To celebrate my new guidebook, Daytrips Austria, I'm posting a sample chapter about an easy daytrip out of Vienna that not too many people know about. Also, it's to my maternal ancestral home, so it's a double celebration.
This trip is especially great for nature lovers, music lovers, and wine lovers alike.
A Daytrip from Vienna
For those travelling by car, a tour through the northern part of Burgenland is just about the easiest and most enjoyable daytrip that can be taken from Vienna. If you're dependent on public transportation, you'll find it more difficult but still completely possible and well worth the effort.
Perhaps you've never heard of Burgenland. This is hardly surprising, as Austria's youngest province isn't exactly overrun with overseas tourists. It is, however, a favorite vacation spot for the Viennese, other Austrians, Germans, and visitors from Eastern Europe. All of this means that you'll have a genuine experience as opposed to one created for Ausländers, and that it won't be very expensive. Although Burgenland begins a mere 12 miles (20 km) from Vienna, there are so many unusual things to enjoy that an early start is strongly recommended.
The countryside of northern Burgenland is dominated by Europe's strangest lake, the 124-square-mile Neusiedler See, a shallow paradise for birds and water-sports enthusiasts surrounded by miles of tall reeds and the hauntingly beautiful puszta plain extending over the horizon into Hungary. There are no mountains at all, but miles and miles of vineyards, beyond which gentle hills lead to the provincial capital of Eisenstadt. Although barely more than a village, this small town is rich in musical memories and has some outstanding attractions as well.
Trains on the S-Bahn suburban service depart Vienna's new Hauptbahnhof (Main Station) hourly for the 50-minute ride to Neusiedl-am-See, whose station is almost a mile from the town. Bikes can be rented at the station, and there are occasional buses. Trains run at least every hour or so from the Neusiedl station to Eisenstadt, a ride of 40 minutes. There is no direct train service from Eisenstadt back to Vienna, and taking a bus is slightly faster than doing the whole train trip in reverse. All trains are second-class locals.
Buses leave Vienna's Südtiroler Platz Bus Station, by the Südbahnhof and reachable by subway, several times in the morning for Neusiedl-am-See. This ride takes a bit over an hour, may require a change, and drops you off at the Hauptplatz in Neusiedl. There is no bus service from Neusiedl to Rust and Mörbisch, so you will have to bike it or skip these two villages. Buses from Neusiedl's Hauptplatz to the Domplatz in Eisenstadt run almost hourly and take 45 minutes. Return buses from Eisenstadt to Vienna leave at least hourly and take about 80 minutes, depositing you at Südtiroler Platz or the Südbahnhof station.
By Car, take the A-4 highway southeast from Vienna to Exit 43, then the B-51 into Neusiedl-am-See. After your visit, follow the map via Rust and Mörbisch to Eisenstadt. From there the B-59 road and A-3 highway will return you to Vienna. The total driving distance for the day's outing is a bit under 100 miles (160 km).
Northern Burgenland is at its best between late spring and early fall. Some of the attractions are closed on Mondays, and good weather is essential. The local Tourist Information Offices for the stops along this tour are at: Hauptplatz 1, Neusiedl-am-See, T: (02167) 2229, W: neusiedlamsee.at; Conradplatz 1, Rust, T: (02685) 502, W: rust.at; Hauptstrasse 23, Mörbisch, T: (02685) 8430, W: moerbisch.com; and Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, T: (02682) 673-90, W: eisenstadt-tourism.at. For the entire region you could contact the Provincial Tourist Office at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, T: (02682) 63384-0, W: burgenland.info.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Burgenland's "Pannonian" cuisine is strongly influenced by neighboring Hungary. Expect to find spicy paprika dishes such as Gulyas (goulash) along with lake fish, duck, goose, and wild game. Some typical desserts are Palatschinken (crêpes with jam), and Mohnstrudel (poppy seeds and raisins in pastry. The local wines are among Austria's best, especially those from Rust. The area abounds in good restaurants, including:
Rathausstüberl (Kirchengasse 2, near the Rathaus) A friendly place with outdoor garden tables. Noted for Pannonian-style grills and fish, as well as salads. T: (02167) 2883, W: rathausstueberl.at. €.
