In a town near Salzberg hoping for snow

Church bells toll in the distance, snow has started to fall on the Alps almost across the road and mist and low cloud is rolling across the vivid green alpine meadows.

The town of Puch bei Hallein snuggles into the hillside about 20 minutes from the Austrian city of Salzberg.

Combining the alpine scenery of the Salzberg area with ancient village atmosphere, Puch bei Hallein is an ideal base to explore the beautiful surrounds.

We’ve gathered for a reunion with our Danish family at one of the area’s man-made gems, the luxurious family Hotel Gasthof zum Kirchenwirt.

Watch for our upcoming review of this hotel.

The hotel seems to be only a stone throw from the craggy and breath-catching Alps, where lights twinkle from tiny villages and an increasing amount of snow coats the peaks and tallest slopes.

There’s a chance of more snow – much to our delight.

We’d love to see the white Salzberg region shown on the postcards sold by the thousands.

Yesterday, we wandered into Salzberg’s Old Town, braving light drizzle to see the well-preserved castle; the Salzberg Dom cathedral; and the the general fairytale charm of the Baroque city.

Hohensalzburg Castle is one of the biggest medieval fortresses in Europe and dates to 1077.

The cathedral is also an imposing sight, linked by three ‘cathedral arches’ to St Peter’s Abbey and Salzberg Residenz, the former palace of the Archbishops who ran the city in years gone by.

Meandering through the Old Town, we appreciated the ‘Durchhäuser’ – old passageways through buildings that you can use as a sort of shortcut.

We made our way to Salzberg Museum, largely to see a 360 degree panorama of Salzberg, painted by Johann Sattler, over three years in the 1820s.

At over 1,300 square feet, the huge panorama portrays Salzburg and the surrounding areas in detail as seen from the top of Salzburg castle.

This panorama was a popular attraction at the time of its completion, and travelled across Europe in the 19th century drawing big crowds.

In today’s age of ‘Pano’ settings on cameras and many smart phones, this painted version was fascinating in its detail and craftsmanship.

Off to the salt mine

Today, we had an extraordinary experience, travelling 210 metres below the Alps, down what’s said to be Europe’s oldest salt mine.

The mine, at Mount Durrnberg on the Austria-German border, was used by the Celts to mine salt more than 2,500 years ago.

Deep inside Europe’s oldest salt mine


After donning white overalls (not exactly a fashion statement) we first rode a miners train 400 metres down the mine shaft.

We then followed a guide and walked to a lower level, before going even deeper on the ‘miners slide’ – which was rather like giant wooden slippery dips.

Next came brine tasting, before we went on a boat ride across an underground salt lake.

As we travelled through the mine we crossed into Germany – and our guide and multi-media presentations explained how the wealth, splendour and even the name of Salzberg came from the mining and sale of salt – known as ‘white gold’.

We were then shown where the body of a Celt man had been discovered preserved in salt- and before we returned to the surface, each of us was given a small salt souvenir.

The visit to the mine was a wonderful experience that we will never forget.

Afterwards, we went to the very foothills of snow-capped Austrian Alps for a beer in the village of Abtenau.

Tomorrow, we will explore the beautiful St Wolfgang area of Austria. Follow our journey!

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Puch bei Hallein

Austria remembers Franz Joseph I

More than a century on, Austria has  has certainly not forgotten its longest reigning emperor who played a key role in the start of World War I.

Franz Joseph I died in 1916, after ruling for almost 68 years.

He was the third longest-reigning monarch of any major country in European history – after Louis XIV of France and Johann II of Liechtenstein. See this short film about the man and the Habsburg dynasty.

Franz Joseph was born and died at Schoenbrunn Palace, a former summer residence for the monarchy and now Vienna’s leading tourist attraction.

A floodplain of the Wien River, the palace area was once a royal fishing and hunting site and the name Schoenbrunn (beautiful spring) comes from an artesian well on the land.

The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

And the fingerprints of Franz Joseph are all over this wonderful structure.


Schoenbrunn Palace Gloriette

As well as the stunning neoclassical palace, the grounds include a series of follies, a maze, French garden, a fern house and a world-famous zoo.

The axis of the garden points towards a 60-metre-high hill, which since 1775, has been crowned by the Gloriette structure, which today houses a cafe and an observation deck.

On July 28, 1914, Franz Joseph declared war on Serbia, escalating a diplomatic crisis into WWI.

A month earlier, his heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist.


