Tuesday, 14 July 2015


Growing up in Manchester, one of my earliest memories is the smell of steam. Dad worked for the railway, which menat free train travel for all the family, and so my childhood holidays all started on the train from Manchester Vicotira station. We went to  Blackpool, North Wales and sometimes as far afield as Devon and Cornwall.

Im still  a lover of trains, (even if they aren't steam) but have been seduced by long -haul travel,so  I haven't  had a rail holiday for years.
deciding it was time to change, I took a trip to Austria. Starting in Salzburg, I  took the train to Graz and then on to Vienna.


It is 50 years since The Sound of Music hit the big screen, but there is more to Salzburg than the Von Trapps and the movie that was set here. The beautiful city is a fascinating mix of classical culture and historical idiosyncrasies.

Much of Salzburg’s appeal lies in its authenticity. Even modern shops have traditional iron hanging signs and people here are seen wearing national costume of lederhosen for men and dirndl skirts and peasant blouses for women as their daily wear.  Upmarket ski resorts are a short train ride away, and magical markets abound in November and December.


*Music escapes from every doorway and a gentle introduction  to the music of Salzburg’s most famous son – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - is a tea time concert by the Mozart Players in the city’s Kuenberg Hall. The programme is a kind of ‘Greatest Hits’ hosted by a costumed compere who provides facts about the composer’s life and works.



Nearby is the lovely   St Peter Stiftskeller, a Benedictine abbey in the heart of the old town which has been the meeting place for princes and bishops, celebrities and merchants for over a millennium. A visit by Charlemagne in 803 is its claim to be Europe’s oldest hostelry. Austrian fine dining includes specialities such as consommés with dumplings, stuffed chicken served on grappa risotto, and chocolate soufflé served with sour cherries. 

The palace of Hellbrun, painted in Imperial yellow, was the summer palace of the Archbishop Markus Sittikus 91612-1619) built purely for his amusement. It is dotted with trick fountains which soak the unsuspecting visitor and Italian style mazes. Next year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of Hellbrun with exhibitions planned.


The Salzburg Festival takes place each year in July and August, attracting the cream of the world’s musicians and music lovers and famous for its glamorous audiences.


A landmark in the heart of the city, the medieval fortress towers over the rooftops and encompasses 900 years of architectural history. Ascend by funicular railway or by foot

The Salzburg Marionette theatre.  More high art than puppet show, this family owned theatre puts on productions that are definitely not just for the children and include opera and Shakespeare.

TIP: Use a Salzburg ‘City card’ to get into tourist attractions, museums and palaces


The train ride from Salzburg to Graz is a picturesque ride through the  Austrian mountains, old salt mines, unspoilt pasture land, pretty ski resorts and charming towns with old-fashioned railway stations. The OBB trains have big windows to view the passing scenery, and refreshments on board)



Austria’s second city, Graz, is the heart of the region of Styria, and is Austria’s first and only culinary capital in 2008. So it is no surprise that food is one of the main attractions here 

Starting at the main square the Hautplatz Graz has a number of  food –themed walks, including ‘Stop and eat’ tours which include drop-ins at various restaurants and wine bars to sample local delicacies incluing Pumpkin seed oil, the regional delicacy – dark green and viscous, with a nutty taste. Drizzle on salads and desserts.

 The farmers’ market beside the opera house has the best local produce and Styria is known for its wines, notably weissburgunder, sauvignon blanc and schilcher rosé. A ‘Beer walk’ takes in ales from Styria’s 40 breweries.

In August the historic centre of Graz turns into a giant open air restaurant for the ‘Long Table of Graz’, a dinner with matching wines and musical entertainment for 700 people

The city has 50 inner courtyards many of them home to small intimate jazz clubs which are famous as far afield as Brazil. The amazing armoury (Landeszeughaus) contains the largest collection of antique armaments in the world.

Just 10 minutes' stroll over the River Mur, by contrast, is the bright blue contemporary art gallery (Kunsthaus) and no trip to Graz is complete without a walk up the stairs of the Schlossberg to the city's clock tower – where ond finds great views and an excellent restaurant.


The journey from Graz to Vienna is an impressive ride along the UNESCO World Heritage Semmering railway (between Mürzzuschlag and Wiener Neustadt), one of the world's first mountain railways. Sit on the right hand side for best views; this is a breath-taking journey


Austria’s capital waltzes between  tradition and modern life, from the 150 year old Ringstrasse to its Life Ball, one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world.

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Emperor Franz Joseph and Vienna will be alive with events which celebrate the last century which has seen the city change from an opulent imperial capital to a thriving contemporary city.


Don’t miss:

Schönbrunn Palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Coffee houses epitomise Viennese culture and there are a number of historic ones around the city. Visit Viennese institution the Hawelka with its famous Buchteln yeast buns filled with jam.

The Spanish Riding School with its Lipizzan horses perform in the Winter Riding School in the Hofburg.

Vienna is synonymous with music, home to the Vienna Philharmonic and the world-famous Vienna Boys’ Choir. The Vienna State Opera houses some of the best operatic performances in the world


Ferry trip to Bratislava: Visit the Hungarian and Slovak capitals Budapest and Bratislava by high speed boat from Vienna.





Fact box:

Railbookers offer tailor made holidays by rail to Europe and beyond. Their 5 night holiday,

‘Highlights of Austria’, visits Salzburg, Graz and Vienna, with scenic train journeys in between.

020 3780 2253.