When I started travel blogging in 2012, I would have never guessed Austria would be one of the countries I'd write about most. Ten trips in nine years' time. I even managed to grab a few days in Innsbruck before COVID-19 hit Europe.
The lovely Katrin, who is my contact person at the Belgian office of the Austrian National Tourism Board, has become not only one of my favorite people to work with but also a dear friend.
The daypack I lug around everywhere is Austrian, and some of my most fun and impactful travel memories were created in Austria.
I'd like to share some of them with you.
You know, while writing this post, I first wrote the sentence above as “I'd like to share some of you with them” and I think it's because that is what I'd truly love to do. To take you all there, to the fresh air in the mountains, the culture of the cities, and the people in the valleys who manage to successfully melt tradition with innovation in more ways than one.
This is what Austria means to me.
1. Facing my fear of heights during a sunrise hike
This experience had such an impact on me, I got it tattooed on my wrist. But let me rewind.
I was on a road trip through several Austrian provinces with two other Belgian bloggers and Katrin. Eight days packed with the most diverse activities, from boating to mining our own gemstones and going on a bike ride in Salzburg. Oh, and hiking up a mountain for sunrise.
I won't go into detail here about the hike itself as I've written about it before but I do want to say that it signified a turning point in my battle against my fear of heights.
For years, I had tried to gently challenge myself whenever there was a sight I wanted to see that was just a bit “higher up”. I climbed towers, walked castle walls, and took many a cable car (most of which in Austria, by the way), but the decision to do so – or not – had always been mine, and I'd only gently touched the edges of my comfort zone.
Hiking to the top of the Hornfeldspitz was different.
Of course, I could have decided not to join the activity, and maybe I would have done just that if it had been another trip, organized by another person. But I knew Katrin had my back and we had a knowledgeable guide with us to lead the way.
Did I make it to the top? Did I freeze on the way up? You'll have to read my post about that trip to find out, but I can tell you I will never forget that morning on that mountain.
2. Learning the Waltz in Vienna
I started dancing when I was 11. It started with some basic jazz classes after school but I quickly switched to hip hop, which I've been doing ever since (minus my current COVID break). I've dabbled in other styles and have always wanted to learn local dances on my travels.
Enter that one trip to Vienna.
I had planned to spend a day wandering around the Austrian capital before starting the road trip I mentioned above but then got the opportunity to take a group Waltz lesson at Elmayer, a ballroom institute in the center of the city.
I jumped on the chance, packed my heels, and entered the dance school. Not knowing how experienced the other students would be, I nervously waiting for the teacher to arrive. When he did, he informed me that none of the other students had shown up and so I'd be getting a private class!
You can read here how that went. All I'll say is that I occasionally still do a little 1, 2, 3 around my apartment.
3. Eating cake in the shape of a ski jump… on top of a ski jump!
Given the number of times I've been to Austria, you may assume that I'm a skier. I'm not. I had a few goes at the sport and while my arm-and-leg coordination was pretty swell (thank you, years of dance classes), my fear of heights (and speed, and crashing into a tree) didn't exactly make me fall in love with it.
Knowing this, you can imagine the top of a ski jump wouldn't be a great place for me to be either.
But it was!
The Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck isn't just any ski jump. It was designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid, has a viewing platform right where the skiers start their jumps, and has a restaurant where they serve ski-jump cake. I'm not kidding!
If you've been following the blog for a while, you know how much I love cake, and this was definitely the most special cake I've ever had.
4. Following a cow parade from the mountains into the valley
Yup, you read that right, a cow parade! At the end of summer, the farmers in Zillertal, Tyrol, bring their cows down from the mountains into the valley. Not with trucks, but in a day-long parade for which the preparations start days beforehand.
Most of the preparatory work goes to creating the beautiful head decorations the cows wear during the parade. I took so many photos of them when I got up early one morning to follow the cows down into the village where, at the end of the day, a big party was held.
You can see these photos and learn more about the cow parades in this post.
Never had I imagined that I'd be following a parade of cows for a day, let alone have them pose for a photoshoot. It was such a unique experience!
5. Letting the Austrian culinary scene surprise me time and time again
I've said this so often and I need to say it again: Austrian gastronomy is so much more than hearty mountain food and if you don't visit some of the many culinary gems on your trip, you're missing out.
I had what easily could have been a Michelin-star meal at a family-owned hotel in Ischgl. I still dream about that chocolate mousse dessert. I met young chefs who experimented with centuries-old recipes and cooks who went out into the woods on a daily basis to pick fresh herbs.
The Austrian food scene has something for everyone. You can enjoy an elaborate breakfast buffet at your hotel in the morning, re-energize with a filling meat and cheese platter after a long hike, and enjoy a refined 5-course meal in the evening.
I cannot share one particular culinary memory of Austria because I have so many great ones. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, please let it be that in Austria, everything you do is an experience worth remembering. From the moment you wake up, until the moment you go back to sleep.
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This post is brought to you in collaboration with the Austrian National Tourism Board.
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