Where are we talking about? The stunning country of Austria. The country which brought you The Sound of Music (well, at least inspired it), Swarovski crystals, RedBull, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gustav Klimt and some delicious food, for example schnitzel. Not only that, but it has some of the highest peaks and some of the largest protected wildlife (or wilderness) parks in Europe and, to really show how committed they are to nature, they recently voted an ex-green party leader as president. So their passion for nature is now not just cultural, but officially political. As such, if you are planning a holiday from the UAE and feel like you are in need of some nature therapy, this is your place. Read on to find out about the six best ways to get your nature fix in Austria.
1 Go wild
Discover the power of wild herbs in cooking, healing and natural remedies. The school of wild herbs run by “Wanderhotels” offers relaxed guided hikes which will teach you to identify these wild treasurers. Then learn how to use these plants in practical cooking lessons where you’ll be shown how to create delicious meals, health-giving drinks or natural remedies for home use. You will also learn about the origin, nature and healing properties of the different herbs. Nowadays wild herbs are a sign of unspoiled nature, which you will be able to immerse yourself in as a guest of the hiking hotel.
2 Enjoy the sounds of salzburg
Visit Salzburg, a metropolis city with a greenback drop. The stunningly beautiful landscape is the backdrop to the city centre which offers a variety of cultural activities. The setting of the classic Julie Andrews film The Sound of Music, Salzburg is a city like no other. You can enjoy a picnic by the river or explore the magical Baroque gardens of the Mirabell and Hellbrunn Palaces. Cyclists are well catered for, with a great network of cycle paths and Salzburg being recognised as Austria’s most bicycle friendly city. You can also dine at the oldest restaurant in the world, Stiftskeller and enjoy a concert by local musicians of Mozart’s best work.
3 Be a park ranger
Sign up to volunteer with the Nature Park Rangers and get to work getting your hands dirty. Spend the day clearing meadows, ready for the cows to come in for the summer, before settling down to a traditional meal cooked over a fire in front of a ranger’s hut.
Willi Seifert, managing director of the High Alps Nature Park Zillertal Alps says, “Many come and volunteer because they are trying to re-establish a connection with nature. The people often come from urban areas. They want to escape the urban trap and get away from everything that makes their daily lives so structured, whether it’s their PC or mobile phone, the constant deadlines and appointments. They can spend a week completely away from it all with us – they stay in nature reserve partner establishments, some of which don’t have mobile phone reception. Many also want to give something back to nature, or achieve something meaningful in a group with a common goal.”
4 Hike the peaks
Explore the vast, untouched nature of The Hohe Tauern National Park which connects the highest peaks of the provinces Tirol, SalzburgerLand and Carinthia. Have a National Park Ranger take you to places you would never find on your own. There you will discover many of the wilderness’s deepest secrets and learn the names of rare flowers dotting the alpine meadow. The Rangers enjoy sharing their expert knowledge about the area and about the season – each of which has its own charm and different aspects to relish. National Park Ranger Emanuel Egger says, “Being a ranger gives you the opportunity to pass on your knowledge and experience on guided tours. When you hear one of the visitors say ‘A-haa’, or you hear an ‘Ooooh’ of amazement, then that is definitely one of the best moments in my job. Apart from that I love the different lights created by nature – the pinks and reds of dawn, or the turquoise blue of glacier ice. I always loved being outdoors from a young age. From the very start I enjoyed combining this with working with people. I’m still motivated by telling people about and helping them to understand nature.”.
5 Horse-ride on alpine treks
Horses have long been used for crossing the Alps and this traditional experience allows you to experience nature of the Großglockner, in the Hohe Tauern National Park up close. You will have a chance to meet and bond with your horse before setting off on a dreamy adventure of deep valleys, pastures, rocks and foaming waterfalls. From sweet meadows to shady forests you will discover the glorious nature of the Alps by day and, in the evenings, bed down in a cosy hut where you can unwind and reflect.
6 stay on a working farm
The perfect nature holiday for families with small kids who can’t hike very far, a farm stay will offer all of the members of the family the chance to cut off from the normal hustle and bustle of life and realign with a more natural daily schedule and cycle. The day kicks of with a good hearty, organic breakfast with ingredients from the farm. Next, its time for a round of the farm’s animals – feeding them, milking them, tending to their needs. Next, the herb and vegetable gardens need some attention. You are invited to take part, or to just go and relax and enjoy the farmyard’s gardens, or the surrounding countryside, as you wish. Either way, this is a taste of authentic living which is a perfect antidote to the somewhat sureally unnatural world we can often find ourselves in.
For more on Austria’s nature immersion holidays, visit www.austria.info. Emirates flies to Austria twice a day (prices start at Dh1,600) and three times a day to Munich, which is actually closer to some Austrian regions than Vienna. Etihad also flies daily to Vienna and twice a day to Munich.