Jindrak’s cake-baking session must be booked in advance and is for groups of 10 people; it costs €19 ($28.10) a person. More: jindrak.at/schaubackstube. Hotel am Domplatz is a sleek box-like property next to the “new” (actually, 19th-century) cathedral and very much in keeping with Linz’s modernist but understated style. The hotel’s associated restaurant is Paul’s, a smartly designed venue that specialises in steak and has a daunting list of Austrian beers. More: hotelamdomplatz.at. • austria.info/au an insalubrious reputation. The turnaround came late in the 20th century, with new regulations on air pollution and a regeneration program, hugely boosted by Linz becoming a European Capital of Culture in 2009. Now it offers a refreshing contrast to its better-visited neighbours; here you have modernity and tradition. Still, for those in pursuit only of the latter, there is a very easy day trip out of Austria from Linz, into the Bohemian woods and to the staggeringly well-preserved city of Cesky Krumlov, the Czech Republic’s biggest draw after Prague and much more easily approached from Linz than from the Czech capital. If you have a day to spare and can hire a car, the trip (about 80 minutes from Linz, with checks at the border) is worth it; you’ll find a breathtaking baroque palace with its own moat and bears, painted houses and a maze of medieval alleyways. You’ll also find a maze of tourists to pick your way around, bussed in from Prague by the hundred. Linz, it is fair to say, does not have this problem.
I feel smug, rather than a tourist mug, as I walk untroubled around Austria’s third-largest city. The Altstadt, the old centre, was largely untouched by Allied bombing, but was ignored for decades as Linz’s middle class fled for the suburbs after World War II. Now it has become a haven for wine bars, artists’ studios and hipster coffee joints, and the 18th-century houses are gradually being restored to their pastel-coloured best. From here it’s a pleasant walk up a winding hill to what is left of the schloss (castle), short on medieval turrets but boasting excellent views from the Schlossbrasserie restaurant.
So much for history. As for the 21st century, the city is proud of its Ars Electronica, on the banks of the Danube, a world centre for media arts that hosts computers that can read your thoughts and 3D printers that can produce everything from titanium teacups to plastic fabric.
There is also a sleek new opera house designed by the British architect Terry Pawson, where the administration prides itself on a more radical line-up than you’ll see in Salzburg or Vienna. So I sit through an abstract production of Verdi’s La Traviata, in which the cast move as if they’re performing in Japanese kabuki and no one looks at each other.
You can also find more authentic evidence of Linz’s musical heritage. Salzburg has the Mozart industry in its chocolatey pocket, and you are spoilt for choice in Vienna among monuments to Schubert, Beethoven or Johann Strauss. Linz, however, can boast a home-grown classical music master, the composer Anton Bruckner, creator of some of the mightiest symphonies in the canon. Bruckner is my pretext for heading 20 minutes out of town on my last morning, to the monastery of St Florian, home to Austria’s oldest boys’ choir (yes, it beats Vienna), where Bruckner chose to be buried, exactly 36m underneath the organ where he learnt his trade.
The church alone — an explosion of golden cherubs and swirly marble — is breathtaking, but the real treasures of the monastery are its grand reception rooms, a painted altarpiece by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Altdorfer, and the gorgeous wood-panelled 18th-century library, which can display only 30,000 examples of a 160,000-strong collection. Neither the woodwork nor the elaborate frescoes on the library ceiling has needed restoration, something the monks believe is a divine miracle.
My miracle is that not only does my Linzer torte survive the journey home, but it’s absolutely delicious.
Neil Fisher was a guest of the Austrian Tourist Office.