Danube Cycling & Danube Hiking – The Danube Bike Trail (Donauradweg in German) runs alongside Europe’s second longest river, the Danube, starting at the source and ending at its mouth in the Black Sea and it is the most popular cycling route in Europe. The trail passes through no less than 9 European countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. And now there is something for hikers as well – a new long-distance walking trail, The Danube Trail, opened in July 2010. At 450km long, it also runs predominantly along the shores of the Danube, between the Bavarian Passau and the Austrian Grein. Find our more here:http://www.donauregion.at/en/hiking-at-the-donausteig.html

Linz – Upper Austria’s capital, Linz is at once a buzzing metropolis and a lush oasis; a melting pot of nature, culture and industry. As winner of the title 2009 European Capital of Culture, the city lives up to its slogan “Linz, verändert” (“Linz, changes”). Linz has emerged as great place to visit and to live, offering an appealing blend of theatre and music, modern art, history and science. It’s a place where old meets new: historical stucco façades from bygone eras stand proudly alongside architecturally impressive, modern buildings, such as The ARS Electronica Center – the Museum of the Future, which sits majestically on the left bank of the Danube, with its spectacularly illuminated glass facade.

Other cultural highlights include the new southern wing of the Linzer Schloss castle, with its stunning views across the city. This is also the site for one of Austria’s biggest museums. At Voestalpine AG, visitors can experience the process of steel manufacturing first-hand.

ARS Electronica Center in Linz – Enjoy an interactive experience at this hi-tech museum, which explores the many possibilities of new technology. One of the biggest attractions here is the ‘CAVE’ (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), located in the basement. There are few places on earth quite like this which are open to the public. You wear a special 3-D viewfinder to navigate your way through a series of ‘virtual realities’, including outer space and various other iconic landscapes. The museum also features a wide range of interactive exhibits which are great fun for all the family. Short English-language texts are provided and most of the helpful staff speak good English and are on hand to help. The only downside is the museum’s popularity, so it’s a good idea to arrive early and dodge the crowds. You need to book tickets for CAVE as soon as you arrive at the museum. More info: www.aec.at

Linzer Torte – Linz’s signature sweet treat dates back to 1653, which officially makes it the oldest cake recipe in the world. It’s also the area’s most popular souvenir and there are a number of shops offering “Schaubacken” (literally translates as “exhibition baking”) where visitors can try their hand at baking the iconic cake.

Food & Drink – Upper Austrian cuisine is very much steeped in tradition. You won’t have to travel far to find Schweinsbraten mit Knödel (roast pork with dumplings) and Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage). Beer drinking here is not so much a pastime as a way of life. There are numerous breweries dotted around the region, each with their own signature speciality beers. Something you will find all over the region is ‘Most’, an alcoholic apple or pear drink – which is considered by many as the national drink of Upper Austria. There are numerous varieties available, from sweet to dry and from mild to super-strong.

Steyr and Freistadt – A few kilometres from Linz, and worthy of a visit, are two interesting and pretty towns, Steyr and Freistadt. The southerly Steyr is a picturesque town where the fast-flowing alpine rivers of the Enns and the Steyr meet. Franz Schubert described Steyr as “inconceivably lovely”, during his stay in 1819, when he composed his famous “Trout Quintet”. With a wonderfully-preserved old town (Altstadt), many of Steyr’s main attractions are dotted in and around the town square (Stadtplatz), which features a 17th century fountain.  History enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the 18th-century Rathaus (town hall), with its church-like belfry and rococo façade, Franz Schubert’s former residence (Stadtplatz No. 16) and Schloss Lamberg (castle Lamberg), located north of the Stadtplatz, close to the river.

Romantic Freistadt, renowned for its historic buildings and excellent beer, lies in a large, open basin, in the heart of the hilly Mühlviertel region. This enchanting town, with its pretty little lanes, impressive squares and inner courtyards, has long been protected by the majestic Bergfried fortification. Freistadt is widely acknowledged as one of Upper Austria’s most important sites of medieval architecture. There is an hour-long, self-guided walk to be enjoyed, starting from the main square – maps are provided by the tourist office in town. The walk takes you through all of the historically important sites and there are options for pit-stops along the way at a number of the town’s lovely cafes’ bakeries and inns.

St. Florian – Upper Austria is home to a number of abbeys and there are two important ones within easy reach of Linz. To the west of the city is Wilhering, with its intricate rococo church, and at just 15km from Linz you can visit the quiet town of St. Florian, home to one of Upper Austria’s finest examples of a baroque monastery. Back in 304 AD, St. Florian, a Roman, converted to Christianity and was drowned in the Enns River. His image adorns many an Austrian church; frequently depicted in a Roman military uniform, throwing water over flames. You can find out more about the history here: http://www.stift-st-florian.at/en.html

History & Culture

Upper Austria is characterised by its varied scenery. Picturesque, hilly landscapes and forested mountains are interspersed with crystal clear lakes and historic towns and pretty villages. It borders with Germany in the West and the Czech Republic in the North. The River Danube and three of its tributaries flow through the province, namely the Enns, the Inn and the Traun. It has over 1.4 million inhabitants, many of whom live and work in Linz, the capital. Upper Austria is divided into four regions: Traunviertel, Innviertel, Mühlviertel and Hausruckviertel. These regions are further split into 15 districts (or ‘Bezirke’). The economy is mixed, but agriculture, including dairy farming and cattle breeding, is a major contributor.

