At the peak of Habsburg megalomania, the Austrian Empire was one of the largest in history, encompassing much of Europe from Poland and Hungary in the east to Spain in the west. Although the mighty empire crumbled during World War II, Aus tria remains a complex, multiethnic country. Drawing on centimes of Habsburg political maneuvering, Austria has become a skillful mediator between Eastern and Western Europe, connecting its eight bordering countries. Today, Austria owes much of its allure to the overpowering Alps, which dominate two-thirds of its surface. The mention of Austria evokes images of onion-domed churches set against snow-capped alpine peaks, castles rising from lush meadows of golden flowers, and 12th-century monasteries towering over the majestic Danube.
LIFE AND TIMES HISTORY
HOLY ROMANS AND HABSBURGS (800-1740). Austria had its first taste of imperialism in the mid-9th century when Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, expanded his kingdom eastward. When he died, the kingdom collapsed and was overrun by pillaging tribes. After driving them out, Holy Roman Emperor Otto II entrusted the Bavarian Margrave Liutpoldus (a.k.a. Leopold of Babenberg) with the defense of these territories. During his reign, Austria gained its name: Ostarrichi (Old High German for Osterreich), which meant Eastern Realm.
ONE WEEK Begin in the Western Austrian mountain town of Kitzbiihel (1 day; 114) to take advantage of its hiking and skiing opportunities. Stop in Salzburg (2 days; 101) to see the home of Mozart and The Sound of Music. Move on to the Salzkammergut region to wonder at the Dachstein Ice Caves (1 day; 109). End by basking in the glory of Vienna (3 days) bruck, where rtd mountains meet (2 days; 110), then swing by Kitzbiihel (2 days). Spend another two days wander ing Hohe Tauern National Park (109), visiting the Krimml Waterfalls and the GroBglockner HochalpenstralSe. Next, tour Hallstatt and its nearby ice caves (2 days; 108). Follow your ears to Salzburg (3 days), then check out rural Austria in Griinau (1 day; 109). Head to Graz (1 day; 115) for its throbbing nightlife. Finally, make your way to Vienna for a grand finale of romance, waltzes, and high coffeehouse culture (4 days).