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Climbing along Route 306, high atop the Semmering Pass, at a height of 3,230 feet, lies the boundary between the provinces of Styria and Lower Austria. A bridle path has existed on this mountainous route since at least the 12th century, and the first road was built in 1728. Today's highway is an engineering wonder, particularly on the Lower Austrian side, where the road, high on concrete stilts, leaps over deep valleys; the old road snakes up in a series of switchback curves. The Styrian side is less dramatic, but offers distant Alpine vistas. Given the technologies of the era, the railway—completed in 1854—that crosses the divide is a technical marvel, with its great viaducts and tunnels, and is still the main north-south rail route. At the top is Semmering, the first town in Lower Austria, a resort on a south-facing slope overlooking the pass. Sheltered by pine forests and built on terraces reaching as high as 4,250 feet, Semmering is considered to have a healthy atmosphere and has several spa-type hotels and pensions. In the early 20th century Sigmund Freud, Oskar Kokoschka, Arthur Schnitzler, and Gustav Mahler were frequent visitors. Wealthy Viennese also came here for their Sommerfrische (summer vacation), and many built grand villas for the purpose, whose exteriors you can admire.
The Semmering area plus the nearby Rax and Schneeberg regions are where most Viennese first learn to ski, meaning that there are slopes ranging from gentle inclines to the more challenging, although they are no match for the rugged Alpine stretches of Tirol and Salzburg province.
Elsewhere in Eastern Austria
- Bruck an der Mur
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