I realised that I’ve been neglecting the Austria section in my blog since my last post. That has to be changed because there’s dozens of interesting places right on the doorstep. I think for a big city, Vienna is blessed with lots of different, beautiful landscapes within a short distance reach. They vary from mountains to plains and from pristine forests to agricultural land. You get a pretty good mix of all of that in the northern part of Lower Austria, which is called the “Weinviertel” (“Wine quarter”) and “Waldviertel” (“Forest quarter”). I guess the names say it all, but here I’d like to introduce two places which lie very close to each other, yet are very different.
Retz is a cute, picturesque town surrounded by vinyards, so it’s no surprise that the whole town’s history is about wine. There’s also the country’s largest underground wine cellar and almost every house has its own, resulting into a total tunnel length of 20 km – according to the municipality that’s longer than their road network. Without doubt, it’s located in one of Austria’s most famous wine regions, therefore you’ll find plenty of “Heurigen” (wine taverns) serving high quality wine for very reasonable prices. And once you’re there you shouldn’t miss another popular attraction: The windmill is one of the two last remaining operable wind mills in Austria and the guides are happy to show you how it works. Retz is easily accessible by train or car from Vienna and ideal for a day trip, especially if you’re into wine.
Close to Retz and right by the Czech border lies Hardegg, which claims to be the “smallest town of Austria” (by its administrative status). Well, town is a slight exaggeration in that case – it’s more like a sleepy village, but the location between the Thaya River and a castle from the 12th century create a romantic setting. Furthermore, the whole area is part of the national park “Thayatal” with lots of hiking trails through the forests. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the little bridge between Austria and the Czech Republic has been reactivated, which makes it easy to explore both sides. For example, the “Hardegger Warte” on the Czech side offers a beautiful view over Hardegg and the river valley – personally it was my favourite place of that trip.