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TOURISM

Discover Austria: Six off-the-beaten-track towns to visit

Summer’s not over yet, so for anyone still hesitant about international travel, these off the beaten track locations in Austria could be worth exploring.

Discover Austria: Six off-the-beaten-track towns to visit
A large inflatable beer balloon floats by the Wilder Kaiser mountain in the Tyrolean alps, near Saint Johann. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Anyone living in Austria will be familiar with the must-see destinations – Vienna, Salzburg, Hallstatt and the Großglockner

But Austria is more than just the main cities and famous mountain towns.

In fact, there are plenty of other gems to discover across the country – you just have to know where to look.

Just keep in mind that some coronavirus restrictions are still in place across Austria, such as the 3G rule (tested, vaccinated or recovered) for entering restaurants, hotels and cafes. You can find the current rules here.

UPDATED: What are the rules for entering Austria right now?

Here are six towns off the beaten track in Austria and why you should add them to your travel list.

Zell am See

With luxury hotels and lifts leading to the ski slopes on Schmittenhöhe mountain, Zell am See can seem like a fancy lakeside ski resort town at first glance.

But with the Grossglockener, Kitzsteinhorn Glacier and Hohe Tauern National Park all within easy reach, Zell am See offers more than just high-end pampering and winter sports.

It can also serve as a convenient base for adventure and getting a taste of Austrian mountain culture.

Plus, Zell and See is just 90 minutes from Salzburg by car, making it very accessible for anyone visiting the home of Mozart and looking for a detour.

The Grand Hotel. Von BestZeller – Eigenes Werk, Copyrighted free use.

St. Wolfgang

To experience a charming, Austrian lakeside village surrounded by mountains, look no further than St. Wolfgang.

Nestled in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria, St. Wolfgang is located on the steep banks of Schafberg Mountain and overlooks Lake Wolfgangsee.

It’s a peaceful place with ferries chugging across the lake and wooden boat houses dotted along the shore.

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Although St. Wolfgang can still get busy with tourists in the peak summer months, it’s not as high profile as places like Hallstadt, which makes visiting the town a more enjoyable experience.

St. Wolfgang is also less than an hour from Salzburg by car, making it an accessible day trip location for people still unsure about staying in hotels overnight during a pandemic.

Saint Wolfgang, one of Austria’s most charming villages. By Silverije – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

St. Johann 

St. Johann is an alpine market town in Tyrol, close to famous Kitzbühel. But location and skiing are the only things the two towns have in common.

While Kitzbühel is all glitz and glamour with high prices, St. Johann is more laidback – and more affordable.

READ MORE: How to save money while travelling around Austria

Think traditional pubs, cosy restaurants and independent shops with a weekly farmer’s market (in the summer) and a lively winter apres ski scene in the winter (in non-Covid times).

This is why St. Johann is well-worth considering as a base for exploring the Tyrolean Alps. 

And with the Kitzbüheler Horn, the Wilder Kaiser mountains, Hintersteiner See and Schwarzsee all on the town’s doorstep, there is something to do – whatever the season.

Eisenstadt

You won’t find Eisenstadt on many Austrian travel itineraries. 

But as the capital of Burgenland and home to the grand Esterházy Palace, it can be an impressive place to visit to learn more about Austria’s history and culture.

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For example, music by Classical composer Joseph Haydn can be heard at the beautiful Haydn Hall in Esterházy Palace, and Austrian wine can be sampled at the city’s wineries and bars.

So, if arts, culture and gastronomy are your thing, Eisenstadt offers a compact alternative to larger cities like Vienna, Salzburg and Graz.

The Schloss Esterhazy palace in Eisenstadt, Austria Photo: ROBERT JAEGER / APA / AFP

Neusiedl am See

Visiting Burgenland can feel like being in another country.

Not only does the eastern province enjoy a milder climate compared to the west of Austria, it’s also a prominent wine growing area.

This gives it an almost mediterranean vibe – at least in the summer. 

One of the many fun activities you can get up to in Neusiedl. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Neusiedl am See is a bustling town in Burgenland on Lake Neusiedl in the heart of Austria’s wine country.

It has a strong arts and culture scene, water sports on the lake, independent businesses and good transport connections with Vienna.

For a summer spot that is not too far off the beaten track, but far enough from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Neusiedl am See ticks all the right boxes.

Nockberge

Disclaimer: the Nockberge in Carinthia is not a town. 

In fact, it’s a region made up of mountains, small towns and villages, but it’s well-worth adding to the list of places to visit – especially for people trying to avoid crowds of people in coronavirus-times. 

FOR MEMBERS: What are the rules for wild camping in Austria?

The Nockberge is tucked away in the south of the country and is less populated and developed than other mountain hot-spots in Austria, like Tyrol and Salzburg.

The Nockberge mountains in Austria. Von Johann Jaritz – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The region enjoys a mild climate and fresh mountain air with a range of activities to enjoy, like hiking and biking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

For those looking for a place to truly get away from it all without having to get on a plane, the Nockberge could be the answer.

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WEATHER

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.

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