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An Alpine Autumn on the capital's doorstep

By Mary Penman

Lost in an array of autumn colours and encircled by fresh Alpine air, it is hard to believe that Semmering, in the Neunkirchen district, is barely an hour outside of Vienna.

Semmering has been a tourist favourite for well over a century and a half, ever since the ‘Semmeringer Bahn’ (the world’s first mountain railway) was constructed in 1854, rendering the region easily accessible from Austria’s capital.

With the railway’s viaducts interspersing dramatic, tree covered slopes, the area soon became renowned as a place of stunning natural beauty and top class hospitality.

Undoubtedly Semmering is at its busiest in the Winter, when its world class skiing facilities buzz with rosy-cheeked and sore-legged sports enthusiasts. Yet coming to the region outside of the high season still has a lot to offer.

For fans of rambling, walking and mountain biking, Semmering and its environs are a paradise in October and November. Flawless blue skies, refreshing mountain air and the multicoloured autumn forests provide an outstanding backdrop to outdoor activities.

The village is well served by hotels and guest houses, although by far the most opulent is the Grand Hotel Panhans – which on appearance alone really does deserve its name. Any guest approaching the impressive six-storey resort will immediately sense the grandeur which the hotel has been offering ever since its 1888 opening by renowned Viennese chef Vinzenz Panhans. Twenty years later and the Panhans Meadow played host to the last Austrian emperor Karl Franz Josef as he learnt how to ski. Not long after, in 1913, the building was extended to offer 400 guest rooms, making the hotel the biggest in central Europe at the time.

The region suffered with the end of the Monarchy and the subsequent loss of its gentile clientèle after the First World War. Yet after a few turbulent years the hotel regained prosperity and in the 1930s an indoor pool with sliding glass panels was installed, the first ever ‘Miss Austria’ competition was held, and the country’s earliest Casino was opened. During these years the Hotel also welcomed countless celebrities alongside the rank and file.

Nowadays, long after the end of a second period of quiet which descended on the area during the Cold War years, the Panhans has returned to its former glory, spoiling its guest with excellent services and a luxurious base from which to discover the delights of the Semmering district.

To encourage both returning and new visitors to the area, the Grand Hotel Panhans has put together some special packages for the Autumn season. The ‘Goldener Herbst’ (Golden Autumn)deal offers a special price of 80 euros a night for guests staying at the hotel between Sundays and Fridays. The hotel recommends that residents use their time to go walking in the mountains, visit the Zauberberg Bike Park, play tennis or mini golf, or enjoy the unlimited use of the hotel’s facilities, including a sauna, whirlpool baths, indoor swimming pool and gym.

With the evenings drawing in, guests at the hotel can also take advantage of a special array of dinner-time entertainment. Professional actors will help you get into the swing of the ‘Dinner and Crime’ murder mystery evenings, while the ‘Opera al dente’ events are intended to give guests a taste of the opera as well as exquisite cuisine.

The historic station in Semmering means a car is not necessary to visit the area, and trips can be easily taken to the valley’s quaint villages, including Gloggnitz with its medieval Catholic monastery. Railway enthusiasts can also marvel at 19th century engineering as well as stunning panoramas by following the Semmeringer Bahn Trail, with informative signs that take walkers past various viaducts and along the railway, declared a UNESCO Site of World Heritage site in 1998.

With the arrival of December, skiers and day trippers will start traipsing to the area by the bus load, ending the autumnal peace and tranquillity for another year, but until then there is still plenty of time to visit.

For information and bookings:
Tel: +43 (0)2664 / 8181
Fax: +43 (0)2664 / 8181-513
E-Mail: hotel@panhans.at

Vienna Times






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