in the mountains. In Winter, snow is a likelihood - even in the cities. Viennese summers have an average 8 hours of sun per day and temperatures can reach mid 30s. Rain is common, although we have always been lucky and just had clear blue skies! For reliable snow, we would recommend the ski resort of Lech, at 2450 metres, but influenced more by continental weather patterns (compared to French ski resorts which are influenced more by Atlantic weather patterns) so the ski-season lasts from early December to late April.
As with most of Central Europe, the currency of Austria is the Euro. Credit cards are accepted in major cities, but not as widely as in Switzerland or the UK. Be aware that it is generally frowned upon to use plastic for small purchases (under €100). Hotels are reasonable value with 5* properties in Vienna available for around the €150-180/night mark, although our favourite, the Park Hyatt, costs 2-3 times this.
As a Schengen-member state, travel from most of Europe in very easy with no passport checks. Most of the Western world can enter Schengen without a visa, including nationals of the USA, most of South America, Australia and Japan. Nationals of Africa, India, Russian and most Middle-Eastern countries require a visa, which costs €60.