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Boundless Hiking Pleasures

Up hill and down dale, the narrow road winds through the idyllic landscape that got its nickname from the gentle vineyards and slender cypresses: the “Styrian Tuscany”. It is not Italy, however, but northern Slovenia that one sees when gazing out over the hills. Perhaps while seated at a charming tavern with a glass of outstanding Styrian wine.

Hiking the Alpe-Adria-Trail Carinthia ©  Kärnten Werbung/Gerdl
Hiking the Alpe-Adria-Trail Carinthia © Kärnten Werbung/Gerdl
Berliner Hütte in the Zillertal Alps © Österreich Werbung/Peter Burgstaller
Berliner Hütte in the Zillertal Alps © Österreich Werbung/Peter Burgstaller
Schlöging Loop in Upper Austria © Österreich Werbung/Peter Burgstaller
Schlöging Loop in Upper Austria © Österreich Werbung/Peter Burgstaller

The Southern Styrian Wine Road is only one example of boundless - and boundary-less - hiking in Austria. But this should come as no surprise. Situated in the heart of Europe and consequently criss-crossed by centuries-old trade routes from time immemorial, Austria offers a wide selection of long-distance hiking trails linking various countries. One of the most fascinating of these is the Alpe-Adria-Trail, leading from the glaciers of National Park Hohe Tauern to the Adriatic coast. The trail is split into 43 stages of around 17 - 20km each, and every section is full of unforgettable impressions from thundering waterfalls to lush mountain pastures, weathered farm buildings, mysterious ravines and hospitable inns where the rambler can enjoy local culinary delicacies. The fact that this hike - as well as its individual sections - is also available as a package, including a knowledgeable guide and reserved accommodation along the way, is an added incentive to lace up your hiking boots.

Another good way for holiday-makers to collect cross-border experiences is by cycling, following paths such as the Amber Cycling Route. The historic trade route from St. Petersburg to Venice passes through northern Lower Austria and traverses the gently rolling province of Burgenland before entering Slovenia, criss-crossing the Hungarian border several times along the way. Music-loving visitors might prefer to retrace some of the journeys of Austria’s most famous composer on the Mozart Cycle Path, which links many of the historic places where the musical genius was active as well as passing through the spectacularly beautiful lake district of SalzburgerLand.

The best known and most popular of all of Austria’s bike paths, however, is undoubtedly the Danube Cycle Path. It follows the only European river that flows from west to east from its source in Germany’s Donaueschingen to its mouth in the Black Sea. The first highlight on Austrian soil is the so-called Schlöging Loop, where the Danube makes a dramatic 180-degree turn. From there the bike path winds its way through scenic landscapes such as the Wachau Valley with its picturesque wine villages and along the way also passes a great many cultural gems, including the medieval town of Enns with its enchanting historic centre, Greinburg Castle and magnificent Melk Abbey.

But there is no reason to limit yourself to terra firma in your exploration of Austria’s most beautiful areas. Canoe trips on the Thaya and March Rivers, still something of an insider’s tip, take you through the splendid water meadows along Lower Austria’s borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One of the routes leads from the Czech town of Břeclav into the Thaya water meadows, which have remained unregulated and unchanged since primeval times. Along the way the canoeist will experience not only the flora of the area, but also its fauna, such as mud turtles, white-tailed eagles, black storks and the brightly-coloured kingfishers.

Even the shy beaver can be spotted occasionally, and a good way to see more of nature’s more reclusive inhabitants is to enlist the services of a nature guide. And although the March-Thaya water meadows are still relatively undiscovered, it is possible to investigate them by bike as well, thanks to an outstanding network of cycling paths. With no steep ascents, the routes lead over gently rolling hillocks covered with vineyards and fields. But whether one chooses a hiking trail, a cycling path or a waterway to explore Austria and its neighbouring countries, an increasing number of holiday guests take pleasure in doing this using their own muscle power instead of an immense amount of horsepower. It is thus also no wonder that many of Austria’s cross-border hiking trails and bike paths have now become well known far beyond the national borders.