America is proud to be 225 years old, while across the Atlantic, Austria is moving on to its second millennium, taking it all in stride. The elegant palace of Sconbrunn, in Vienna, has been gussied up and now holds concerts in the summer and fall. Vienna has long been the home of many famous musicians and composers, including Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Hayden and Shubert, so you'll hear many familiar concerts. A tour of the Opera House is a must.
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Not far from Vienna, the unusual Melk Abbey and Benedictine Monastery loom over the Danube. They are filled with objects worthy of a perusal. You can sail up the Danube or take a bus from Vienna. Vienna is a sophisticated city with delights around every corner. A carriage ride around the city center is not corny, but an elegant way to take in the magnificence of its dramatic architecture. A stop in a coffee house is always on the agenda. Visit Landtmann next to the Bergtheatre, it's lovely. Café Sacher is old hat to most travelers who have visited Vienna, but for a slice of Sacher Torte, this is the place. Café Central is my favorite. Filled with writers, reporters and elegantly dressed Viennese, you can have breakfast or any other meal while checking out the news in 14 different languages. Demels has pastries and great chocolate.
Austria is filled with fairy-tale cities, and Salzburg is a true picture-postcard city filled with castles, stubes (bistros) and winding streets filled with Mozart memorablia. His birthplace is worth a visit. The famous Salzburg Music Festival each summer is always a lively event. A walking tour of the city reveals all sorts of unusual gardens, castles and churches. Don't miss the Klessheium Palace,now a famous casino. It's a glittering place to win or lose a few bucks. Skiing is terrific around here, with many spas becoming ski resorts in the winter.
But Innsbruck, is one of the best ski areas in Europe. This enchanting city invites skiers, hikers and music lovers to stay awhile.
Visit the Tyrolean Museum of Popular Art, as well as the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof). But the most amazing place is Ambras Castle, a renaissance gem filled with the oddest collection of artifacts I've ever seen. Archduke Ferdinand loved to collect art, armor and instruments of torture. You can ski above the city on superb runs. Even if you don't ski, the lifts will transport you all year to breathtaking heights for eating, hang-gliding and hiking. You can hike down and visit the mountainside zoo filled with alpine animals. The Goldener Adler is a fine hostelry.
Swarovski crystal animals and jewelry are well known over here, but until you arrive at their mountain museum near Innsbruck, you have no idea what they're all about. An enormous man-made mountain covered with grass houses a fairytale museum of crystal, lights, artifacts and of course, a superb shop (the exit goes through the shop) a bistro.
To enter, you pass through fountains, gaze up at enormous laser eyes that change colors, and enter beneath the mountain as if going into a cave. It's a marvelous experience, and the shop has the most unusual offering, most of which we've never seen.Slideshow: A European tour
Another gem of a city is Graz, still using its 16th century town- center. Its gabled town houses now house apartments, shops and even an arsenal for those who love armor and weapons. Take the funicular up the Schlossberg rock with its immense clocktower. Music festivals run all year, and the Hotel Europa is the place to stay.
IF YOU GO: Lufthansa Airlines flys from U.S. gateways to Frankfort and on to Vienna. Austria National Tourist Office:310-477-2038. Lufthansa. 1-800-645-3880. Vienna hotels of note: Hotel Ambassador, Bristol, Hotel im Palais Schwarzenberg, Imperial, Intercontinental and Hotel Kaiserin Elizabeth.