…a day filled with faded Imperial palaces, a beautiful Christmas market, and a bonus drive through a gorge are just a few of my favorite things. So went our warm and sunshine-filled Sunday in the Rax region of Niederösterreich’s northern limestone alps.

En route to the market we were diverted by a sign that read, “Sisi Schloss Reichenau” and a path leading toward a small lane. Of course we had to investigate; because any time the GPS announces, “Your route contains restricted access,” we are excited! This former summer residence of the Empress served, generally speaking, as one of the Imperial Party HQ’s in a region rich with Imperial party palaces.  The palace is now used for private affairs.

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Also in this Imperial Playground land is Villa Wartholz, a hunting palace frequented by Emperor Charles I and Empress Zita (the last reigning Hapsburgs), and where their son, Otto von Hapsburg was born. Its pavilion was the location of the luxe Christmas market.

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The small parlors and hallways were elegantly themed, and even just walking through could fill one (and in my case, one’s shopping tote) with holiday cheer.

Hands down, though, the highlight of the market was Sven, the singing reindeer. Yes, there was a giant animated reindeer at a Christmas market in a former Hapsburg villa, in the alps of Lower Austria, that was lip-synching to 1950’s American Christmas classics. No surprise, Sven captured every visitor’s attention!

By complete good fortune we ran into some friends at the market, as well, and they shared photos of nearby Gorge Adlitzgraben they had driven through on their way to the market. And so our afternoon plan was born!  Through almost 18 kilometers of breathtaking scenery and hairpin turns we steered the wagon, my regret being that I had not thought to bring my real camera.

Burgruine Klamm rose from the gorge and had we been better prepared (or, prepared at all), we would have climbed to the top. We had to make do with snaps from the church grounds at the base of the ruins. Next time.

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From Klamm we pointed the wagon home and drove parallel for a short section with the Semmering Rail.  Considered the world’s first mountain railway, it runs 41km across Lower Austria and is still in operation today.

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And to think, this day filled with favorite things was but an hour or so from home. How fortunate we are.