A new year and a new destination, this month we are in Austria travelling from Salzburg to Klagenfurt along the Tauern Railway. A typical journey takes around three hours covering a distance of 220 kilometres. This is one of Europe’s most stunning scenic railway journeys, crossing the Alps via the 8.3 kilometre long Tauern Railway Tunnel. The tunnel’s northern portal is located at Böckstein, in the valley of Bad Gastein, with the southern extremity near Mallnitz, in Carinthia.
Our journey begins in Salzburg, Austria’s fourth largest city, located close to the border with Germany. This charming city combines unique Alpine landscapes with a rich mix of architecture. Famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of ‘The Sound of Music’, you won’t run out of things to do.
A good starting point is the historic old town or Altstadt. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has some of Salzburg’s most popular attractions including Mozart’s birthplace, the Salzburg Museum, the stunning Salzburg Cathedral and St. Peter’s Monastery. Take time to roam the narrow streets offering boutique shops, quaint cafes and restaurants and marvel at the fabulous architecture.
One of the city’s most striking landmarks is Hohensalzburg Fortress, Europe’s largest fully preserved castle. Take the funicular up the hill and enjoy superb views of the city and its surroundings. Then head inside the castle to explore its various museums including the Fortress Museum, the Marionette Museum and the Rainer Regiment Museum.
Not to be missed is a visit to Mirabell gardens, one of the settings in the world famous musical, The Sound of Music. Pegasus fountain is featured in the song ‘Do-Re-Mi’, The garden features an array of beautiful flowers the colours of which change every year according to tradition.
This week we continue our journey in Austria, heading south along the Tauern Railway from Salzburg to Villach. The main railway station in Salzburg is a 20 minute walk from the Altstadt (Old Town). The best views from the train are generally on the right-hand side (facing the direction of travel) although on the approach to Bad Gastein, views are better on the left.
Approximately 40 minutes after leaving Salzburg we reach Bischofshofen, the junction for the Enns Valley Railway. It is the rail-head for a number of resorts in the Hochkönig mountain region, such as Maria Alm, Dienten, Mühlbach and Hochkeil.
A few kilometres north of Bischofshofen is the town of Werfen, best known for the Castle Hohenwerfen and the largest ice cave in the world. Werfen is served by most regional trains between Salzburg and Bischofshofen.
Continuing south we soon reach Schwarzach-St.Veit, another important railway junction, where the line towards Innsbruck diverges from our route. As the station name suggests, it serves the two small market towns of Schwarzach and Sankt Veit. Schernberg Castle is a popular attraction and there are also numerous hiking trails in the area. A museum dedicated to the Tauern Railway is situated close to the station which is open from May to October.
The next main stop along the route is the popular resort and spa town of Bad Gastein. Located in a picturesque setting, it is a charming town with lots to offer including first-class skiing and hiking, together with its famous hot springs. The Bad Gastein waterfall is another popular attraction in the town.
Shortly after leaving Bad Gastein, our train travels through the magnificent Tauern railway tunnel which is 8.4 kilometres in length and, at its highest point, is 1,226 metres above sea level. As the train descends down from the Tauern Tunnel to Villach, stunning views can be seen on the right.
The town of Villach lies on the Drava River in the state of Carinthia near the Italian and Slovenian borders, surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery. This quaint, historic town offers cobbled streets and pastel rainbow coloured buildings, typical among small Austrian towns. In the heart of Villach’s old town district is the main square and Trinity Column, along with shops, galleries and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
Highlights include the Church of St Jacob, with its beautiful interior, red pillars and rococo style altar. Landskron Castle offers superb views of the town, and is also home to the Adler Arena where you can watch breath-taking shows of birds of prey from April to October. The Museum der Stadt Villach is one of Austria’s oldest and largest museums where you can learn about the history, art and culture of Villach.
Also worth visiting are the nearby natural hot springs at Warmbad Villach and the beautiful Lake Faak, one of Carinthia’s smallest lakes.
This week we continue our scenic journey departing Villach for Klagenfurt. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes and takes you pass, on the right hand side, beautiful Lake Wörthersee, one of Europe’s largest and warmest Alpine lakes.
Klagenfurt is the capital of the state of Carinthia, surrounded by superb landscapes and mountain scenery. The architecture is typical Austrian style with plenty of local history and a variety of things to see.
Head to the Neuer Platz, the main square where you will find the Lindwurm Fountain, the winged dragons which is the symbol of the town and also a statue of the only female ruler of the Habsburg Empire, Empress Maria Therese. The surrounding area also has a range of shops, restaurants and a tree-lined seating area.
Other highlights include Minimundus, a miniature park where you will find around 150 models of famous structures from around the world, including the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and the Statue of Liberty. Also worth viewing are the Parish Church of St. Egid and its bell tower with views over the city and one of the oldest buildings in Klagenfurt in neo-baroque style and the Landhaus, built in the 16th century with two dome-shaped towers which dominate the surrounding skyline. Inside you will find fine examples of Carinthian art and architecture.
Don’t forget to enjoy the area around Lake Wörthersee on the west side of Klagenfurt, where you can relax or take a boat trip to the surrounding towns.