The picturesque Alpine country of Austria is one of Europe's winter sports hotspots with really family friendly skiing and snowboarding resorts. This landlocked country is less popular as a family destination in the summer months, but the lovely scenery and sparkling lakes more than make up for the lack of seaside. The plethora of outdoor pursuits like swimming, cycling and hiking also make it a great place for a family holiday in the summertime.
In the heart of Europe, Austria runs from the Alps in the west to Vienna and the Danube in the east. For 6 centuries it was the heart of the mighty Hapsburg Empire, which at its peak, included what is now Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic along with much of Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans.
There are few places as splendid as the limestone chain of mountains shared between Austria and Bavaria. The Austrian Alps break into three chains including the High or Central Alps, the Northern Limestone Alps and the Southern Limestone Alps. There are fairytale villages, great ski resorts, quaint little towns, castles and everywhere the views are stunning.
The Austrian Alps are a year round destination. The winters are snowy - perfect for mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding and the summers are mild - perfect for hiking and sightseeing. The sights and attractions are very accessible. There is a great railway system and an extensive and well maintained road network.
Alpine resorts in Austria are real, friendly and despite expanding enormously over the last 20 years, the development has been in good taste, with traditional looking chalets perched among ancient domed churches. Austrian Alpine resorts are fun, welcoming and remain bustling in summer, when the valleys are filled with climbers and walkers who come to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
We stayed just outside Zell am See - about an hour from Salzburg. The highlights of our week here were:
* The wonderful Alpine walks - especially one day when we hiked the Kaprun Valley and Sigmund Thun gorge - just outside the village of Kaprun. Mountains, meadows, cows and cowbells, alpine flowers, a dramatic river gorge and wooden walkway through it - this place is so spectacular.
* Krimml waterfalls - the largest waterfalls in Europe - breath-taking but it is a steep and hard walk to the middle, never mind the top!
* The Eagles Nest - actually over the border in Germany, but just over an hour's drive from Zell am See. This was Hitler's teahouse, perched on top of a mountain, 6,000 feet up. You get a real sense of history here, wonderful views and a bus ride up a steep mountain road that is not for the faint hearted!
* Hallein Salt mines - a wonderful day out. It is educational - you learn about salt mining and how it made Salzburg wealthy, but also fun - with a train and boat ride and 2 slides into the mine.
* The Schmittenhohe - the cable-car ride up this mountain at Zell am See is unmissable. You glide slowly up the mountain and the views open out before you - it is beautiful. We combined this with a boat ride on the lake at Zell am See which was a lovely day out.