An Alpine Autumn on the capital’s doorstep

By Mary PenmanLost in an array of autumn colours and encircled
by fresh Alpine air, it is hard to believe that Semmering, in the
Neunkirchen district, is barely an hour outside of Vienna.Semmering
has been a tourist favourite for well over a century and a half, ever
since the ‘Semmeringer Bahn’ (the world’s first mountain railway) was
constructed in 1854, rendering the region easily accessible from
Austria’s capital.With the railway’s viaducts interspersing
dramatic, tree covered slopes, the area soon became renowned as a place
of stunning natural beauty and top class hospitality.Undoubtedly
Semmering is at its busiest in the Winter, when its world class skiing
facilities buzz with rosy-cheeked and sore-legged sports enthusiasts.
Yet coming to the region outside of the high season still has a lot to
offer.For fans of rambling, walking and mountain biking,
Semmering and its environs are a paradise in October and November.
Flawless blue skies, refreshing mountain air and the multicoloured
autumn forests provide an outstanding backdrop to outdoor activities.The
village is well served by hotels and guest houses, although by far the
most opulent is the Grand Hotel Panhans – which on appearance alone
really does deserve its name. Any guest approaching the impressive
six-storey resort will immediately sense the grandeur which the hotel
has been offering ever since its 1888 opening by renowned Viennese chef
Vinzenz Panhans. Twenty years later and the Panhans Meadow played host
to the last Austrian emperor Karl Franz Josef as he learnt how to ski.
Not long after, in 1913, the building was extended to offer 400 guest
rooms, making the hotel the biggest in central Europe at the time.The
region suffered with the end of the Monarchy and the subsequent loss of
its gentile clientèle after the First World War. Yet after a few
turbulent years the hotel regained prosperity and in the 1930s an
indoor pool with sliding glass panels was installed, the first ever
‘Miss Austria’ competition was held, and the country’s earliest Casino
was opened. During these years the Hotel also welcomed countless
celebrities alongside the rank and file.Nowadays, long after
the end of a second period of quiet which descended on the area during
the Cold War years, the Panhans has returned to its former glory,
spoiling its guest with excellent services and a luxurious base from
which to discover the delights of the Semmering district.To
encourage both returning and new visitors to the area, the Grand Hotel
Panhans has put together some special packages for the Autumn season.
The ‘Goldener Herbst’ (Golden Autumn)deal offers a special price of 80
euros a night for guests staying at the hotel between Sundays and
Fridays. The hotel recommends that residents use their time to go
walking in the mountains, visit the Zauberberg Bike Park, play tennis
or mini golf, or enjoy the unlimited use of the hotel’s facilities,
including a sauna, whirlpool baths, indoor swimming pool and gym.With
the evenings drawing in, guests at the hotel can also take advantage of
a special array of dinner-time entertainment. Professional actors will
help you get into the swing of the ‘Dinner and Crime’ murder mystery
evenings, while the ‘Opera al dente’ events are intended to give guests
a taste of the opera as well as exquisite cuisine.The historic
station in Semmering means a car is not necessary to visit the area,
and trips can be easily taken to the valley’s quaint villages,
including Gloggnitz with its medieval Catholic monastery. Railway
enthusiasts can also marvel at 19th century engineering as well as
stunning panoramas by following the Semmeringer Bahn Trail, with
informative signs that take walkers past various viaducts and along the
railway, declared a UNESCO Site of World Heritage site in 1998.With
the arrival of December, skiers and day trippers will start traipsing
to the area by the bus load, ending the autumnal peace and tranquillity
for another year, but until then there is still plenty of time to visit.For information and bookings:Tel: +43 (0)2664 / 8181Fax: +43 (0)2664 / 8181-513E-Mail: