45km (28 miles) S of Vienna; 309km (192 miles) E of Salzburg

Heading south from Vienna on the Südautobahn, the former imperial city of Wiener Neustadt is a good first stop. It was once the official residence of Emperor Friedrich III. Called Allzeit Getreue (forever loyal) because of its loyalty to the throne, this thriving city between the foothills of the Alps and the edge of the Pannonian lowland is steeped in history.

Unfortunately, Wiener Neustadt was a target for Allied bombs during World War II, as it was the point where the routes from Vienna diverge, one toward the Semmering Pass and the other to Hungary. The 200-year-old military academy that developed officers for the Austrian army might have been an added attraction to bombers. German Gen. Erwin Rommel, "the Desert Fox," was the academy's first commandant during the Nazi era. At any rate, the Allies dropped more bombs on the city than on any other town in Austria. It's estimated that some 60% of its buildings were leveled.

The town was founded in 1192, when its castle was built by Duke Leopold V of the ruling house of Babenberg as a bulwark against Magyar attacks from the east. From 1440 to 1493, Austrian emperors lived in this fortress in the southeastern corner of the old town. Maximilian I, called "the last of the knights," was born here in 1459 and lies buried in the Church of St. George in the castle. In 1752, Maria Theresia ordered that the structures comprising the castle be turned into a military academy.