Travel: Where to find famous faraway sites whilst staying in Austria

Travel to some parts of the world still looks uncertain for this summer, so where can you go in Austria to find sun, sea (sort of) and other faraway attractions, which you might be missing out on? 

Sun sets over the mountains of Carinthia  as people sail on the Worthersee lake (ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)
Sun sets over the mountains of Carinthia as people sail on the Worthersee lake (ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP)

Ibiza or Paris in Vienna?

Last summer, Vienna’s public transport network Wiener Linea boasted it could offer the same experience on the river beach at the Danube as in Ibiza, but “without the oligarchs”. This was a veiled allusion to Austria’s “Ibiza Affair” which brought down the previous coalition government. 

READ MORE: Austrian far-right leader resigns over ‘Ibiza affair’

This year again, many will flock to the city’s Copa Kagrana beach near Vienna’s Uno City and enjoy cocktails on the city’s sand beach in between dips in the “Donau” as the sun sets. 

Another option for those missing Parisian charm is to make your way to the capital’s Servitenviertel, a charming network of cobbled streets and pavement cafes which has been described as the “Little Montmartre” of Vienna.

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Norway or Italy in Hallstatt? 

Hallstatt, a tiny village of around 800 people regularly attracted one million visitors a year before the coronavirus pandemic hit. It became one of the most instagrammed places in the world in 2019, according to the magazine Harpers Bazaar. One reason for its popularity is it is rumoured to be the inspiration for the fictional Norwegian-themed village of Arundel in the film Frozen.

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Now is the perfect time to see it before it is swamped with tourists again once international travel resumes. 

If you prefer southern Europe, news organisation CNN has also compared picturesque Hallstatt  to Italy’s Cinqueterre. Both locations feature instagrammable houses set under dramatic cliffs, overlooking water.

The Caribbean in Carinthia?

If you are looking for warm, turquoise waters for swimming, there is no need to fly all the way to the Caribbean. The beautiful Wörthersee Lake has everything you require. This is one of the largest lakes in Carinthia and also one of the warmest, staying at an average balmy 20 °C between June and September. 

READ MORE: The 10 best places for open water swimming in Austria

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Barcelona Gaudi-style architecture and Icelandic thermal waters in Styria 

Lovers of strange architecture should seek out buildings in Austria by the eccentric architect  Friedensreich Hundertwasser. His Hundertwasser Haus in Vienna is one of the city’s top tourist attractions, but for those looking for something off the beaten track should head to the Rogner Bad Blumau in Styria. 

The volcanic thermal waters are surrounded by buildings which show off Hundertwasser’s love of tree gardens on roofs and feature his typical curves and colourful facades. The bath’s Vulkania healing lake even features underwater music. 

Frolic in Provencal lavender fields or Tuscan vineyards in Southern Styria

Southern Styria is often described as the Tuscany of Austria, due to its vineyards, gentle rolling hills and small farms and forests populated by deer. It’s also the perfect place to pretend you are frolicking in a Provencal style lavender field at the Wunsum organic farm. Situated in pretty Kitzeck, the highest wine-growing town in Europe, the farm features the largest lavender fields in Styria. 

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Useful links 

Vienna Tourist Information

Hallstatt Tourist Office

Visit Wörthersee

Rogner Bad Blumau

Biobetrieb Wunsum (German language)

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EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.