Rathauskeller (Rathausplatz 1 in the center of Rust) Simple foods, but a great selection of local wines for tasting. X: Wed. T: (02685) 261. €.
Schandl (Hauptstr. 20 in Rust) A Buschenschank wine tavern with light meals — indoors or out. T: (02685) 265. X: Tues., Nov.-March. €.
Bienenkorb (in Hotel Burgenland, Franz Schubert Platz 1) International and local favorites. T: (02682) 696, W: hotel-burgenland.at. €€.
Im Esterházy (Esterházy Platz 5, opposite the schloss) A great place for lunch, and a convenient location. T: (02682) 628-19. € and €€.
Haydnbräu (Pfarrgasse 22, between the schloss and the bus station) Pub food and fresh beer from their microbrewery. T: (02682) 639-45, W: haydnbraeu.at. €.
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
The most prominent feature of northern Burgenland is its mysterious *Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl), one of the largest inland bodies of water in Europe and certainly the strangest. What can you say about a lake that sometimes isn't there? Or that has no obvious source, nor any natural outlet? Its warm and slightly salty water comes mostly, of course, from underground springs and is lost by evaporation. The southern end of the lake is in Hungary, and from there its level is artificially regulated by a canal to the Danube River. Most of the time, the lake is less than 7 feet deep at any given spot, and considerably shallower in most places, so it can actually be walked across. Doing this without an expert guide is dangerous, however. Strong winds sometimes blow the water to one shore, creating tricky currents and leaving the other side dry.
The Neusiedler See is almost completely surrounded by a belt of tall reeds growing in marshlands up to a mile wide. Much of it is a nature preserve with over 250 kinds of birds, most ntably storks, nesting near its shores. You won't have enough time on a daytrip to study much of the wildlife, but you will be able to rent a boat for an hour or so. Besides being a paradise for nature lovers, the lake serves as a micro-climate regulator for the surrounding vineyards that produce some of Austria's very best wines. Enjoy!
Begin your tour at the resort village of Neusiedl-am-See, located at the lake's northern end. Those coming by train will have to travel nearly a mile by bus, bike, or on foot to its center. Neusiedl's Hauptplatz (Main Square) (1) is where buses from Vienna and to Eisenstadt stop. Facing the square is the Rathaus (Town Hall), and behind it is the 15th-century Pfarrkirche, a Gothic parish church with an unusual pulpit. On a low hill behind this are the ruins of Burg Tabor, a fortress from the 13th century.
For a look at the lake, continue down Untere Hauptstrasse and turn right on Seestrasse. The road soon becomes a causeway, going through a mile of reeds to the Strandbad (2), a lively beach area on the water's edge. Here you can rent an electric, sail, peddle, or row boat (photo, left) by the hour and have some fun exploring the lake while dodging the multitude of windsurfers. There is also an outdoor café. Access charge € in season.
Leave Neusiedl-am-See and drive (or pedal a rental bike) along the west side of the lake to the popular village of Rust, a distance of 19 miles (30 km). If you're dependent on public transportation, you'll have to skip this and go directly to Eisenstadt by bus from Neusiedl's Hauptplatz, or by train.
*Rust (3) is famous for both its wines and its storks (photo, right), which nest on its roofs and chimneys from April through August during their annual migration from Egypt. The old part of the village is exceptionally well preserved, with many Renaissance and Baroque houses gracing the narrow lanes. Wine cafés, often called Buschenschänken or Heurigen and sometimes hidden away in courtyards, offer delicious opportunities to taste the local vintages. In the center of the village is the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square), overlooked by the Gothic Fischerkirche (Fishermens' Church). Still surrounded by a defensive wall, this was built between the 12th and 16th centuries, and has some noteworthy 15th-century frescoes as well as an organ from 1705.
As in Neusiedl, you can follow a mile-long causeway through the reeds to the Seebad (4), a beach and boat landing where you can again rent a boat by the hour, or have a lakeside alfresco snack or drink at the Seerestaurant Rust.
