As an Alpine country with spectacular scenery Austria has always had an advantage in the tourism stakes.
And with one in six people in the country earning their money from the tourism trade, Austria does not rest on its laurels with its vast natural wealth – walk through any alpine pasture and the variety of flowers in summer will show you why Austria has the best environmental credentials in Europe. Every colour of flower seems to be present and the noise from the crickets and other insects is positively deafening.
The tight controls on the use of pesticides and fertilisers means it is no surprise that half of the organic farms in Western Europe are located in Austria.
And investing in the environment not only pays health dividends – it makes good commercial sense. The crystal clear lakes are not connected to waste water pipes – lichen that only grows in the cleanest air covers the trees in the heavily wooded valleys – and it all helps to explain why 50 percent of Austrians choose to spend their holidays in the home country. For many it would be a short distance to cross the border into Italy or Switzerland or Germany.
If anything this is the ultimate stamp of approval of the quality on offer – like knowing that the best Chinese restaurants are the ones that are full of Chinese.
But whether you are an Austrian deciding to stay in the country or a foreigner visiting there is plenty of variety. Every region in Austria has a distinct flavour. Salzburg which is a province in its own right for example is dominated not only by the city of the same name but also by the connections to Mozart and the Austrian Lake District. Burgenland being less mountainous is famous for its cycle paths especially around Lake Neusiedel, its agriculture, and especially its vineyards.
And in the southern province of Carinthia where I travelled for this report the province prides itself on having arguably the best cuisine in the country – as well as for knowing how to entertain like nowhere else with attractions like the Carinthian Summer.
And there is a good reason for that. Top Austrian marketing manager and event organiser Hannes Jagerhofer once told me that one of the big things about the Austrian way of relaxing was that they liked to be entertained. Give an Englishman a glass of beer and a space at the bar and he will spend the entire night there. But if an Austrian has not got a live band or a show to keep him happy he will not stay around for long.
When I went to Carinthia recently I stayed at the Club Landskron to sample what the region had on offer and was not disappointed.
The hotel is more like a health spa or upper-class holiday camp but does not cost the earth.
Twenty years ago when I was last there, there was still the same mountain rimmed lake packed with fish and wild fowl – but since then not only has the complex seen big investment in what they offer – but there has been a positive explosion in the number of attractions available in the surrounding countryside.
Whereas before, hiking and swimming had dominated my two-week visit – this time round there was a wide range of alternative attractions to suit every taste.
For the adventurous there was everything from paragliding – through to spectacular clifftop walkways or go-carting. Within easy access there are 11 excellent quality golf courses – not bad for a country that only really discovered the sport a few years ago. For families there was the adventure theme park Minimundus Park with its world-famous miniature copies of buildings, and perhaps building on this success there is the nearby Doll’s World to mention but a few.
For something just plain different there was the flying displays from the Eagles and other birds of prey located in the Burg Landskron Castle less than a short walk away, or the mini safari through a colony of apes on the nearby Affenberg.
All of these bear testimony to the fact that Austrians need to be entertained – and there is a vast network geared up to doing just that in Carinthia.
Even for those who do not fancy leaving Club Landskron there was more than enough to occupy a week of activities.
There is a substantial lakeside meadow with boats and great views of the Ossiacher See either from the room balconies or the panorama restaurant, eight different treatment rooms in the wellness hub, a panorama swimming pool and a wide variety of attractions from yoga through to shiatsu.
It also focuses heavily on younger guests with permanent carers or staff offering all-day activities from woodland excursions through to football camps and riding weeks or skiing in the winter – and there are toy packed children’s rooms for the younger children.
And as one would expect in a country where people like to be entertained there are frequent themed event weeks from fitness weeks through to other health or beauty themed breaks. For an Englishman the sauna takes some getting used to – it is mixed and clothes are not allowed. Seeing a dozen naked women walking around a buffet of cold fruit drinking champagne was a culture shock for an Englishman that the average Austrian or even Swede would not understand. It involves making one’s excuses and leaving – as the famous journalistic cliche goes.
But leaving aside the spectacular scenery – the warm welcome from everyone you meet their – the great facilities and the many entertainment opportunities and there is still one thing on this trip that outshone them all. That was the food. Did I say food? Somehow it does not seem to sum up the flavour of exactly what was on offer. Cuisine? Maybe.
As you would expect from its close proximity to Italy much of the food has an Italian influence – but with an Austrian flavour to it and an Austrian insistence on nothing but the freshest biological ingredients. Every trip to the restaurant that was supposed to be the last ended up in another as a new speciality was discovered.
Have you tried Carinthian specialities like Kletzennudel – sweet noodles filled with dried pears, or Kasnudel – pasta sachets filled with a mixture of potatoes, curd cheese and fresh herbs like black spearmint and served with hot butter. Or there is Reindling – a type of cake made of yeast dough filled with raisins, sugar and cinnamon. Every trip into the restaurant was supposed to be the last and always involved spotting something else that meant another trip.
All in all the trip to Club Landskron encapsulated a microcosm of all the things that are best about a holiday in Austria. Well worth the visit – and certainly as good as any other place to discover why Austrians like to stay at home for their holidays.