Feistritz im Rosental (Carinthia), Austria September 2023 (Tour 8)

On our way to Italy after a great but all too short weekend in Enzesfeld, we paused for the night at the small town of Feistritz im Rosental in the Carinthian Region of Austria. Immediately upon arrival however I spent the afternoon walking the even smaller town (read ‘hamlet’ given it’s size) of Suetschach.

Surrounded by some beautiful hills Suetschach is a pretty little place (full of unusual metal art works and an amazing church). I have since read that Feistritz used to be part of Suetschach but it merged in 1973 with neighbouring Weizelsdorf and as a consequence later received market town status in it’s own right (1996). Suetschach is now considered a remote suburb of Feistritz.

The Parish Church in Suetschach was locked and I was unable to get beyond the front porch but what I could see from there was enough for me to want to go back for a proper look. There’s also an interesting chapel in the church grounds commemorating the area’s fallen in the two World Wars. What sets this particular chapel apart from others I have seen in Germany and Austria is that alongside the name of each person who fell is a photograph of the individual. I’ve never seen that before. It brings it all home.

Then, with the evening coming on and the hamlet’s sole pub closed for a late summer break, it was back to the campsite at Feistritz (Naturcamping Juritz) which even by Austrian / German standards proved to be first class. The facilities are all 5 star but it is the excellent restaurant which sets this campsite apart. Vanya wasn’t eating but I enjoyed a really good scampi dish and a fine Chardonnay. It was a shame we couldn’t stay longer but we’d arranged to meet some other friends in Italy and had to leave early the next morning.

The food in the Restaurant Juritz was seriously tasty; the wines were good and; the service was most attentive. There was a beautiful sunset which could have made for some great photo opportunities at the nearby lake lake but I wasn’t about to let such a good repast go to waste.

There also looked to be a wide range of hill walking opportunities in the area. Now that too is worth revisiting this campsite for but next stop Asolo in Italy.

Enzesfeld (Lower Austria), Austria September 2023 (Tour 8)

It is always a pleasure returning to Enzesfeld to see longstanding friends the Familie Gedik. It is enough to enjoy the company of such friends but an added bonus to any visit is that we are invariably introduced by them to new and fascinating parts of Austria.

During this all too brief stay in Enzesfeld we revisited Baden bei Wien (and experienced for a second time in two years the annual international photography event, the Festival la Gacilly – Baden) and visited, for the first time, a heurige renowned as much for food as wine in the small town of Lichtenworth.

Baden bei Weimar has featured in a number of my earlier blogs under the heading of Baden or Enzesfeld. Vanya and I visited the town last year, Tour 6, and enjoyed part of the 2022 Festival La Gacilly-Baden (the largest open air photo exhibition in Europe) and Gerhard and I were keen to see the 2023 Festival.

La Gacilly, a small town in Bretagne France (which incidentally is home to the large cosmetic firm Yves Rocher) has held an annual photography festival since 2004 but a few years ago the town agreed to change it’s format and collaborate with Baden to produce the ‘Festival La Gacilly-Baden’. The revised Festival, now in it’s 6th year, serves to showcase through contemporary photography, the beauty of nature and the need for it’s protection from deliberate or negligent human actions. Each exhibition is shown one year in La Gacilly and the next in Baden (with a little regional variation thrown in). This year’s festival in Baden amounted to a 7km long gallery around the town of 1,500+ large format photographs with a double focus (forgive the pun) towards the “Orient” and “Ecocide”. In truth it would have been more apt to use “Persia” as opposed to “Orient”since most of the artwork on display was submitted by photographers from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (although there was some really thought provoking work created by a Kinshasa art collective).

Posters advertising this year’s Festivals in Austria (Orient) and France (Nature as Heritage). The French exhibition, featuring work by photographer’s from Brazil, Ivory Coast, Italy and the USA, will move to Austria next year and who knows what the theme for 2024 will be in La Gacilly.