YouTube video credit: franzjoseph2016 website


Culture and coffee in romantic Vienna

If you enter the words “elegance” and “romance” into Google, there’s a good chance the answer will be “Vienna”.

Throw in sophistication, culture, history and coffee houses and you’re getting close to the charm of the Austrian capital on the Danube.


A cityscape characterised by magnificent baroque buildings has something for everyone – from outstanding museums and galleries; striking palaces; a famous opera house; and the gothic Stephansdom, or St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Culture oozes from the cobblestones  walked at times by the likes of Beethoven, Strauss, Mozart and Haydn.

Today, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra  is world famous, as is the Vienna Boys Choir.

Stunning Schoenbrunn Palace – with its Gloriette monument, maze; Palm House and zoo –  is recognised instantly, as is the eye-opening Hofburg Imperial Palace.



And tucked between the famous buildings is the quaint Vienna beloved by the locals, with coffee houses, tea rooms and wine taverns standing side-by-side with modern restaurants and shops.

Whatever your taste, Vienna is a feel-good city.  The uniquely Viennese charm is the perfect medicine for whatever ails you.

You lose your breath at the beauty of Italy; you marvel at the grandeur of London; you glow at the romance of Paris; and you sway to the beat of New York City.

In Vienna,  you feel a better person just for visiting.







Romance Vienna

Take a sneak peek at Weiner Staatsoper

If you are visiting Vienna, make sure you find time to visit the city’s grand opera house, which hosts  one of Europe’s most glittering social events each year.

In February, the internationally-renowned Vienna Opera Ball is  staged – an event that attracts visitors from around the world, notably prominent names in business, show-business and politics.


The red carpet event, which is deemed the epitome of Ball culture, is now 62 years old.

However, you don’t need to attend the annual Ball to appreciate the magnificent Weiner Staatsoper, a 146-year-old building located on Vienna’s Ringstrasse Boulevard.


We toured the building on our last visit – and were enthralled by the stately stone exterior and the neo-renaissance style inside.

A highlight of the interior is an area known as the Tea Salon, which was formerly the Emperor’s Salon.


The ceiling and walls of the former Imperial Box are decorated with 22 carat gold leaf.

We were also shown sculptures, magnificent wall embroideries from the Giani studio, and tapestries bearing the initials of former Emperor Franz Joseph I.

The 120-metre intermission halls are also particularly striking and connect to frame the sweeping main staircase.

Originally called the Weiner Hofopen or Vienna Court Opera, the building was renamed in 1920 when the Hapsburg Monarchy gave way to the First Republic of Austria.


Damaged by World War II bombing, the Staatsoper was rebuilt to its former glory by 1955.

We were told that the opera house is one of the busiest in the world, producing about 300 performances a year – broken down into 50 to 60 operas and 10 ballet shows.

The main performance hall holds 2,100 and there is a giant screen on an outside wall designed to bring opera to the masses outside. Weiner Staatsoper is also known for its emphasis on providing music theatre and training for children.


Naturally, such a prestigious opera house has featured many big named, including appearances by Maria Callas, Christa Ludwig, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti.

Vienna Vienna Opera House

Dodging Vienna’s crowds unearths some gems

Dodging the peak season crowds at Vienna, Austria, can be quiet an art.

But, if you do a little exploring, there are some real gems in this most elegant of cities.


Hofburg Imperial Palace

One of Vienna’s finest attractions is the Hofburg Imperial Palace, with its striking architecture, statues and stables harking back to the luxury of the Hapsburg Empire.

Reluctant to join busy organised tours of the palace rooms, we wandered instead around the cobblestone square and spied the Cafe Hofburg near one of the main gates.


Courtyard Hofburg Imperial Palace

A quick check on Trip Advisor and we settled in for coffee and Apfelstrudel, as grand as any we’ve tasted in Austria.

It was the perfect way to chill and avoid the bustle.hofburg-cafe

Likewise with the Naschmarkt, a popular shopping/market area just outside Vienna’s Inner City.

We spent some time there, but finally escaped to quieter side streets, where we were delighted to come upon Crossfield’s Australian Pub, on Maysedgasse 5.

What a place!

The pub not only serves typical Australian fare – including kangaroo burgers – but also boasts drinks such as ‘Kakadu Ale’ and the exotically-named ‘Snake Bite’, which we discovered was a ‘middy’ (about 285ml) of cider, accompanied by a middy of Forsters beer and raspberry.


