Austria’s heartland - 1000 years of art and culture

Prices from £2,275


1 Jul 2020 - 7 Jul 2020
Duration: 6 nights
Ref: 20LOAU
With: Dr Ulrike Ziegler


Prices from £2,275
Single Supplement: £325
Deposit: £200

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The historical and cultural heartbeat of Austria began to pulse 25,000 years ago in an area roughly located between Linz and Vienna, in the present-day states of Upper and Lower Austria. After the fall of Roman power, the region was reorganised by the Carolingians who established a borderland, at the eastern outpost of the Frankish Empire named the Marcha Orientalis or ‘Ostarrichi’ (Austria). The noble Babenberg family further cultivated the land through the foundation of well-endowed abbeys where the seat of government was initially established. The Babenberg dukes of Austria fostered a Vienna that further flourished under successors from the House of Habsburg but before long, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire developed into a constant threat for all of Austria’s eastern lands. The Battle of Vienna in 1683 marked a turning point in the success of the Ottomans, who were forced to retreat, and a building boom rolled across Austria. Ancient abbeys like St Florian, Melk and Klosterneuburg were rebuilt in awe-inspiring Baroque dimensions and decoration. The dawn of the 19th century heralded a new artistic era and at the turn of the 20th century, both cities began to temper this eclectic aesthetic with the new Art Nouveau style, becoming prominent proponents of the movement’s art and architecture. This new Art Pursuits Abroad study tour spans a period of 1000 years and reveals a broad selection of treasures, exploring the genesis of art and culture in Austria’s heartland.


“Travelling the Lower Austrian countryside in pursuit of cultural delights is surely a Connoisseur’s choice – but a most rewarding one! In the sight of Vienna’s imperial splendor one easily forgets about the plethora of artworks, from medieval to modern, hidden in mighty abbeys, secluded churches and charming country towns along the River Danube.”

Dr Ulrike Ziegler studied art history and archaeology at the University of Regensburg and King’s College Aberdeen specialising in medieval art and architecture. Her PhD focused on art exhibitions and cultural politics of post-war Germany. She has taught at university and is now lecturing for various cultural institutions. She has organised and led many study trips in Germany and Austria. In addition to tour lecturing, Ulrike is developing Art Pursuit Abroad’s German programme.

DAY 1:

Morning flight from London Heathrow to Vienna. Coach transfer from Vienna airport to the Cistercian abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which retains a Romanesque and early Gothic appearance. We continue to St. Pölten, where we will check in to our four star hotel for the first of three nights.

DAY 2:

After breakfast, we set out on foot to explore the cosy old town of St. Pölten. Originally founded by the Romans, St. Pölten has a rich catalogue of archaeological finds. In the afternoon our exploration continues with a visit to the 18th century cathedral and neighbouring diocesan museum. The museum’s collection boasts liturgical vestments worked by Empress Maria Theresa herself and a display of religious art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. The evening is free for independent activities.

DAY 3:

All-day coach excursion. Our first stop is the Baroque abbey of St Florian, dedicated to the first recognised Christian in Austria. In 1686 a rebuilding in the Baroque style began, designed by the leading local architect of the age, Jakob Prandtauer of St. Pölten. The abbey also has a rich musical tradition with close ties to the composer Anton Bruckner, who worked as an organist in St. Florian. We pay homage to the great composer by his grave and enjoy an organ recital of his music in the delightfully stuccoed and frescoed abbey church. The day is concluded with a visit to the country church of Mauer bei Melk, which houses a stunning, expressively carved wooden altarpiece. Return to St. Pölten for a group meal and our third and final night in the city.

DAY 4:

We bid farewell to St. Pölten and head north into the Wachau Valley. Soon Melk abbey comes into sight. We spend the morning roaming this vast abbey complex and museum. The abbey church, the opus magnum of Jakob Prandtauer, allows a comparison with architectural principles first introduced in St Florian. After the visit, we continue along the Danube, passing through charming wine villages. We stop on route for a group lunch before heading for Vienna, our base for the next three nights of the tour.

DAY 5:

The morning is dedicated to the work of Otto Wagner, master architect of the Art Nouveau style. We take the coach to Hütteldorf, a Vienna suburb where Wagner built himself two private neighbouring homes. The first building is decorated with Tiffany-style stained glass windows. The successor next door, today in private ownership and only viewable from the outside, is a model example of the Vienna Secession style. Nearby is Wagner’s Kirche am Steinhof, one of the most important Art Nouveau churches ever built. In the afternoon, we return to the city centre for an afternoon to spend as you wish.

DAY 6:

After breakfast we travel by coach to Klosterneuburg, on the northern outskirts of Vienna. The abbey has been one of Austria’s most important centres of art and culture for more than 900 years. Much like the abbeys of St Florian and Melk, the whole complex was given a Baroque facelift which is best studied in the spectacular abbey church. The treasury houses beautiful liturgical objects including a rare Art Nouveau clerical vestment linked with Otto Wagner’s Kirche am Steinhof. On the culinary front, Klosterneuburg also offers much to delight. Home to the Austrian state winery, exquisite wines produced on the estate are on offer in the cafés and restaurants on the abbey grounds. Return to Vienna for a farewell dinner.

DAY 7:

As a final visit we travel out of Vienna to Laxenburg, where large hunting grounds and various smaller palaces were used by Habsburg monarchs as a summer retreat. Here, we visit the enchanting neo-Gothic castle Franzensburg. The furnishings of Franzensburg were gathered from historic castles, palaces and churches all over lower Austria, including Klostneuburg and Melk. After lunch, our coach takes us on to nearby Vienna airport for our flight to London Heathrow.


Twin/double share: £2275 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £325
Price of the tour without flights: £2075 per person
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Return flights with Austrian Airlines from London Heathrow to Vienna
  • Private coach transfers and excursions
  • Three nights’ bed and breakfast in the 4* CityHotel Design and Classic, St. Pölten and three nights’ bed and breakfast in the 4* Le Méridien, Vienna
  • Two dinners and two lunches
  • Guided visits to sites listed in the programme
  • Services of the Lecturer and Tour Manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters

CityHotel Design and Classic, St. Pölten

The four star Cityhotel D&C is located in the heart of St. Pölten. In just a few minutes you can be in the middle of the colourful hustle and bustle of the baroque city centre with its countless shops, cafés, and cultural institutions. You can enjoy fine dining and Lower Austrian hospitality in the bar and restaurant and relax in the hotel’s wellness oasis. The comfortable rooms are fully equipped and feature complimentary Wi-Fi, TV, safe and hairdryer.

Le Méridien, Vienna

Located in the heart of Vienna, the Le Méridien hotel is situated in the artistic hub of the city. Your view falls on Vienna’s splendid Ringstrasse, the serene Schillerplatz, or our sun-filled courtyard. Spacious, newly designed guest rooms and suites make for a very comfortable stay, with roomy bathrooms and stylish features which are sure to help guests revive and relax. Rooms are fully equipped and feature air conditioning, TV and complimentary Wi-Fi.