WELL BEING & OTHER STORIES

Recipes, rituals and other stories to realign the body and mind

Austria

Well Being Around the World: Austria ~ For Ecoage

Around the World, City guides, Lifestyle, Travel, Wellbeing, Commisionsdanielle coppermanComment

My first encounter with Austria was at the age of 17 whilst I was interrailing around Europe with my best friend. That visit, fuelled by copious amounts of Viennese baked goods, was somewhat different to how I’m about to depict the country here, which is in a much more wholesome and, I hope, inspirational light.

Earlier this year, I visited two small towns in Western Austria, and as part of a new series of articles exploring Well Being Around The World, I wanted to share some of the local and traditional rituals I discovered during my stay, that I feel we can all learn from and apply to our own daily routines.

Rituals

1. Nature & The Great Outdoors

Since I was visiting a ski resort, it quickly became apparent to me just how much the great outdoors and nature are celebrated and valued in Austria. I guess it could be different in the larger towns that aren’t necessarily towered over by mountains, but there is certainly something about the fresh air and surrounding landscapes which not only bring a sense of safety, security and calm, but also awe and wonderment which is instantly grounding and gratifying.

I visited both Innsbruck and Mayrhofen, and both were relatively small towns encapsulated by mountains. For me, waking up each morning was just mesmerising, and I found it hard to imagine anyone getting stressed or feeling overwhelmed by insignificant worries and problems when the view was such a spectacle. It triggers a sense of wonder, and stands as a reminder that we are part of something much, much bigger than our own little lives.

Being in nature is known to have profound affects on health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. Things like fresh air and sunlight support skin and complexions, as well as providing vital vitamins and nutrients (hola vitamin D!). Things like plants, greenery and natural formations are known to benefit things like eyesight, focus and concentration and are also known to provide and stimulate certain vitamins, minerals and hormones (that’s why being around green spaces with plenty of plants often makes you feel happy and relaxed!). Not to mention, trees and plants help to cleanse and purify the air, and thus increase the air quality and make breathing more enriched and nourishing. Natural formations, such as rocks, mountains and earth are also known to be grounding and relaxing and to support mental health. Just think of them as different and larger forms of crystals!

As for the great outdoors, Austria is full of adventure and activity. Locals and tourists unite for daily hikes, rambling, cycling and skiing and swimming, when the weather permits. I noticed a lot of people walking, and the people we met often said they rarely drove, except for long distances. I certainly didn’t notice any traffic jams or rush hour on the same scale as London. The cities seemed incredibly bike-friendly, too, something that seemed preferential to locals for ease, to stay active and to reduce pollution (that fresh, fresh air!).

Skiing and swimming are of course more season-dependent, and more extreme ways to keep fit and stay active. However, having it on your doorstep wouldn’t seem so extreme after a while, I don’t think, and some people we encountered said they often make the journey up to the slopes during the winter even if it’s just for an hour or two of solo skiing; in other words, a full-body workout, without the confines of a gym and with the benefits of being in nature.

Swimming is a different ball game altogether. Since I visited in Winter, wild swimming was not particularly on my radar, but locals are known to enjoy icy, outdoor swimming even during the winter, which is known to increase metabolism and boost circulation, amongst other health benefits. The practice is incredibly invigorating and revitalising, and in Austria, with the water coming straight off the mountains, think of all those vitamins and minerals (like a cross between hydrotherapy and cryotherapy)! There are many natural pools, often surrounded by Alpine backdrops and lush greenery, making the whole experience incredibly grounding and nourishing. Some pools become filled by the melting snow from the mountains - the water crystal clear but incredibly cold. In larger pools and lakes, water can get to around 16-20 degrees during the summertime, and serve as a way to cool down as temperatures rise. Want to go a step further, nude swimming is also quite a thing!

2. Saunas & Spa Therapy

Like many Alpine countries, as well as Scandinavian and Nordic, Austria’s spa game is strong. You won’t struggle to find a sauna or spa, something we tend to view as an indulgent luxury rather than a daily necessity. Saunas offer incredible benefits for skin, circulation, lymphatic drainage, immunity and much more, and I for one find a sauna a week to be deeply cleansing as well as relaxing. It helps to purge impurities from the skin and detox from within, through sweat and respiration. The only thing is, they’re not so widely available or accessible in the UK or larger cities, and if they are, they usually come in fancier forms and with a larger price tag.

3. Mid-afternoon Coffee (& Cake)

The Austrian cafe culture introduces another ritual into the day, incorporating an important pause amidst work and other duties. What I loved particularly about going for coffee was that, in Austria, it must always come with a glass of water on the side. I love this as I am all for staying hydrated, and coffee can be incredibly dehydrating. Take note!

Austria is of course not the only culture to advocate regular coffee breaks or a more thorough coffee ritual than we are used to in the UK (we’re looking at you, France and Italy), but it is nice to see so many people actually enjoying a break, and not just working through it or drinking take-out on the go. Their coffee break often comes with a side of cake or strudel too, which is not so ‘wellness’ physically, but, hey, it’s mentally good to treat yourself and do something you enjoy. And it helps to notice that in most cafes, these traditional baked goods are often freshly made and handmade, unlike the processed fare you find in mainstream supermarkets. So that kind of makes it ok?

4. Day of rest

Something I always love about visiting particularly European destinations is how they have held onto the tradition of closing shop at least one or two days a week. In Austria, there’s no (or very few) shops open on Sundays, meaning locals simply adapt their consumer habits accordingly. I like this not only as it means workers will get more rest, but it encourages people to consume less, or at least take a day off from shopping, allowing more time to do something more wholesome.