Crossfield’s Australian Pub

Each ‘Snake Bite’ cost a little more than five Euros and certainly had a different taste.

Viennese cuisine is exceptional and the city boasts some of the finest restaurants you’ll ever encounter.

We’ve tried traditional Wiener schnitzel (veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried) followed by Millirahmstrudel (milk-cream strudel) but, when last in Vienna, we fell back on an old ploy called ‘follow the locals’.

Vienna university is located in the inner city and – knowing that students are usually able to sniff out a good, cheap meal – we followed a group of students to a small licenced cafe in the shadows of St Stephen’s Cathedral.


Traditional Apfelstrudel

There, we were able to get a hearty meal, accompanied by a few ales, for a particularly good price.

This ploy is thoroughly recommended. We’ve even eaten at university canteens, where the cost is usually very low.

Another shopping area in Vienna that is popular with tourists is the MariahilferstaBe.

We avoid the crowds by heading for the Raimundhof Passage, a cute little walkway that yields some lovely shops and destinations known mainly to the locals.

One of our favourite stops down the passage is Sir Hardy’s Tea, an olde world tearoom that serves some awesome brews.

Again, we thoroughly recommend.


Tiergarten Schonbrunn: Vienna’s remarkable zoo

We enjoy visiting zoos.image

Politically correct or not, zoos have allowed us to observe animals that we might never have seen otherwise – and helped us learn about important wildlife issues.

Take the Schonbrunn Vienna Zoo for example.

A zoo in a palace

In a city blessed with marvellous attractions, this zoo is a stand-out: modern, educational and highly entertaining.

Located in the grounds of the famous and majestic Schonbrunn Palace, the Vienna Zoo is said to be the world’s oldest, dating to 1752.

Originally reserved for members of Austria’s Habsburg royal family, the menagerie was opened to the public in 1779.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEmperor Joseph II organised expeditions to Africa and the Americas to procure specimens for the zoo, which now houses more than 500 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish.

Popular pandas

None of the zoo’s exhibits, however, are as rare as its popular Giant Pandas, originally named Yang Yang and Long Hui.

There’s said to be only about 1600 of these bears left; most of them in China, either wild, in reserves or in captivity.

In 2003, the Chinese government loaned Yang Yang and Long Hui to the Republic of Austria for 10 years or more, with the zoo participating in the international panda breeding and research project.

Last year, a baby panda was born at the zoo by natural conception.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFeted like royalty on their arrival at Schonbrunn Vienna Zoo, the two adult pandas were promptly rechristened Sissi and Franz, after former Emperor Franz Joseph and his famous wife, Elisabeth.

The crowd-drawing power of the Giant Pandas is astonishing. When we visited the zoo, there was an almost constant throng of people around the enclosure and a steady background whirl of cameras.

Planet of the apes

Another popular area at Vienna Zoo is the orangutan education section, where these shaggy-haired apes can swing through the air as high as 11 metres above the ground, as well as scaling nets, ropes and trees – and, if you are lucky, gazing for a split second into the camera lens.

The zoo’s information center provides education material on the evolutionary history of orangutans, their lives and threats to the species.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

An assault on the senses

Schonbrunn Vienna Zoo is a maze of colour, sights and sounds – a wonderful assault on the senses.

From Siberian Tigers to lumbering elephants, hippos, Rhinos, polar bears, a rainforest trail, desert house, aquarium and flocks of pretty flamingoes, there’s something to see at every turn – making this a truly memorable destination.

Eye-catching palm house

Another remarkable attraction adjoining Vienna Zoo is the Palmenhaus or palm house, which is  yet another highlight of the Schönbrunn Palace garden.

One of the last of its kind, the impressive palm house is a giant steel and glass construction over 110 metres long, 28 metres wide and more than 25 metres high.The palm house, Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

The Palmenhaus was built in 1882 during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph

Linked by tunnel-like passages, the three pavilions of the palm house contain different climatic zones: a ‘cold’ house to the north, a temperate zone in the central pavilion and a tropical climate in the south pavilion.

The necessary temperatures are achieved by steam heating, which means that rare plant specimens from all over the world can be grown in the Vienna Palmenhaus.

Opening times and dates

Vienna Zoo is open every day of the year.

See opening times; how to get to the zoo; admission costs; and details of where you can obtain refreshments.

Hotel de France

In Vienna, we stayed at the luxurious Hotel de France.