Much of this year’s festival in Baden was displayed in the town’s Doblehoff Park and the adjoining Rosarium and that’s where Gerhard and I spent most of our time. The Park and Rosarium with it’s 900 different varieties of roses are worth a visit in their own right on a warm summer’s day but with the added incentive of photos by some of the world’s best photographers… the event was almost surreal.

And the photographs… inspiring or what? I was particularly impressed by some of the art coming out of Kinshasa. I know Sarah Ndele created ‘Plastic Suit’ and it may well be that she did ‘Cigarette Butt’. Unfortunately, I misplaced what few notes I thought to make at the time and I’m writing this blog over a month after leaving Austria. I recall there were a series of photos by an artists collective in Kinshas which makes costumes from the city’s waste so as to draw attention to environmental pollution. They were striking.

Loved this photo by Shah Marai (Afghanistan)…

… and this by Ebrahim Noro. There were so many amazing photos.

And so to Lichtenworth, a small rather unexceptional town down near Wiener Neustadt, but it has a fine heurige serving good food (albeit very slowly) and even better wine although I was driving and had to limit myself to half a small mug of young wine – and we were there for almost 3 hours!

It’s Italy next but we’ll stop off in Carinthia on the way.

Melk (Lower Austria), Austria September 2023 (Tour 8)

The next day we crossed the border into Austria. We purchased a Vignette* online to travel the motorways and drove directly to Melk. We’d visited Melk in 2018, a stop on a river cruise from Budapest to Passau, but we had only a few hours there. This time we parked up for the night at Emmersdorf on the left bank of the River Donau (the Danube) with a view to my walking over the nearby bridge to Melk for a better look at both the town and Melk Abbey.

There’s been a Benedictine Abbey at Melk since 1089 but the existing yellow coloured Baroque structure was constructed between 1702 and 1736. It was designed and built by the Austrian architect Jakob Prandtauer (who trained initially as a stonemason) but he never saw the finished article. He died in 1726. It’s a stunning building which appears more of a palace than an abbey but it is the oldest monastic school in Austria and is still home to 23 monks.  

The abbey has two centrepieces; the church (with it’s many stone and wooden carvings and a breathtakingly beautiful ceiling) and the library complex (which with it’s 100,000+ books provided inspiration for Umberto Eco’s historical novel ‘The Name of the Rose’) but; the admission ticket also permits entrance into the former Imperial guest rooms (which house the Abbey Museum) and the large terrace & gardens and all are worth seeing. The pretty Garden Pavillion was being used as a small cafe – tearoom when we first visited the abbey. It may still be a cafe-tearoom but I didn’t visit it on this occasion. I fancied a pint down in the town.

Having explored the abbey and it’s gardens for an hour or so, I descended into the old town for a beer or two before commencing the 45 minute walk back across the river to Emmersdorf and the Van. Melk old town isn’t that large but it is worth a couple of hours of anybody’s time; with the elegant Pfarrkirche Maria Himmelfahrt, proving particulary captivating.

A couple of other historical landmarks to be seen in Melk old town are the town square fountain (the Kolomanbrunnen with it’s statue of Saint Koloman) and the Old Post Office (built in 1792 with a series of medallions on it’s facade which are said to be representations of old postmasters).

There are a number of saints named Koloman or Colman and at least three of them came from Ireland. The Saint Koloman featured on the well in the main square of Melk is generally known as Saint Koloman of Stockerau. He was of Irish origin. He was a pilgrim and on his way to the Holy Land when in 1012 he was arrested, tortured and hanged in the town of Stockerau as a foreign spy. It seems he couldn’t speak German and was unable to explain himself. Two years after his death the authorities in Stockerau, possibly out of remorse, moved his relics to Melk Abbey where they remain to this day. The moral of this particular story is that it is perhaps helpful if you can speak a little German in this part of the world.