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Food and Recipes

The food in Austria is not overtly nutritious, or at least that’s not the talking point when it comes to food. You’ll find most delicacies include generous helpings of potatoes, cheese, dumplings and pasta, alongside other traditions like schnitzel and goulash. It’s all quite heavy, but after all that exercise, it kind of makes sense!

When eating out, though, you will always get a homemade feel from what’s on offer, and whilst there’s often lots of flavour, it all seems to be kept quite simple. There’s often a steady ratio of meat or fish to vegetables, and everything seems quite authentically done, unlike fast food or take away fare.

It is apparent that growing your own and using local produce is commonplace, and even in the supermarkets, you will often find locally produced fare, and not much overly processed stuff at all. There is a lot of fresh meat and bread, even in small convenience stores, and what’s more, I enjoyed that their fresh fruit and vegetable aisle was mostly unpackaged.

Recipes

Below are 2 recipes inspired by those I tried during my visit, made with all-natural ingredients, vegan and gluten-free.

Celeriac Salad - Serves 2-4

Celeriac salad is a common side accompaniment for main meals in both Austria and Germany, and I love the earthy but fresh and hydrating flavour it offers to other dishes.

Components

500g celeriac
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons boiling water
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons soy or coconut yoghurt - optional

Method

First, peel and grate the celeriac finely, or shred it in a food processor to make it into thin, long threads.

In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, boiling water, apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper together until combined. Next, add the celeriac and stir to coat, then spoon in a tablespoon of yoghurt, if using. Stir to combine again and add more yoghurt if desired.

Season again, to taste and serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to enjoy.

Porcini Mushroom and Potato soup - serves 4

Potato soup is a staple on almost any menu in Austria. Usually made with bacon and heavy, I’ve adapted to make this vegan and slightly more nutritious, by using mushrooms as a meat replacement, and dairy-free cream alternatives.

Components

500g medium potatoes
20g Porcini mushrooms
1 white onion
1 medium carrot
1 parsley root (can replace with parsnip or celeriac)
½ celery stick, plus leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g vegetable broth (or water)
Small bunch of lovage leaves
2 bay leaves
6 peppercorns
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons coconut milk (or soy or coconut yoghurt, or Oatly creme fraiche)
Handful of fresh parsley

Method

Start by soaking the porcini mushrooms for about 10-15 mins in warm water.

Next, roughly chop the vegetables (potatoes, celery, carrot, onion and parsley root (or parsnip or celeriac) and place them in a large saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil.

Next, add the lovage leaves, caraway seeds, bay leaves and peppercorns. Add stock or water along with herbs and spices. The liquid should cover the vegetables, so you may need to add a little more accordingly, depending on the size of your vegetables.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and transfer to a blender or use a hand blender to puree the soup, until smooth.

Add the coconut milk (or plant-based yoghurt or cream alternative of choice) and blend again.

Finally, chop the porcini mushrooms roughly into small pieces, add to the blended soup, season for a final time and garnish with fresh parsley.

* If you like chunky soup, sauté the carrot in a separate pan and add to the soup, once blended.1.


Resources

Where to stay

I stayed in an airbnb in Innsbruck and a local hotel/guesthouse in Mayrhofen - most of which are complete with an onsite spa, gym and restaurant.

Featured Wellness Destinations & Other Places to Stay

Hotel Aurelio Lech

Geinberg 5

Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol

Getting there

Flights into Austrian towns are easy and often, but if you want to look at more sustainable ways of getting there, there are plenty of train and bus routes, and driving is often doable with a few stops along the way. It really depends on the number of people traveling though, as to which option is more eco-friendly, so do some research, and perhaps try to choose a destination where you won’t need a car or public transport once you’re there.

Well Being in the local area

Innsbruck:

- Olive, vegetarian restaurant
- Ludwig, Vegetarian restaurant
- Rauch Juice Bar
- Coffeekult, cafe
- The Breakfast Club, day cafe with gluten-free / vegan / vegetarian options
- Haepinest, cafe
- Akropolis, restaurant
- Das Schindler, restaurant
- Lichtblick, restaurant
- Oniriq, restaurant
- Die Muhl, restaurant
- Nordkette Cable Car
- Spa’s (research local to your destination)
- Skiing (research local to your destination)
- Walking / Hiking (research local to your destination)

Mayrhofen:

- Goldkind, cafe with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian options
- Schneekarhutte, restaurant with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian options
- Hikes, walks, skiing, activities
- Spa’s (research local to your destination)
- Skiing (research local to your destination)
- Walking / Hiking (research local to your destination)

* Whilst I am not saying Austria is necessarily the wellness capital of the world, and whilst I am not disregarding their love of cakes, cream, potatoes, cheese and strudel, I do feel we could learn a thing of two from the Austrian culture to assist and inspire us in our own quests for wellbeing. For me, wellbeing is not a “one size fits all” scenario and I have always felt that we can learn so much from different cultures, both wellness-focused and otherwise. The aim of these features is to provide a broader approach to wellbeing, one that travels a little beyond green juices and boutique fitness classes and into long-standing traditions that have been used for centuries. Many of the practices I tend to discover are often nothing very new at all, but are instead incredibly simple, as well as being much more authentic and sustainable than the latest trends we tend to get over-excited by.