Leave Rust and continue south for 3½ miles (5.5 km) to *Mörbisch (5), a delightful lake village right on the Hungarian border. The Magyar influence is very strong here, with low, whitewashed, galleried houses colorfully festooned with flowers and bunches of corn. The Heimathaus at Hauptstrasse 53 is a small local museum in a characteristic old wine house, near the church and the tourist office.
Head back toward Rust and turn left. Just before St. Margarethen is the peculiar Römer Steinbruch (Roman Quarry) (6), whose limestone was used by the ancient Romans for strongholds, and later by Austrians for building much of Vienna. Today it's one of the largest outdoor opera venues in Europe, and the site of an annual Passion Play. W: roemersteinbruch.at.
Continue on to *Eisenstadt, an exceptionally interesting small town that became the capital of Burgenland province in 1925. Although it dates from at least the 12th century, Eisenstadt didn't amount to much until the Esterházy family, descendants of Attila the Hun, made it their seat in the 17th century. They were largely responsible for establishing Hapsburg rule in Hungary, of which this was then a part.
Begin your tour of Eisenstadt at:
SCHLOSS ESTERHÁZY (7), T: (02682) 719-30-00, W: schloss-esterhazy.at. Open April-Oct., daily 9-5; Nov.-March, Mon.-Fri. tours at 10 and 2. €€.
Schloss Esterházy, the old family palace, was built in the Baroque style on medieval foundations between 1663 and 1672. It is now used by the provincial government, but still belongs to the Esterházys. The great composer Joseph Haydn, who developed the symphonic form, worked here on and off for some 30 years in the service of the family, producing a rich musical heritage that still lives on. Performances of his works, often with musicians in period costumes, are given frequently in the Haydn Saal, an elaborate concert hall within the palace.
Follow the map to the exceedingly Baroque Bergkirche (8), a church, mausoleum, and indoor Calvary rolled into one. The remains of Joseph Haydn, who died in 1809, rest there although his head did not rejoin the rest of the body until much later, having been stolen by grave robbers and eventually given to a Vienna museum. Be sure to follow the Stations of the Cross, with their life-size wooden figures in niches along an indoor passage that winds its way uphill through the strange Kalvarienberg (Calvary Hill) to the belfry (photo, left), from which there is an excellent view. T: (02682) 626-38, W: haydnkirche.at. Open Easter-Oct., 9-noon and 2-5. €.
Return on Esterházystrasse and follow around to Unterbergstrasse, a small street in what was once a barred Jewish ghetto. Today, the Austrian Jewish Museum (9) celebrates the rich cultural heritage of all Austrian Jews throughout history. T: (02682) 651-45, W: ojm.at. Open May-Oct., Tues.-Sun. 10-5; Nov.-April, Mon.-Thurs. 9-4, Fri. 9-1. €. Just a block to the north is a historic Jewish cemetery that was desecrated in 1938 but reconstructed after the war.
The Landesmuseum (Provincial Museum) (10), nearby on Museumgasse, focuses on regional history. Among its displays are some remarkable Celtic and Roman artifacts, items relating to wine making, and local folk crafts. T: (02682) 6000-1234, W: burgenland.at. Open tues.-Sat. 905, Sun. 10-5. €.
Return past Schloss Esterházy, behind which is a nice park, and follow the map to Haydn Gasse. Joseph Haydn lived in the simple house at number 21 from 1766 to 1778. It is now the Haydn Museum (11), where manuscripts and personal belongings are shown in an undisturbed setting. Even if you don't go inside, at least have a look at the lovely courtyard. T: (02682) 719-39-00, W: haydnhaus.at. Open April-Oct., daily 9-5. €.
Just a few steps up the street is the Diözesanmuseum (12), a celebration of local religious art in an old church. T: (02682) 629-432. €.
Now follow the map past another spot associated with Haydn, the rustic Gärtenhäuschen (13) or little garden house. Continue around to Domplatz (14), whose 15th-century Gothic church was elevated to cathedral status in 1960. Buses for Vienna leave from this square, and there is a simple outdoor café where you can wait. If you're driving, the best route is via the B-59 and A-3 roads.
Copyright © 2008 by Earl Steinbicker
ISBN: 978-0-8038-2073-9, U.S.$19.95