Before I forget, let me write about “Kasekrainer”. Later that day, while Vanya and I were enjoying a few glasses of Gruner Veltliner at a small kiosk style fast food bar near our campsite in Emmersdorf, I got to talking with a chap who suggested I try the local sausage known as “Kasekrainer”. He told me that these thick, slightly smoked pork sausages, which contain between 10% and 20% Emmental cheese, are served with bread and either a sweet or a spicy mustard AND that the ones sold by the kiosk bar are the best in the area. It seems the sausages were created by a couple of Austrians in the 1960’s and are now Austria’s favourite fast food. I ordered two (one with the sweet sauce and one with the spicy sauce) and, yes, they are delicious. Never again will I pass through Austria without eating Kasekrainer.

As I wrote a few moments ago, “It is helpful if you can speak a little German in this part of the world”.

* By the way, don’t buy Austrian Vignettes on line. They can be purchased at any garage at a considerably lower cost. The one we bought online was for 10 days and would cost about 9 Euros at a garage. Online, the price was literally doubled.

Oberaich (Styria), Austria August 2022 (Tour 6)

We were late getting away from Enzesfeld (we had to tear ourselves away) and we hadn’t really settled on our next destination. Zadar in Croatia appealed but at this time of the year (July and August), prices in Croatia are trebled and that kind of extortion never appeals.

We headed south and made it as far as Oberaich in Styria. We had found a small campsite in the back garden of a Gasthof – Gasthof Pickler – and decided to stay the one night. They were charging a reasonable price for the local beer and a very good Gruner Veltliner and the menu looked good.

It was late afternoon. That gave me time for a brief walk and a couple of beers before dinner. There is very little to Oberaich (other than a furniture store and a rather dilapidated Roman bridge) but, further along the road, up in the hills is another slightly larger hamlet known as Utschtal which provided nice views into the valley and, better still, has to be a serious contender for the village with the best kept gardens in Austria. Some of the gardens are stunning.

And then it was back to Oberaich and the Gasthof Pickler for some beer and food. What a great find the GP was!

Enzesfeld (Lower Austria), Austria July 2022 (Tour 6)

Our last visit to Enzesfeld, just a week ago, saw us catch up with our good friends, the Dedics, and take in trips to Eisenstadt, Rust and Baden bei Wien. This next visit was no less interesting with the added attraction that our daughter had arrived from the UK for the weekend.

A number of wine heuriges were now open and we took full advantage of that during this second 3 day visit. We also visited Hinterbruhl and the pretty little town of Gumpoldskirchen and the small village of Holles (all conveniently located in Lower Austria).

Starting with Enzesfeld itself; while Vanya disappeared into Vienna to meet up with Rohan, the rest of us (Clare, Alex and Niki – Gerhard was still in Abu Dhabi on business) took the dogs for a walk and then, joy of joys, we stumbled on a pick-nick (that’s German for a picnic, as if you couldn’t work that out) but this was subtly different. The Weingut Mayer in Enzesfeld had opened for business in their vineyards (as opposed to back in the town heurige) with a wine tasting picnic.

… but it wasn’t all easy, I had to dog-sit.

Hinterbruhl is a small village 12 miles south west of Vienna. Now, it is almost a part of Vienna. It is said that Franz Schubert wrote Lindenbaum in Hinterbruhl but there is no documentary evidence of that. More certain is that it is home to Europe’s largest known underground lake, the Seegrotte. The lake was formed in 1912 when a huge explosion rocked numerous caves which had been dug under the village in the mining of gypsum. The explosion released millions of gallons of water which flooded the lower caves and formed the lake.

Mining was immediately discontinued following the explosion but some of the upper tunnels and caves were reopened during WWII as a satellite camp for Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Engine parts were produced here for the fledgling lightweight (almost disposable) jet fighter know as the Spatz or, in English, the Sparrow (the Heinkel 162). There’s a memorial above ground for the concentration camp inmates here who were all murdered.

We took an informative guided tour through the cave system during our visit; walking the upper levels and being ferried around on a boat in the lower levels. At 15 euro per person it was quite pricy but I’m pleased we did it. Effective lighting throughout the lower levels of the caves made for some very pretty photos.

