Austrian hotels, inns, and pensions (boardinghouses) are classified by the government into five different categories and are rated with stars. A five-star rating is deluxe, while one star designates a simple inn or hotel; there's a chance that not all rooms have private bathrooms. One-star hotels are most often clean and decent establishments where you get more value for your euro than anywhere else in the country.
Reservations are advised, especially if you're visiting in high season, which varies in different parts of the country. Summer is high season in Salzburg and Vienna, while Innsbruck enjoys a great deal of summer tourist business but is also the center of the bustling Tyrolean ski industry in winter. High season at ski resorts is usually from Christmas to mid-April; most resorts actually lower their prices in summer. Sometimes hotels offer a "shoulder" rate in spring and fall when business lessens; sometimes these hotels close if business is slow.
The local tourist office in any Austrian city or resort can assist you in making the necessary reservations. If a certain hotel is booked and cannot accept your reservation, the tourist office will be able to make an alternative reservation in a hotel of comparable price and character. Send your request via airmail and enclose an International Reply Coupon, obtainable at your local post office, for an airmail reply. Be sure to give the following information: hotel category (deluxe, first class, standard, or budget), desired location (center, edge of town, near a lake or ski lifts). Address your request to Verkehrsverein in small towns or Tourismusverband in large resorts and cities, adding the postal code, the town name, and Austria. Regional service organizations are your best bet if you want to visit several towns or resorts in one Austrian province or one of Austria's major cities. These addresses are available from the Austrian National Tourist Office abroad.
Bed & Breakfasts -- Look for the signs that say ZIMMER FREI attached to the front of a house or to a short post at the front-yard gate or driveway. This means that the proprietors rent rooms on a bed-and-breakfast basis to travelers. You'll encounter these signs along Austria's highways and along some of the most scenic byways.
Such accommodations have hot and cold running water in the bedrooms, although private bathroom and toilet facilities are rare. (There's usually a toilet on every floor and one bathroom in the house.) A continental breakfast is served.
Few homes accept advance reservations, so just stop in and inquire. When the rooms are filled, the sign is taken down or covered. The local tourist office can also help you find B&B accommodations.
You might need a few words of basic German to converse with the owner, as only a few proprietors speak English. If you're staying for only 1 night, you might be asked to pay your bill in advance, and it must be paid in euros.
Farmhouse Accommodations -- Groups or whole families can stay on a farm, renting several rooms or even a wing of the house. However, a stay of at least a week is generally required, and advance reservations through a local tourist office or regional tourist board are necessary. The correct form of address for the local offices is Verkehrsverein, then the postal code and the name of the town near which you want to stay, and Austria. Regional boards should be addressed by writing to Landesfremdenverkehrsamt, followed by the postal code and the name of the capital of the respective Austrian province, and Austria. Your reservation will be confirmed upon receipt of a deposit.
Schlosshotels (Castle Hotels) -- Graced with a rich and ornate imperial tradition, Austria poured funds and resources throughout its history into constructing palaces and castles. Many of these ancestral buildings have been transformed into hotels. Information on these hotels can be obtained through Euro-Connection, 7500 212th St. SW, Suite 103, Edmonds, WA 98026 (tel. 800/645-3876; www.euro-connection.com), which represents castle hotels throughout Europe.
Chalets, Villas & Cottages -- Many cottages, chalets, and condominiums are available for short-term rentals to qualified visitors. These rental properties are usually at or near sites of natural or historic beauty or in ski or lakeside resorts.
Pego Leasing Centre, Rathausgasse 11, A-6700 Bludenz (tel. 05552/65666; www.pego.at), inventories more than 1,000 rental properties in Austria. The company arranges rentals of 1 week to a year or more for 1 to 30 occupants at a time; rentals traditionally begin and end on a Saturday. Pego usually collects most of its fee from the owners of the rental property, but the tenant usually pays an agency fee to Pego of around 10% for each booking.
Pensions -- A pension is generally more intimate and personal than a hotel. Of course, the nature and quality of the welcome depends largely on the host or hostess, who might also be the cook and chief maid. As a general rule, a first-class pension in Austria is equal to a second-class hotel; a second-class pension is equal to a third-class hotel. Usually a continental breakfast is served; some pensions also offer dinner. Expect to be on your own for lunch.
Home Exchanges -- You can arrange a home exchange -- swapping your home with that of an Austrian family, often with a car included -- through several U.S.-based organizations. Intervac U.S. & International, P.O. Box 590504, San Francisco, CA 94159 (tel. 800/756-HOME; www.intervacus.com), publishes three catalogs a year containing listings of more than 9,000 homes in more than 36 countries. Members contact each other directly. Depending on your type of membership, fees begin at 59€ ($94).
Youth Hostels -- Austria has 108 youth hostels distributed throughout the provinces. Rates for a bed-and-breakfast run from 15€ ($24) per person daily. Some hostels lock their doors between 10pm and 6am to discourage late arrivals. Dormitories must be empty between 10am and 5pm. You must have an International Youth Hostel Federation membership card to use Austria's youth hostels, and advance reservations are recommended. In Austria, you can get information about hostels from any branch of the Austrian National Tourist Office. A detailed brochure is available. For information on finding a hostel worldwide, visit www.hostels.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.