Europe

Europe encompasses an area of 10,400,000 km² (4,000,000 square miles). European countries welcome more than 480 million international visitors per year, more than half of the global market, and 7 of the 10 most visited countries are European nations. It's easy to see why - a well preserved cultural heritage, open borders and efficient infrastructure makes visiting Europe a breeze, and rarely will you have to travel more than a few hours before you can immerse yourself in a new culture, and dive into a different phrasebook. Although it is the world's smallest continent in land surface area, there are profound differences between the cultures and ways of life in its countries.

 

CZECH REPUBLIC

• Year of EU entry: 2004
• Political system: Republic
• Capital city: Prague
• Total area: 78 866 km²
• Population: 10.5 million
• Currency: Czech koruna
• Listen to the official EU language: Czech

The Czech Republic is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, situated south-east of Germany and bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia (with which it used to form one country of Czechoslovakia) to the south-east.

The Czech Republic contains a vast of amount of architectural treasure and has beautiful forests and mountains to match. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Before World War II, Czechoslovakia was one of the 10 most industrialised states in the world, and the only central European country to remain a democracy until 1938.

The Czech capital, Prague, is more than 1 000 years old and has a wealth of historic architecture of different styles. Because of this, the city has become a favoured location for many international film makers.

 The Czech Republic produces world-famous beer, including Pilsner. Wine is produced in the southern regions of Moravia and in part of Bohemia. A record 900 natural springs have also ensured that the country produces plenty of mineral water. The chief crops are maize, sugar beet, potatoes, wheat, barley, and rye. Traditional dishes include “knedlíky”, a type of dumpling made from potatoes or bread.

Famous Czechs include the Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha, composers Antonin Dvorák and Bedrich Smetana, marathon runner Emil Zátopek and the writers Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera.

SLOVAKIA

• Year of EU entry: 2004
• Political system: Republic
• Capital city: Bratislava
• Total area: 48 845 km²
• Population: 5.4 million
• Currency: euro
• Listen to the official EU language: Slovak

Slovakia became an independent state in January 1993 after Czechoslovakia split into its two constituent parts. The country is in the heart of central Europe, linked to its neighbours by the River Danube. The Carpathian Mountains extend across the northern half of the country and include the High Tatras – a popular skiing destination and home to the country’s highest peak – the 2 655 m Gerlachovsky. The lowlands of the Danube plain provide a fertile farming region producing wheat, barley, potatoes, sugar beet, fruit, tobacco and grapes.

Ethnically, the population is 86% Slovak; Hungarians are the largest minority.

Perched on many hilltops are fortifications that bear witness to Slovakia’s long history of invasions. Bratislava, the coronation place for the kings of Hungary in the past, has a rich heritage of medieval and baroque architecture.

Traditional meals include potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese and cabbage soup with sausages.

Among the best-known Slovaks are Štefan Banič who invented the parachute in 1913, and Andy Warhol, the American-born pop artist, whose parents were from Slovakia.

AUSTRIA

• Year of EU entry: 1995
• Political system: Federal republic
• Capital city: Vienna
• Total area: 83 870 km²
• Population: 8.3 million
• Currency: euro
• Listen to the official EU language: German

The Alps dominate the western and southern parts of Austria while the eastern provinces - including Vienna, the capital - lie in the Danube basin.

Until the end of World War I, Austria had been the center of a vast empire, which controlled much of central Europe for centuries. Austria is now a federal republic, consisting of nine states. Vienna hosts a number of international organisations, including the Secretariat of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.   

Austria has a rich cultural heritage. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occupies a place of his own as a composer, while the music of Franz Schubert also enjoys great popularity. In the world of philosophy and ideas, the work of Siegmund Freud continues to provoke controversy, while Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the major influences in 20th century philosophical thinking. In art, the paintings of Gustav Klimt from the late 1800s are widely admired.

In cuisine, Austrian specialties such as Wiener Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel have become international dishes which need no translation.

 

HUNGARY

• Year of EU entry: 2004
• Political system: Republic
• Capital city: Budapest
• Total area: 93 000 km²
• Population: 10 million
• Currency: forint
• Listen to the official EU language: Hungarian

Hungary is a landlocked state with many neighbours – Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. It is mostly flat, with low mountains in the north. Lake Balaton, a popular tourist centre, is the largest lake in central Europe.

The capital city, Budapest, was originally was two separate cities: Buda and Pest. It straddles the River Danube, is rich in history and culture and famed for its curative springs. Hungary has a single-chamber parliament or national assembly whose 386 members are elected by voters every four years.

Hungary is a highly musical country whose traditional folk music inspired such great national composers as Liszt, Bartók and Kodály. Other famous Hungarians include Albert Albert Szent-Györgyi, who discovered the existence of Vitamin C, writer and Nobel Prizewinner Imre Kertész and Oscar-winning film director István Szabó.