Its long and colourful history has left Upper Austria with a rich legacy of beautiful architecture, monuments, castles, churches and a vibrant arts and music scene.

The first settlers were during the Palaeolithic Age. Around 400 BC, the Celts, with their origins in Western Europe, settled in the eastern alpine areas. Celtic history can be most keenly felt in the Danube Valley town of Mitterkirchen, in the Perg district. In 200 BC, the Romans arrived and dominated the entire area by 15 BC.

By c.600 AD, Slavs from the east occupied the area until it was conquered by Charlemagne in 788.  Colonisation was encouraged, and Christianity, which had been absent since the Roman days, was once again becoming widespread. When Emperor Otto II came to power in 976, the first Austrian dynasty was established. During 11th and 12th centuries, Austrian feudalism was at an all-time high, and this was when towns started to become developed and the Danube converted to an important trade route.

Emperor Frederick I (1156) raised Austria to a duchy, and, in 1192, Styria came under the rule of the Babenberg dukes. Upper Austria belonged to the Duchy of Styria, before becoming a self-governing principality within the Holy Roman Empire in 1490.

By 1550, the region now known as Upper Austria was predominantly Protestant. In 1564, together with Lower Austria and the Bohemian territories, it went under the rule of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.

In the early 17th century, Emperor Rudolf II and his successor Matthias pursued a counter-reformation, and following intense battle, the area was ceded to Bavaria for a number of years.

Present day
After Austria was seized by Adolf Hitler, Upper Austria became Reichsgau Oberdonau, an administrative division of Nazi Germany, although this did incorporate parts of the Czech Republic and Styria. In 1945, Upper Austria was conquered by US and Soviet troops and divided, with an American zone to the south and a Soviet zone to the north. In 1955, a formal treaty between the UK, US, France, the USSR and Austria restored full sovereignty to the country.

The majority Upper Austria’s inhabitants follow the Roman Catholic faith. The region has a relatively high number of foreign descendents (around 7%); these people largely originate from former Yugoslavia, with some Greek and Turkish minorities in residence.

Geography, Flora & Fauna

Upper Austria is a dream for nature lovers. The landscapes are diverse, with forested mountain ranges in the north and rugged alpine peaks in the south. The area has its fair share of wildlife – including rare lynxes and golden eagles – but most people come here for the beautiful scenery, which presents some very fine walking opportunities.

The Mühlviertel in the north of the region is a densely forested area, including parts of both the Bavarian and Bohemian forests from Germany and the Czech Republic respectively. The climate here can be quite extreme (long summers and harsh winters) and the flora and fauna are typical of a Central European forest. The word “Mühle” translates as “mill”, but the name Mühlviertel actually derives from a river of the same name.

There are a number of rare plants which are protected in Upper Austria, and with a keen eye and a little luck, you may be able to spot them in the Mühlviertel: Western Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis), Tiger Lily (Lilium bulbiferum), Menyanthes (Menyanthes trifoliate) and Round-Leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

One of the Mühlviertel’s most intriguing inhabitants is the mouse-eared bat (Myotis). A large colony visit every year, from March to September when a new brood is born and reared in the village of Rechenberg, in the church tower. The bats feed mainly on beetles, which they seek out in forested areas and in piles of mown grass. And they eat a lot – in just one night, the average bat will consume one third of their body weight! Nevertheless, these are agile creatures, with a wingspan of up to 40 cm (15.5 inches) and a flying speed of up to 70 km (43 mi) per hour.

For more wildlife, head to the alpine Pyhrn-Priel area. Species you are likely to spot include deer, hare, fox, badger, marten, Alpine chough, grouse, marmot, partridge, and pheasant. If you’re lucky, you may catch sight of a chamois.

The Kalkalpen National Park in Upper Austria’s south covers an area of 21 sq km (8.1 mi²) and altitudes range from 385m (1,263ft) to almost 2,000 metres (6,562 feet) above sea level. Kalkalpen translates as ‘limestone Alps’. Water is central to the landscape here. The deep gorges of the Reichraminger Hintergebirge are the result of millions of years of water erosion and today, over 800 springs flow out of gorges, forming crystal-clear springs and providing a habitat for the rare Danube brown trout. Forest covers around 80 percent of the park, with alpine pastures and mountain meadows punctuating the landscape. The diversity of the natural habitats throughout the park means that it is home to some rare species that cannot be sighted elsewhere in the country. The park contains around 30 different species of mammals, including lynx and brown bear; 80 species of breeding birds such as the Golden Eagle; 1,600 different species of butterflies and more than 1,000 flowering plants, mosses and ferns.

You may also encounter rare breeds of domestic animals which were historically typical for the region and are now being slowly re-introduced, such as the Noriker horse and Murboden cattle.