Europe’s best kept secret for a relaxing, mindful holiday
Really wanting to hunker down and focus on your wellbeing this autumn? There’s no need to visit an ashram in India, or take your downward dogs to a Tibetan mountain top, because there’s a truly spectacular destination that will do wonders for your wellness so much closer to home. Awe-inspiring alpine backdrops, stunning lakes, thermal spas and even a mountain yoga festival.
Yep, beautiful Austria is the ideal spot for a wellness holiday, a chance to work on your mindfulness and truly relax, whether you’re wild swimming, hiking or just sitting in a thermal steam room in a Viennese spa, before eating a large slice of Sachertorte.
Here is our BALANCE guide to nine top things to do on an Austrian wellness holiday…
Down on the farm
There’s nothing quite like a homestay on an organic farm for transitioning from stressed out to happy, relaxed and mindful, and there are 900 organic farms to choose from, many focusing on health and wellness. If you ever forget where you are for a moment, the sound of cowbells could well be on hand to remind you, and most farms will provide you with their home-produced goods, which could be anything from honey and bread to yogurt and milk, and maybe even traditional, and hearty, cheese dumplings.
Nowhere does urban and rural together quite so well as Austria does urban and rural together. Innsbruck, the capital of the alps, is a perfect example of this. In a mere 20 minutes, you can go from the city centre to the height of the Nordkette mountains in Karwendel nature park, thanks to a handy skip and a jump via cable car. There are hiking trails galore, and you can also walk to the Sill Gorge, a local favourite and well-kept secret of a beauty spot.
The city itself has plenty to keep you interested to boot, including the bling-bling sight of the Golden Roof on Herzog-Friedrich-Straße. Innsbruck’s most famous landmark is an alcove balcony that has reigned over the medieval buildings of the historic old town for 500 years –and earned its name from its 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles.
Vienna has many a claim to fame, from being home to Mozart (he was born in Salzburg, but lived in Vienna in his later years) to producing the world’s finest apple strudel. But did you know it’s also the only capital city with its very own thermal spa? Therme Wien, Europe’s biggest city spa, was even known to the Romans (though not quite in its current guise). Its waters are heated by sulphur springs, it has 26 pools heated by sulphur springs, as well as 25 sauna and steam rooms and just the 2,500 loungers to loll around on for relaxation. We don’t think you’ll need to get up at 6am and pop your towel down to reserve one of those, somehow.
So near, so spa
If you’d rather leave city life and strife behind, there are plenty other spa options in plenty-a picturesque location. How’s about the Aqua Dome Spa Hotel? In the dreamy Ötztal Valley, this space-age venture (if Bond did spa hotels…) features a pyramid entrance to spherical thermal basins amid the contrast of a mountain backdrop. Swiss stone pine oil massage and a salt exfoliation before bathing under the stars (even in Autumn) anyone?
The falls in Fall
For water therapy of an altogether different variety, visiting Stuibenfall, the Tirol’s tallest waterfall, is a truly mindful experience, if only to marvel at the wonders bestowed by the natural world. A network of trails (featuring 700 steps, so most excellent for the heart rate and fitness levels, too) has recently been installed, as well as viewing platforms at various levels to admire the falls in their full glory.
Keep your spirits up
Whatever form your spiritual practice comes in, taking up a pilgrim’s route of trekking, while staying in humble accommodation in the mountains, is a great way to get back to basics and spend time on thought and reflection. The ancient Way of St James runs 735km through Austria from Wolfsthal via Vienna to St. Christoph – the final section there from St. Anton am Arlberg is particularly breathtaking.
A festival of yoga
St. Anton am Arlberg might be one of the most famous ski resorts in the world, but it isn’t all about apres-ski and swishing down the slopes in your finest salopettes. St. Anton has its very own Mountain Yoga Festival, this year taking place from 9-12 September. Leading yoga instructors will be on hand for your practice in the glorious Tirol alps, to the sound of hang drums, as you salute the sun from closer quarters and take in Alpine air with every yoga breath you take.
If you’re game enough in the Austrian Autumn chill, you’d be spoilt for choice when it comes to wild swimming spots, for that ultimate wellness
hit. Try Wolfgangsee lake in the Salzkamnmergut mountains. There are many and varied options for stunning bathing spots around the Lake, including in waterside towns like St. Wolfgang and Strobl.
Herbal hill hiking
For a full-on assault on the senses, could there be anything more pleasant than a herb hike? In mountainous Hochkönig, stroll past meadows and herb stations filled with marjoram, rosemary and lavender, and visit the different herb hill farms. On an organised tour, you can both learn about the local plants and take part in workshops to discover how to prep them and make not just herbal ointments, but everything from dumplings and spreads to schnapps and liquor, bringing a feel-good sense of satisfaction in the process (so long as you don’t overindulge in the schnapps, of course).
Contrary to what you might think, in a land more synonymous with the likes of a Wiener schnitzel or a hearty roast pork by way of a dinner, Austria is actually rather friendly to the veggie and vegan crowd. Traditional Alpine dishes like cheese and spinach dumpling and Kasspätzle (think Austrian mac and cheese) are veggie friendly and the Hochkönig region in SalzburgerLand is certified vegan – and there’s no need to hunt down the token veggie cafe either, even some of the traditional mountain restaurants and alpine huts have reinvented their menus to cater for plant-based diets.
Take time out in nature with the Austrian National Tourist Office