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Landlocked in the centre of Europe, Austria, the mountainous heir to the historic Austro-Hungarian Empire puts culture to the fore but does not neglect its exceptional natural heritage.

The late morning sunlight filters through the branches of the larch trees. The carefree singing of the birds makes the steep trail seem effortless. Around a bend, a small clearing appears encircling a pile of boulders, revealing the valley beyond. Like the wayfarer contemplating a sea of clouds in a canvas by Caspar David Friedrich, the visitor to Carinthia and the Tyrol is inevitably struck by the scope and beauty of their epic landscapes. The region unfolds in a string of mountain lakes that sparkle like so many magic mirrors under a limpid sky, conifer forests carpeted with moss in infinite shades of green, and villages of traditional wooden-shingled chalets.

No one in the history of literature has succeeded in capturing the soul of Vienna as insightfully as Stefan Zweig: “For the genius of Vienna — a specifically musical one — was always that it harmonized all the national and lingual contrasts. Its culture was a synthesis of all Western cultures. Whoever lived there and worked there felt himself free of all confinement and prejudice. Nowhere was it easier to be a European, and I know that to a great extent I must thank this city, which already in the time of Marcus Aurelius defended the Roman — the universal — spirit, that… I learned to love the idea of comradeship as the highest of my heart.” This ebullient universal spirit, expressed in Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, is still palpable in today’s Vienna.

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