Before visiting Austria for the first time, most people have a vision of snow-capped peaks, tumbling cataracts, tilted mountain meadows, gingerbread chalets and pretty onion-domed churches. All these exist in abundance, but Austria is much more than alpine vistas and appealing hillside villages.

The country, stretching some 700 kilometres from the Swiss border on the shores of the Bodensee in the west to the edge of the flat Hungarian plain in the east, encompasses rolling hills, broad valleys, wide rivers, fertile farmland, delightful cities, magnificent Baroque architecture, as well as some of Europe’s most spectacular alpine scenery.

In the past the country wielded authority and influence far beyond its physical size. The Habsburg dynasty – rulers of Austria for over 600 years, built the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a formidable world power and at the time were the most dominant force in Europe. Such wealth led to a flowering of music, literature and architecture, a cultural inheritance that visitors can enjoy today. The generous patronage offered by the Habsburgs attracted European composers in the 18th and 19th centuries – Beethoven, Brahms, Hayden, Mozart, Schubert and the Strausses all came to Austria at some stage in their careers. Today, this rich musical heritage lives on in the form of the Vienna Philharmonic, the unrivalled Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus.

Whilst the Alps with their dramatic scenery, fine resorts and opportunities for outdoor activities from skiing and snowboarding to hiking and climbing remain the main attraction for most visitors, Austria’s cities reward exploration. Vienna, the capital, as the seat of the Habsburgs, is built on a suitably imperial scale - there are palaces, art collections, museums and splendid 19th century architecture lining broad tree-shaded avenues. Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, is an intoxicatingly Baroque city whose skyline is punctuated with countless ornate spires, domes, belfries and turrets. Further west, Innsbruck, situated in the valley of the River Inn at the intersection of several Alpine passes, harbours a precious collection of mediaeval buildings where the upper storeys of the houses almost meet above the narrow streets.

Friendly people complement the spectacular scenery, excellent food, well- developed resorts and high standards of services and facilities. Wherever you stay you will experience ‘Gemütlichkeit’, an Austrian term meaning a combination of hospitality, contentment and cosiness.