From Hinterbruhl we made the short journey to the delightful village of Gumpoldskirchen. This is for me the prettiest of the villages in the area surrounding Enzesfeld. Of course this view may have been influenced by the excellent wines we enjoyed in a local heurige during our visit but, even so, Gumpoldskirchen is very pretty.

There’s always something special about wine tasting in a vineyard

The last place we visited during this stop in Enzesfeld was Holles. Holles was about the pleasant walk to and from the village from Enzesfeld and our stop in yet another heurige where we sampled Gruner Veltliner, Rivaner (a speciality of this particular heurige) and a Gelber Muskateller and; not forgetting the food, various local cheeses, smoked ham and Salzstangels (salted bread sticks).

And then it was back to Enzesfeld. Thanks so much, Clare; both for introducing us to these wonderful places and for being… Clare. See you soon, we hope!

Markt St Martin (Burgenland), Austria July 2002 (Tour 6)

We used the campsite at Markt St Martin purely as a stop over on our way back to Enzesfeld. The campsite was a total disappointment , especially at 44 Euro per night. Austria at peak season.

The only half decent aspect to the place was the small bar alongside the camp site. It has a swimming pond.

The food in the bar was poor but the setting was fine

There was little to see in the town (or is it a village) but, it being a Thursday afternoon, everything was closed anyway except for a kartoffeln heurige. Wine heuriges I have heard of; a potato heurige is new to me.

On the way in to the village I came across another relatively intriguing feature namely, a fruit (and nut) tree circle. If you’ve lived in Scotland (or any other country where the Celts once settled) you will probably have seen a stone circle or two. Markt St Martin has substituted a stone circle with a much more practical fruit tree circle. Well, I think that is what is was.

You know something? I don’t think I have ever produced such a pointless (and boring) blog before. Back to Enzesfeld.

Enzesfeld (Lower Austria), Austria July 2022 (Tour 6)

So we made it to Enzefeld. Gerhard was away on business but Clare, Alex and Niki made us most welcome (as usual) and our two day stopover became 3 days. Their neighbours were not as pleased that we stayed on because on our last night we were up singing German Kindergarden songs until four in the morning. I think Vanya and Clare stayed up another hour or so.

We made a couple of trips out in the Van from Enzesfeld; Clare showing us the way to Eisenstadt and Rust in the Austrian region of Burgenland on our first day out and then; me taking Vanya to Baden bei Wien.

A little bit about each of them… Eisenstadt first. Eisenstadt is the provincial capital of Burgenland and the smallest of the Bundeslander or state capitals. From what we saw it must also rank amongst the prettiest and has a surprising number of interesting places to visit. Principal amongst them is the beautiful baroque palace known as the Schloss Esterhazy. The Schloss has been home to Esterhazy Princes since 1649 although there was a castle on this site as long ago as the 13th century. Other interesting aspects of the town are the Palace Park (with it’s four ponds, the Leopoldine Temple and a large Orangerie), the Marien Temple (now known as The Gloriette), the Joseph Haydn Museum (the prolific composer worked for the Esterhazy’s for 40 years and lived in this building for 12 of them) and, my favourite, the Bergkirche (Haydn’s Church, which is now home to the Haydn Mausoleum).

A couple of interesting facts about Haydn. First, he is credited with composing 104 symphonies and 50 concertos. Prolific or what! Second, in 1790 Haydn moved to London for a while and at least one of his biographies claims that his days in England were the happiest of his life. I wonder how many people can say that but, of course, at that time the rest of Europe was in some considerable turmoil.

After wandering the town and parks for a while (and enjoying one of the best ice creams ever) it was time to leave Eisenstadt and make our way to the smaller but equally pretty town of Rust am Neusiedlersee. The Neusiedlersee is a large shallow lake (average depth 1.5 metres) which forms part of the border between Austria and Hungary and it is arguably the star attraction in the area. That is not to say that the small town of Rust itself is not also worth a day of anyone’s time. It is situated in one of Austria’s most famous wine producing regions, right on the banks of the lake, and has regularly won Burgerland’s ‘Most Beautiful Town’ award. One feature of the place which visitors will not fail to notice are the many storks nesting on the house chimneys. It reminded Vanya and I of our drive up through Portugal last year.

