Foreign Correspondence: Austria Is A Window To Old Beauty

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Julian Monroe Fisher III, 56, a former general manager of Charlotte, N.C.'s Dunhill Hotel. Fisher, currently a writer, explorer and anthropologist, lives in the village of Gars am Kamp, Austria — an hour north of Vienna — with his wife, Gina, and their children, Charley, 10, and Panama, 6.

Q. Look out your window — what do you see?

A, A stunning view. Out the front window here in my home office is a 900-year-old castle on a hill. I live on a road that wanders up and around the bend to the castle.

The area looks like rolling hills in North Carolina's High Country. The village itself looks like Boone did before all the development. The architecture is different, though. The house I'm in was built in the early 1800s; its walls are as thick as my arm is long.

This is near a wine region and 10 minutes down in the valley, even in winter, you see miles and miles of vineyards. The area has four distinct seasons. Spring is beautiful, summer is warm, fall is colorful, winter is dark and cold.

Q. What's the story on the castle?

A. It's along the Kamp River. From where the castle sits, you can see the next castle, on a hill about two miles away. They built these along the river as lookouts but also as a way to govern the local population. All the way to the Danube — a 35-minute drive — you have castles scattered on the hillsides. The one at Rosenburg was renovated and has summer stock theater. The ruins of the castle or "schloss" here in Gars am Kamp are used as a backdrop for an outdoor opera festival each summer.

Other castles are almost falling down off the hillsides. One on the Danube is Durnstein Castle, where Richard the Lion-Hearted was imprisoned (in A.D. 1192).

Q. What about the wines?

A. Austria is known for its whites, and the whites here are excellent. I especially enjoy the rather sour white Gruner-Vetlinert, one of the more popular local wines. Here, everybody drinks spritzers — bubbly water and wine. Every Saturday, spring through fall, they have a farmers market where people meet, drink wine and enjoy life.

Q. So life there is relaxing.

A. We don't live in our cars. If I walk out my front gate and take a left, I'm quickly at a trail that goes through our region to the other end of Austria. It's like the Appalachian Trail, but it goes to the Alps. You can mountain-bike or hike for hours or days.

If I walk to the right instead, I can in 10 minutes be at the village train station. So it's an active lifestyle.

Q. How often do you go walking?

A. I try to do a long hike alone once a week — a private long-distance hike every Saturday. I make sure I can get back midday for the market. And my wife and children and I do a family hike once a week.

Q. How far are you from mountains?

A. The Alps? You can get on a train and be in Salzburg in four hours. By car, it's about the same. But I've never seen anyplace where people drive so fast.

There are many resorts within an hour of Salzburg.

Q, Are the ski resorts there similar to those in the States?

A. In America, the ski areas are resorts, with hotels and condos and such at the bottom. Here, the ski areas are accessed from small towns and villages. The lift system starts in the village and goes up the mountain where the ski trail leads to the next valley.

Q. What's your favorite ski destination in Austria?

A. Serfaus, because of my family. When you have kids, you want to go somewhere where everything you need is close to where you're staying: the ski school, the lifts. Serfaus targets families with kids up to age 15.

The hotel we stay at is a five-star place and only accommodates families. In winter, cars aren't allowed into the village. There's a big parking lot at the beginning of the valley; from there, a subway takes skiers in less than 10 minutes directly to the entrance of the gondolas.