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Small but special

Splendid architecture, outstanding locations, urban charm: a tour of the seventeen Small Historic Towns throughout Austria

The sun is shining on the Oberer Stadtplatz, in the Upper Austrian town of Schärding. The late-Baroque façades of the lovingly restored houses sparkle in the colours of their respective guilds: blue for the bakers, red for the butchers, and yellow and green for the innkeepers. Cheerful people stroll through the historic streets of this picturesque town on the Inn River, and from every corner come whispers of history and legends. The houses of the so-called “Silberzeile” – the silver line – owe their splendid appearance to their former owners: wealthy merchants and craftsmen whose pockets were heavy with silver. Fourteen breweries here once supplied beer to the thirsty boatmen from the Inn; they have now been supplanted by cosy restaurants and cafés, turning Schärding into a city for pleasure-seekers where traditional charm is combined with the sensual enjoyment of modern gastronomy.

Schärding, with a population of about 5,000, is in the very best of company. It has joined sixteen other communities to form the “Small Historic Towns” association, made up of little urban gems from Vorarlberg to Burgenland. What they all have in common is a large number of protected historic monuments, good quality infrastructure with regard to tourism, and a maximum population of 80,000. All these cities have a distinctive character, an outstanding location, splendid architecture, and can boast luminaries from the areas of culture and politics who left their mark on the community.

A good example of this is Bad Ischl, in the Salzkammergut, where a visit to the summer residence of Empress Sisi can be followed up by a typically Austrian “Kaiserschmarrn” at the venerable Café Zauner. Feldkirch, Vorarlberg’s second-largest city, has a medieval town centre, a famous jester festival, and a noted wine fair. Tyrol’s Kufstein am Inn enchants visitors with its mighty fortress, while in Styria’s Bad Radkersburg, located near the Slovenian border, guests enjoy the town’s Mediterranean-like atmosphere and its modern spa, fed by curative mineral water.

Whether it’s the famous fountains of Imst, the Venetian charm of Judenburg, the natural beauty of Gmunden, situated on the shores of Lake Traun, or the stunning Alpine panorama surrounding Lienz: the 1001 remarkable features of the Small Historic Towns always make a visit worthwhile – for Austrians as well as for holiday-makers from all over the world.

 

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