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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
Arrived at a site, Paradiescamping Birkenstrand, at (G)Schwand on the Wolfgangsee (about 3 miles outside of Sankt Gilgen) which is amongst the best we have seen throughout the tour. It sits right on the lake and is clean and modern with everything you could want including a toilet block with underfloor heating… and all for 20 Euros.
Since Gerhard is currently staying in Bad Ischl just 15 kms away (and we hope to see him and Clare over the weekend) we have decided to stay on at Schwand and take in Sankt Gilgen, Bad Ischl and perhaps even Hallstatt. This latter town is reputedly the most beautiful village in Austria.
We arrived at Schwand late in the afternoon and had just enough time to quickly explore the local area before Gerhard joined us and took us to a fine restaurant in Gschwendt where we enjoyed a Wiener Schnitzel, the local beer and a nice Gruner Veltliner. We’ll be buying a great deal more of the latter before we leave Austria.
I recall staying near Villach last year, at a place called Ossiach, and making the 10 mile journey to Villach by bus to discover there was some kind of festival going on – the Villacher Kirchtag festival. I recall it was a very gay affair with many people dressed up in the national costume (lederhosen and dirndels) and numerous ‘oompah’ bands playing (almost competing with each other) and lots of beer was being drunk from about 9 o’clock in the morning. That was last August during Europe Tour 2 which I covered on Facebook but didn’t do a daily blog on.
The Villacher Kirchtag has been an event every year since 1936 (except between 1940 and 1947) and it is now a regional attraction that is known across Austria (and parts of Italy too judging by the number of Italian voices I heard last year). I don’t know the significance of the festival or how it came about but it really is a fun affair. Sadly, because of the COVID pandemic and following the Austrian governments directive that no large event take place before the end of August 2020, the 77th Villacher Kirchtag did not take place in 2020. Next year perhaps.
Our visit to Villach this year happened purely and simply because Bled was almost totally closed because of COVID (see previous blog). Rather than search Slovenia for areas that were not categorised as COVID level 2 or 3 (shades of the lockdown which would close the bars) we decided to make the 33 mile drive to Austria knowing that we would at least be able to get out for a drink.
One feature worth mentioning is that police are now manning the borders between Italy, Slovenia and Austria because of COVID. Having said that, we haven’t experienced any problems crossing borders. The Slovenians might have stopped us from entering (because we carry GB plates & passports and COVID is spiking in the UK) but because we have spent the last weeks in Italy we were okay. We were stopped too when crossing from Slovenia into Austria but again were waived through after explaining that we have been in Italy for several weeks and left Trieste that very morning. I trust we’ll have no problems going forward.
We stayed in a basic but clean and pleasant camp site, Seecamping Plorz, overlooking Lake Ossiach. We had the site entirely to ourselves.
The journey to Bled from Graz wouldn’t have taken more than an hour or two except I stopped twice.
The first time was to fill my LPG tanks (which amongst other things power the heating system in the Van; I think I may be needing them soon – it was just 2 degrees as I came over the mountains from Austria) and the second was to check out the little village of “Egg am Faaker See”. I was going to stop at the Austrian town of Villach, on the Draava River, but Egg am Faaker See, just 5 clicks further on, sounded more interesting and of course it is much smaller.
The stop to fill up with LPG was not enjoyable. There I was trying to fix/force a German adaptor on to my UK style LPG tap when a young lady, after watching me struggle for ten minutes or so, pointed out that Austrian LPG stations use the same adaptor as the French and the Italians- well of course they do. Silly me. Ten minutes is not a lot of time in the great scheme of things but the first few seconds of trying to fill the tank with the wrong adaptor in place caught me without gloves and receiving what felt like serious burns from the cold propane gas. I’ll wear gloves in future even if I don’t always apply the correct adaptor. Why on earth Europe should operate four different LPG fittings I do not know.
The stop at Egg am Faaker See was far more enjoyable not least because the air temperature had risen to 10 degrees and it was getting warmer still. I didn’t do anything but take in the views and chill out for an hour or so.
The Faaker See
I was chilled out and the rest of the journey to Bled (just inside the Slovenian border) went so smoothly I decided to continue with the mood and check into the four star Kompas Hotel for a day or two (hotels here are half price this time of the year) and take advantage of their swimming pool, sauna and massage facilities. Now that is chilled!