Other features worth visiting in Rusk are the local heuriges (you simply have to taste the wines here, white and red); the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity (get your timings right and you will be able to climb the church tower for reasonable views over the Neusiedlersee) and; the Fischekirche (a delightful little church by any standards).

The Fischerkirche (the fishermen’s church) deserves a special mention. It is a former fortified church which was dedicated to the Saints Pancras and Giles. It owes it’s name to a legend where Queen Mary of Hungary, while fleeing from Mongol invaders, was rescued from the lake by local fishermen. To give thanks, she founded the chapel, the inside of which is very quaint.

Finally, we come to Baden bei Wien. Vanya had never been to Baden. That had to be put right. Also, it provided me with the opportunity to revisit the town and to walk up to the Konigshohle and then on to Castle Rauhenstein. Despite visiting Baden a number of times (and I have previously written a blog about Baden), I had never visited either the Konigshole or Castle Rauhenstein.

Famous for it’s sulphur springs and Roman baths, Baden bei Wien was another summer residence of Austrian and German rulers and in 2021 was recognised by UNESCO as one of the great spa towns.

Baden is a pretty enough town but it doesn’t have that many ‘must see’ places and it therefore doesn’t figure amongst my favourite towns to visit. It is more a place to go and do something particular whether it be to soak up the spas or gamble in the casino, enjoy fine wines in the local heuriges or wander the many short hiking routes in the area.

This time my reason for visiting Baden (other than to show Vanya the place) was to walk up to the Konigshohle and then on to Castle Rauhenstein. These are two very short easy walks that took absolutely no time. I combined them with a walk to Burgruine Rauheneck.

Hallstatt (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020 (Tour 3)

Lonely Planet describes Hallstatt’s beauty as bordering on the surreal and the sublime. Ordinarily it may be just like that but, prior to our arriving, it had been raining heavily and the mountains were covered in filthy clouds and the lake looked dark, cold and uninviting. That’s not nice, let alone surreal and sublime.

No matter the village, with it’s 800 inhabitants, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997; is one of the most photographed little towns in all Austria and; receives one million plus visitors every year (mostly from China). Indeed, the Chinese have been sufficiently impressed with Hallstatt to have built an exact scale copy of the old town at Luoyang in Guangdong Province. If that isn’t enough, it wasn’t raining as we arrived – so, we parked the Van and set off to look at the place for ourselves. We had no trouble parking despite it being a public holiday weekend in Austria and I’m not sure if that was because of the poor weather or Covid or both. Certainly, there were no Chinese while we were there.

Squeezed into a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the western bank of what is often described as a looking glass lake (fairly big too at over 7 km long, 2 km wide and up to 125 metres deep) the old town with it’s picturesque pastel coloured buildings is undeniably pretty. The market square with it’s Holy Trinity statue, shops, cafes and small houses is the best part of the town but the two churches must also be seen.

In most photographs of the town it is the spire of the Evangelical Church of Christ which is most prominent. Ironically, the town’s protestants weren’t granted the freedom to practise their own faith until well into the 19th century and the church itself wasn’t built until 1863. Call me a cynic but is it simply a coincidence that the protestant church sits directly beneath the Catholic Church?

I’ll tell you something. It is a nice place but you will not catch me here while it is being overrun with tourists.

Bad Ischl (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020 (Tour 3)

Bad Ischl is a spa town with saline, iodine and sulphur springs which sits under Mount Katrin on the Traun River. It is some 30 miles east of Salzburg and just 10 miles east from Gschwand where we parked.

