Top tips

  • Take cash. Credit card machines and ATMs do exist, but many villages are still very much a cash society.
  • Get up early for breakfast – many B&Bs stop serving by 0930.
  • Get on the slopes early too – Austrian powder hounds don’t seem to sleep.
  • Nearly 80% of the country is Roman Catholic, so stock up on Saturdays as there’s no Sunday shopping.
  • Obey road signs, speed limits, parking signs and no entry signs as the traffic cops are some of the most efficient in the world.

GEtting there

Austria's resorts are best served by either Salzburg's WA Mozart International Airport (salzburg-airport.com) or Innsbruck Airport (flughafen-innsbruck.at) in the heart of the mountains. Carriers to Salzburg include Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), Austrian Airlines (austrian.com), BMI Baby (bmibaby.com), British Airways (ba.com), Fly Be (Flybe.com, KLM (klm.com), Lufthansa (lufthansa.com), Monarch (flymonarch.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com), Thomson (thomsonfly.com) and Sky Europe (skyeurope.com); while Innsbruck has Austrian Airlines (austrian.com), British Airways (ba.com), Sky Europe (skyeurope.com) and Welcome Air (welcomeair.com). Visitors to the Alps also often arrive via Germany's Munich International (munich-airport.de/EN), which has a multitude of international carriers and the smaller Klagenfurt (klagenfurt-airport.at). Austria's train network (raileurope.com) is excellently maintained, while bus services throughout Europe to Austria can be booked through Eurolines (eurolines.com). Austria's road system is also very good with high-speed links to Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. A vignette, or road tax sticker, must be bought if you intend to use Austria's motorway network.

red tape

Austria has been a member of the EU since 1995. Member states require no visas but foreign nationals from the rest of the world need to apply for permission to enter.

health

As part of the EU, Austria is governed by European health standards. Health insurance is recommended and EU citizens should carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

eating

Like France, Austria is full of restaurants covering a narrow area of the culinary spectrum. Happily, they do it well, and traditional Austrian cuisine is the stuff of banqueting legend. Roasted pigs, chicken parts, breaded hams and potatoes abound, and of course there are more schnitzels, strudels and sausage dishes than any sane person could attempt on a week's holiday. Desserts are not for the faint-hearted or weight-conscious either – there's Austria's famous Kaiserschmarren dessert (shredded pancake stuffed with raisins and served with fruit compote), rich Sachertorte and apple strudel drowning in whipped cream. For the modern traveller, however, this culinary cul-de-sac can pose a problem. While traditional dishes – possibly served by buxom wenches in dirndls – are undeniably part of Austria's charm, such a conservative approach to the joys of worldwide cuisine is also limiting. For those with special dietary needs it might be enough to put you off going at all. As one recent commentator noted, “In Austria, even the vegetarians eat meat.” That aside, a huge part of Austria's appeal for the mainstream eater is its forthright approach to grub. Mountain restaurants are usually filled to bursting point at lunch times, serving stodge stalwarts such as burger and chips, pizzas and spag bol. Austria has realized that holidaymakers just need some cheap energy during the day to keep going. For many skiers, this truism makes a refreshing change, and means that it's often cheaper to eat on the mountain than to go out for an evening meal. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalization. St Anton, Kitzbühel and Ischgl have several world-class restaurants both on and off the mountain, as well as upmarket après-ski joints and trendy cafés. And Austrian supermarkets – M-Preis in particular – are well stocked with fodder for health-food fanatics and specialist foods for those with dietary requirements. However, for the moment, it would be safe to say that while a cultural revolution is well underway on the slopes, Austria's kitchens still lack variation and non-meat and/or dairy eaters will seriously struggle.

crime & safety

Crime is generally at levels lower than in European cities. Skis and belongings can be left on balconies and outside restaurants, but thefts do occur, especially in the bigger, thriving resorts. Despite issuing on-the-spot fines (for traffic or street offences), which must be paid immediately, the Austrian police are generally fair. Motorway drivers should be aware that a vignette, or road tax sticker, is essential, as it's difficult to drive too far without meeting random checkpoints.

language

The official language is German, although Austrians speak a version with several everyday words changed. English is widely spoken, especially in the resorts.

getting around

Driving is standard European (right-hand side). A valid driving licence from your home country is fine. Generally speaking, people drive with care and consideration and tend to obey all signs. Be aware that the high speeds you may have enjoyed in Germany can't be applied once the border is crossed: traffic offences are enforced with immediate fines.

car hire

Most major hire car companies (easycar.com, hertz.com, avis.com etc) have offices in airports and cities. Usual age restrictions apply.

mountain passes

If you're planning on taking a mountain pass between resorts, check whether it's open before you travel. If you're relying on sat nav, be sure to check whether the route it selects involves a pass.

public transport

Austria's superb public transport network has been designed from the ground upwards, and is based on the idea that intercity transport is by train, with connections by local bus companies at major stations to complete the local network. There are several discount schemes in operation on the trains, including the VorteilsCard (for around €20), which gives under 26s a discount of 45% for every journey. Most resorts have train links to their nearest major airport. The ÖBB website is a fantastic resource when planning trips by public transport (oebb.at).

opening hours

Shops are generally open 0900-1200, before reopening from 1400 until 1900. For cheap supplies (often with an attached café), the supermarket chain M-Preis is unbeatable.

green travel tip

To avoid air travel, take the Eurostar from London to Brussels, where you can pick up the excellent (and we think underrated) Bergland Express (berglandexpress.com). This is an overnight service that runs from Brussels directly to various resorts in the Austrian Tyrol including Innsbruck, Kitzbühel, St Johann in Tirol and Zell am See.

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