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AUSTRIA

Austria is the winter sports center of Europe. However, it is just as popular for summer tourists who visit its historic cities and villages and hike in the magnificent scenery of the Alps.

Summer and winter, large flocks of tourists are drawn to Austria's mighty mountainous scenery. With no less than 62% of the country at an altitude of 500m or more, it's hard to miss the stunning snow-covered peaks and green valleys. Depending on the season, you'll find green mountain meadows or white landscapes as far as you can see, but either way, you won't be disappointed by the grand views. Highlights include for example the High Mountain National Park in the Zimmertal Alps, with peaks up to 3476m, narrow gorges and steep cliffs.

National Park Thayatal combines beautiful valley landscapes with a variety of castles and ruined fortresses. The country's highest peak is called Grossglockner and is located on the border between Carinthia and the East Tyrol. To get a good view, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, with its gorgeous panorama's comes highly recommended. At the feet of mountain peaks you'll find luscious valleys, including the lovely Villgratental. The river Danube created some beautiful valley landscapes, where you'll now find famous vineyards. Wachau and Dunkelsteinerwald in Lower Austra are fine (and protected) examples. To make the image complete, the valley landscapes and hillsides are dotted with countless picturesque villages.

Beside all that rustic, tranquil nature and countryside, Austria has a whole other side too. As one of Europe's former great powers, Austria boasts a wealth of majestic architecture and historic structures. As it was long a centre of power in the Holy Roman Empire, you'll find not only palaces and magnificent city architecture but also grand cathedrals, monasteries and churches. Vienna, the country's capital and most popular destination, is packed with Medieval and Baroque structures. Schönbrunn Palace with its 1441 rooms is the absolute highlight, and every little girls' princess dream. Its zoo, TiergartenSchönbrunn, is the oldest in the world.

The 12th century St. Stephen's Cathedral is the most prominent religious building. Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart, combines delightful Alpine surroundings with a beautifully preserved historic centre. The same goes for Innsbruck, at the heart of Tyrol. TheMariazell Basilica in Mariazell is one of the country's most visited attractions and an important pilgrimage destination. Similar to Schönbrunn Palace is SchlossEsterházy in Eisenstadt, which is situated in the most eastern province. It's said to be one of Austria's most beautiful baroque castles. Neusiedler See, a national park, is also worth seeing in this region.

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