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Austria home to the ‘best bathing waters’ in Europe, new ranking claims

Bathing waters at more than four out of five beaches in the European Union are of "excellent" quality, with Austria, Malta and Greece topping a European Environment Agency list.

Austria home to the 'best bathing waters' in Europe, new ranking claims
Austria's lake Worthersee, in the state of Carinthia. (Photo by Branislav Knappek on Unsplash)

Austria tops the ranking of best bathing waters in the European Union, according to a European Environment Agency study published this week, with 97.7 per cent of the measured spots showing “excellent” quality.

Austria’s famous lakes and rivers topped the ranking, followed by Malta, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus. Last year, the Alpine country was second in the ranking, behind Cyprus, as The Local reported.

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

The bathing waters are quality classified according to the two microbiological parameters (Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci) defined in the Bathing Water Directive, EEA said.

In Austria, 261 bathing areas are defined as “EU bathing waters”, which means that the quality of your water is regularly examined according to uniform criteria throughout Europe.

Besides checking for germs and contamination, the health authorities also report on visibility and temperature, and the population can view the water quality using an official app.

European bathing waters

In 2021, 84.8 per cent of bathing sites in the EU were classified as “excellent”. In addition, the minimum water quality standards were met at 95.2 per cent of areas, according to the agency.

The quality of coastal sites is generally better than that of inland sites, the report showed. The share of poor-quality sites has generally dropped since 2013. In 2021, poor bathing waters constituted 1.5 per cent of all places in the EU, compared to 2 per cent in 2013, which shows improvements in the management of poor bathing sites in Europe.

READ ALSO: Discover Austria: Five beautiful hikes and destinations south of Vienna

Under EU rules, bathing water sites that have been classified as “poor” for five consecutive years are slapped with a permanent ban.

The study follows water quality in the European Union countries, Albania, and Switzerland. Since 2021, there is no longer information about 640 bathing sites in the UK as it is no longer reported.

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The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

With its mountain peaks and crystal-clear lakes, Austria has more than its fair share of stunning scenery to fall in love with. And travelling by train can give you the chance to take the views in properly without any distractions. Here are Austria's most scenic train routes.

The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

Semmering rail line in winter

You’ll get epic views whether you travel in summer or winter, but the snow adds to the romanticism. Photo by Miroslav Volek on flickr.

Semmering Railway
Built between 1848 and 1854, the 41-kilometre-long Semmerling line was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1998 and it’s easy to see why: it runs through some jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery between the mountain towns of Semmering and Gloggnitz. It was a huge technical achievement for its time, not least because of the hefty gradient of the line. It was also the first European mountain railway to have a standard gauge track.

You’ll see glorious mountains, obviously, plus huge viaducts – 16 of them, if you’re counting – and 15 tunnels, including one whopping 1,430-metre-long one, and over 100 bridges, as well as plenty of lush forests and deep valleys.

semmeringbahn.at

Mariazeller Bahn

Clear skies are made for scenic train rides. Photo by flightlog on Flickr

Mariazell Railway
Remember we mentioned gauges above? Well, the Mariazell Railway is a narrow-gauge route – built like that because it was a difficult terrain for trains to cross. Running from St Pölten in Lower Austria to Mariazell in Styria, at 84km-long, it’s Austria’s longest narrow-gauge line.

The mountain section (Bergstrecke) of the line is the most picturesque. Get on at Laubenbachmühle where this starts and enjoy the train’s climb to its peak of 892m above sea level in Gösing where you’ll have gorgeous panoramic views and a glimpse of the 1,893-metre-high Ötscher mountain. Stay on board to see viaducts, reservoirs and deep gorges, in particular glimpses of the wild Erlauf gorge.

Want to really make the most of those views? Book a panorama carriage, which gives you super-comfy seats and unobstructed views of the scenery unfolding as the train trundles along. 

mariazellerbahn.at

Perfect peaks and lush valleys await. Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr

Arlberg Railway

The Arlberg raiway is one of Europe’s highest – it climbs to 1,310 metres above sea level at its highest point. It goes up at a fair tilt, too and is one of the steepest passenger lines out there.

Connecting Innsbruck and Bludenz (on the Swiss border), it’s the only east-west mountain line in Austria. Visual delights include the Tyrolean Trisanna Bridge near the hilltop castle Wiesberg, snow-peaked mountains, the 6.6-mile-long Arlberg tunnel, and verdant valleys and forests at the Arlsberg pass  – go at sunset/sunrise and look to your right for the best views.

arlbergbahn.at

Schafberg Railway

There are – unsurprisingly – a lot of steep railways in Austria and this one is no exception. This is the steepest steam cog-railway in the country and has been running between St Wolfgang in Salzkammergut up to the 1,783-metre Schafberg mountain since 1893.  

It’s a gorgeous journey up the mountain with the views getting better and better the higher you go. At the top, you’ll have (weather-permitting) clear views over Salzkammergut’s glittering lakes, as well as the soaring peaks of neighbouring mountain ranges, such as the Höllengebirge.

schafbergbahn.at/

Tauern Railway
If you’re heading to Venice by train, then this is the most scenic route to take and it’s worth the trip in its own right, too. You’ll pass stunning valleys and gorges as the line winds its way up the High Tauern mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps.

The best views are on the right-hand side of the train when you’re heading in this direction, so try to get a window seat if you can.

oebb.at

Are you even in Austria if your train doesn’t pass a field of cows? Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr.

Zillertal Railway
There’s always something rather romantic about travelling by steam train and the traditional Zillertal locomotive with its wooden carriages is no exception. It putters gently by the side of the Ziller river along the 32-kilometre stretch between the towns of Jenbach and Mayrhofen, giving you ample opportunity to take in the views as you pass picture-perfect villages and gorgeous valleys surrounded by mountains. 

If you’ve got your heart set on the romanticism of steam trains, make sure you check which train you’re getting as the steam-powered engine doesn’t run as frequently as the faster diesel one. If you haven’t pre-booked, get there early to make sure you get a seat as it can get very busy.
zillerbahn.at

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