Lakes, mountains, music… the hills really are alive, but with the sound of motorbikes
From Salzburg to Vienna, Austria is a pretty as a picture-postcard. The landscape unrolls in rich green hills and dark green forests, dotted with perfect blue lakes, red-roofed villages and the occasional towering castle. There’s a fair network of motorways keeping the majority of the nation’s traffic moving, leaving the older and more interesting roads relatively quiet.
And as hills give way to mountains – as they do with impressive regularity – the roads become more interesting. There are so many great roads in this half of the country that it’s no surprise to find it’s home to Austria’s racing circuits.
But touring here isn’t all about racing around. There’s plenty to see and do off the bike – especially in the cultural hotspots of Vienna and Salzburg – whether you’re interested in music, the arts or just a really good chocolate cake to go with your riding…
Where to stay
In the heart of the hilly hinterland of the Salzkammergut (Salzburg lake country) is the spa town of Bad Ischl – brilliant facilities (you can even fly in and hire bikes) and amazing roads all around it. Hotel tip: Landhotel Hubertushof
Quaint ski town in the heart of Styria, surrounded by some of the best riding roads anywhere in Europe. Hotel tip: Hotel Magnus Klause
This small town in the Lower Austria (which is in the north of the country – don’t ask) has lots to see, including the Rosenburg castle and a fantastic pilgrimage church. A practical base for daytrips into Vienna, surrounded by great riding. Hotel tip: Hotel Öhlknecthof
What to see
Look, they’re so impressive we can’t not name them... Check out some of our favourites – including Hochosterwitz, Forchenstein and Kreizenstein. But there are so many to see if these don’t keep you busy.
Not just common-or-garden caves… there are ice-caves around these parts. In the hills above Hallstatt you’ll discover not only the Köppenbruller and Mammut caves but also the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave. South of Salzburg there’s the Eisriesenwelt, which offers the very best of both worlds – a whopping great cavern full of ice.
The southern city of Graz is fabulous – and full of contrasts. From the modern Kunsthaus gallery/museum to the traditional Eggenberg Palace and the Schlossberg, there’s something for everyone – though a visit to the Armoury is highly recommended.
The Salzkammergut is full of picture-postcard views, but the village of Hallstatt is the one to stop and explore off the bike: it offers the perfect lakeside setting and is blessed with a lovely traditional Austrian character.
The Nockalmstraße is one of several toll-roads built through the mountains (like Grossglockner, Gerlos, Postalm and several others). This means that it’s well-maintained, relatively quiet and utterly rewarding to ride – from May onwards…
Not far from Nockalmstraße is one ride guaranteed to get your blood pumping more even than that amazing road: the Nocky Flitzer downhill rollercoaster – complete with jumps and spirals its intense 1600m descent.
Lienz is a fabulous town, but it’s easy to get distracted not only by its medieval core but also by the mountains that surround it. It also has a fabulous excavated Roman town, Aguntum.
Well, they call it the Salamander Train: the cog railway climbing from Puchberg to just below the summit of Schneeberg, Lower Austria's highest mountain.
Mozart’s home town of Saltzburg is now a bustling city packed with character – see it from a horse-drawn carriage tour. The cathedral and the two palaces (Mirabell and Hellbrunn) are lovely, but don’t forget to go up to Hohensalzburg, the castle that towers above the city, as well.
The Austrian capital Vienna is a cultural gold-mine, with so much to see – we’d start with the Belvedere, the Schönbrunn and Hofbrunn Palace and of course the iconic ferris wheel in Prater Park. And if you don’t eat a sachertorte in Vienna, we reckon you've done something wrong.
Like Grossglockner but with half the traffic… But the B20 from Kapfenberg to Frieland is almost as good and has no toll.
51 Lower Austria Highs
A full day’s ride in Lower Austria, swooping down to track the Danube. But don’t feel blue… most of the riding is on quiet, twisty roads looping out towards the Czech border.
Distance: 250 miles
Riding time: 6.5 hours
52 Salzkammergut Lakes
A full day of amazing views, lakeside cafes and the most astonishing mountain roads (including the Postalm toll road). Easily shortened to allow for sightseeing stops along the way.
Start/finish: Bad Ischl
Distance: 165 miles
Riding time: 5 hours
53 Mariazell east loop
A full day on a relentless succession of fabulously twisty roads – the mountainlover's ride for those who don’t want the ultra-tight hairpins and dizzying exposed drops of the high Alps.
Distance: 230 miles
Riding time: 6 hours
54 Mariazell west loop
There are so many amazing roads around Mariazell that one day’s ride can’t begin to pack them all in. This loop heads west rather than east but the roads are every bit as brilliant.
Distance: 210 miles
Riding time: 6 hours
55 Nockalmstraße & Hochosterwitz
After the amazing Nockalmstraße, this route continues south to another man-made marvel: the towering Burg Hochosterwitz. An early-ish start will allow a few hours to visit the castle.
Distance: 205 miles
Riding time: 5 hours