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 Austria - This Time Try Something Different   by Shari Hearn

So you've planned your trip to Austria. You're going to visit all the popular Austrian sites: Vienna (no doubt to tour the Sigmund Freud Museum), Innsbruck and Salzburg. And you'll have a fabulous time.

But, while you're visiting Austria, why not take the road less traveled? That's right, go a little off the beaten track. But, where, you might ask? Hmm... I think I have a few suggestions:

Oetz Valley

A beautiful long valley, with gorges and deep green forests, in the state of Tyrol, located in the western part of Austria. What makes the Oetz Valley so memorable? First, there are the many waterfalls you'll find there, including Stuibenfall - the highest waterfall in Tyrol.

You'll be mesmerized as you watch how the falls dance with the sunlight. Hiking trails abound in the Oetz Valley (sometimes referred to as Ötztal Valley), with some footpaths so gentle they are perfect for families with children in carriages. And if hiking's not your thing, there are numerous scenic drives to experience the beauty by car. There's even a scenic drive to view Stuibenfall.

Of course, no visit to the Oetz Valley is complete without Otzi the Ice Man, who was found in the area in 1991 by two hikers. Oh, you don't know about Otzi the Ice Man? Scientists speculate that he was a man between 40 and 50 years old who was caught in a heavy snowfall 5200 years ago. Otzi then fell asleep and froze to death. The freezing weather immediately mummified Otzi, turning him into Otzi the Ice Man.

Though Otzi no longer resides in the Oetz Valley (his new home is the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Bolzano, Italy) his legend certainly remains in many of the attractions around the valley.

Hallstatt

Another "off the beaten track" destination in Austria is Hallstatt, one of Austria's oldest settlements. Hallstatt boasts having the oldest salt mine in the world. It could also boast being one of the most colorful. You'll certainly have a great time just walking among the colorful old 16th and 17th century homes which populate the town.

But, what really sets Hallstatt apart, and makes it worth taking the road less traveled, is St. Michael's Chapel, built in the 12th century, which sits next to the ossuary. Not exactly sure what an ossuary is, are you? Well, it's a place such as a vault) for holding the bones of the dead.

You see, space is at a premium in Hallstatt, so when people are buried they're only buried for a certain period of time (10 years being the average) before they are exhumed and their bones are placed in the ossuary. For a small admission charge, one can view an array of skulls in St. Michael's chapel. It seems sculls have been on view in St. Michael's since the 18th century, often times decorated with wreaths. Now, if this isn't off the beaten track, I don't know what is.

Bad Gastein

Feel like some outstanding views and incredible skiing? Then look no further than Bad Gastein.

Yes, that's right, a destination with the words "Bad" and "Gas." Just don't think about it. Because Bad Gastein is quickly becoming noticed by world travelers. And with good reason. Located just an hour outside of Salzburg, Bad Gastein offers some of the best skiing in the Alps. However, with its challenging ski slopes and old world charm, you might not have Bad Gastein to yourself for long.

But, skiing isn't the only thing Bad Gastein is known for. Bad Gastein boasts seventeen natural springs--both outdoor and indoor--infused with radon gas from deep within the earth.

This bubbling water gives the baths healing properties with temperatures between 45 and 51 degrees Celsius (113 to 123 degrees Fahrenheit). It's said the baths are natural remedies for sufferers of arthritis and other ailments. So, now you have three more spots to add to your Austrian itinerary. So, go ahead, plan a trip off the beaten track. You'll thank yourself. 

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About the Author - Shari Hearn is a writer and frequent contributor to http://www.thetravelerscompanion.com.
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