Our friend Gerhard was staying in Bad Ischl for a few weeks and a visit there gave us a chance to catch up with him and complete a number of routine tasks that were long overdue (find a jeweller capable of fixing some watches, stock up on dog food, general shopping before Austria’s forthcoming National Day weekend and, most important, find Vanya some winter clothing which she had not brought along – hardly surprising since we had originally planned to be back in the UK some weeks ago). So it was that we set off to Bad Ischl.

It is a lovely little town full of old Imperial Grandeur. The Austrian Emperor (and King of Hungary), Franz Josef I was given a palace in Bad Ischl by his mother as a wedding gift when he married Elizabeth of Bavaria in 1854. This palace, subsequently named the Kaiservilla, became his summer residence and was used as such for the next 60 years. It was at the Kaiservilla on 28 July 1914 he wrote that fateful letter declaring war on Serbia which in turn started World War I- His letter has the Bad Ischl postmark on it. The Emperor left Bad Ischl the next day and never returned.

Enough history – Gerhard introduced us to a good jeweller (with whom we left our watches) and then took us on a whistle stop tour of the town…

Austria has a strong coffee house culture and, while Gerhard went off to attend to some business for a short while, Vanya and I took time out to visit the world famous Cafe-Restaurant Zauner for coffee and cakes. Established in 1832, the Konditorei Zauner was a great favourite of the Emperor Franz-Josef. It has since won numerous awards for both coffee and cakes and has even been immortalised on an Austrian postage stamp. The chocolate torte was wonderful.

We enjoyed a good Chinese meal that evening at the Asia Restaurant (with Tsingtao Beer and a glass of Gruner Veltliner) and agreed to return to Bad Ischl the next day for a further tour. Thanks Gerhard!

The next day, the weather was overcast and poor visibility precluded our ascending Mount Katrin in the cable car – not that Vanya could ever have been persuaded to make that particular 15 minute journey. Instead, we walked up the Siriuskogl (on the south side of Bad Ischl and just 20 minutes or so from the town centre) to an old wooden watchtower which provided good views down over the town but, more important, has an excellent little restaurant where we could get lunch.

After lunch it was time to move on. We were off on a short drive to beautiful Halstatt although, with the weather as it was, I wasn’t convinced we would see it at its best.

A factoid: The author Roger Lewis lives in Bad Ischl. Amongst other things Roger Lewis writes biographies – “The Life and Death of Peter Sellars” (no prizes for guessing who that was about”, “The Man Who was Private Widdle” (a biography of Charles Hawtrey from the Carry On films), “Anthony Burgess – A Biography” (about he who wrote A Clockwork Orange) and “The Real Life Of Laurence Olivier (I don’t need to explain who Olivier is).

Sankt Gilgen (Salzkammergut), Austria October 2020 (Tour 3)

Saint Gilgen (Saint Giles in English) is a small town of less than 4,000 people at the Salzburg end of the Wolfgangsee, some 3 miles from where we were camped at Gschwand. Vanya wanted a rest day and I decided to walk the path besides the lake to Saint Gilgen for a look-see.

Saint Gilgen is really all about boat trips up and down the lake to St Wolfgang although the town also operates a cable car which for 28 euros will take you on a 16 minute ride up the Zwolferhorn Mountain. At 1,522 metres there ought to be some fine views from the summit over the Salzkammergut and it’s many lakes but I can’t say for sure because they had not long taken the old cable car out of operation and were testing a new one. I was advised it should be operational within the week. Timing is everything. Sadly, I didn’t have time for the boat trip either because we had arranged to meet our friend, Gerhard, for dinner but; there was enough time to explore the town and enjoy a glass or two of Gruner Veltliner in one of the local bars.

The town is small and is focussed around two places; the pier (where the boats depart for St Wolfgang) and the Mozart Platz. Mozart’s grandfather lived in St Gilgen, as did his mother (she was born there) and his sister (Maria Anna, better known as Nannerl). Wolfgang Amadeus never actually visited the place but the connection is plain to see and the town proudly celebrates the man and his works.

Time to get back to the Van for a shower. Wiener Schnitzel tonight.