A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
This itinerary begins in Vienna, the city of music, and then goes south, tracing the eastern border of Austria. Most of the trip takes place in Burgenland, which literally means “land of castles.” The name is appropriate: look closely and you will spot on almost every strategic mountaintop a castle or the ruins of a once-mighty fortress. The castles were a necessity, a defense against the fierce invaders from the Ottoman Empire whose dreaded warriors constantly passed through on their way to Vienna. Two of the suggested places to stay on this itinerary are castles that have been converted into hotels.
Also stops are made en route at castles that are now open to the public as museums where you can relive this fascinating, turbulent period of Austria’s history.
Castles are not all that Burgenland has to offer: here you can sample some of Austria’s finest wines (about one-third of the country’s production comes from this area-the grapes are mostly grown around the mysterious Neusiedler See whose water occasionally simply disappears). In addition to castles and wine, Burgenland is famous as being Austria’s cradle of music-some of Austria’s finest musicians were born here. So, if you like castles, music, wine, and “off-the-tourist-track” adventures, follow this itinerary for a very special treat.
ORIGINATING CITY VIENNA
Vienna is a logical starting point for this itinerary since the boundary of Burgenland begins only a short drive from the city limits. For sightseeing suggestions refer to the itinerary Highlights of Austria by Train & Boat-or Car. While in Vienna soak in as much history as you can. There are superb bookstores here with a tantalizing selection of books written in English. Browse through them and buy a few-especially those dealing with the history of Austria. It will make this itinerary “come alive” as you later wander through Roman encampments, visit castles filled with weapons used against the invading Turks, and explore palaces owned by the wealthy Esterhazy family whose power rivaled that of the emperor. Also buy a book on the music of Austria: an especially good one is Richard Rickett’s Music and Musicians in Vienna. As you later follow the trail of Haydn and Liszt (both sons of Burgenland), you almost hear the haunting melodies of their music when you visit their homes.
Absorb as much history as you can from the tour guides who take you through the Hofburg Palace. Ask about how Maria Theresa wrested power from the princes whose small kingdoms in Burgenland almost rivaled her own. On this itinerary you will be visiting some of the castles that belonged to her adversaries. Also while in Vienna, attend as many musical performances as you can, since you will be traveling through the province where many of Austria’s great musicians were born. One of these was Haydn, who attributed the originality of his compositions to the fact that for so many years he was isolated in Burgenland where he could not copy the popular musical trends.
While in Vienna there are many excellent hotels to choose from. Try to plan well in advance since Vienna is a very popular tourist destination and hotel space is always at a premium.
DESTINATION I RUST
Leaving Vienna, take the Autobahn A4, which follows the Danube Valley east. It is an easy route to find-just follow the airport signs. The autobahn is a good road and continues on toward the Hungarian border. About 24 kilometers beyond the airport you will come to Petronell-Carnuntum where signs on both sides of the road indicate footpaths to Roman ruins. There is now only a hint at what was once a stronghold of the Roman power in Austria: only a couple of amphitheaters located in open meadows, some ruins of Roman houses, and a lonely stone gate remain. (To see what was found in the excavations, continue on a few kilometers farther to the town of Bad Deutsch Altenburg where most of the artifacts are displayed.) Although the excavation site is not dramatic, the Romans played such an important role in Austria’s history that it is good to soak in a bit of the mood-and besides, the walk through the fields to the amphitheaters is very pleasant. A few kilometers farther east, almost on the border of the Czech Republic, is the medieval walled city of Hainburg. Although not an especially beautiful medieval city, Hainburg was very important due its strategic location and many famous battles were fought here. (Note: If you get a late start from Vienna, skip the Roman ruins and Hainburg.)
Leaving Hainburg, retrace your drive and return west along the Danube for about 8 kilometers, returning to Bad Deutsch Altenburg where you take Highway 211 south. In a few minutes you arrive in Rohrau. Amazingly, this simple town was the birthplace of two musical geniuses, Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) and Michael Haydn (1737-1806). Just before you enter the town, watch on the left side of the road for the small whitewashed thatched cottage where Haydn (one of a family of 12 children) was born. Haydn’s Birthplace Museum has just a few rooms. Of special interest are the many pictures of his fellow musicians.
Just beyond Haydn’s birthplace, you will see on the right side of the road the large Harrach Palace dramatically surrounded by superb gardens. This estate ties in with Haydn’s life as his mother was a cook for the wealthy Harrach family who were, and still are, the owners of this castle. But far more than the fact that Haydn’s mother worked here, the castle is worth a stop because now it also houses one of the finest private art collections in Austria, the Harrach Gallery. Park your car and walk into the courtyard to buy your ticket to the museum. More than 200 paintings representing artists from all over the world are elegantly displayed in light, airy rooms. Do not miss a long corridor whose walls are lined with huge murals depicting famous Austrian battles: it is fascinating to see the battle formations and the homey touches such as women cooking the meals, children frolicking just behind the field of battle, and dogs following their masters. Note especially the dress and weapons-you will be seeing the real thing a little later on in this itinerary at Forchtenstein Castle.
Continue south from Rohrau on 211 for a short way and you come to the A4. Take this south for about 5 kilometers (in the direction of Budapest/Neusiedl am See) and then take Exit 43 to the B50 ab. After a few minutes you will see ahead of you the Neusiedler See. Some of Austria’s finest wines are grown in the fertile marshy lowlands stretching around the lake.
The Neusiedler See is intriguing. About once a century there is NO lake-it simply disappears. And then, for no apparent reason, it comes back again. There are almost no tributaries into the lake-the water seems to blossom forth from underwater springs. Another strange occurrence is that sometimes the lake shifts, rather like a tilting cup of water. When this takes place, land is quickly claimed, but before the arguments of possession are solved, the water usually shifts again and the land is recaptured by the mischievous lake. In spite of its naughty nature, the lake is fascinating: so shallow that a man can usually stand and keep his head above water at the deepest part, and so encumbered with reeds that long piers must extend out from the shore for access. Its very nature welcomes birds, and this is a paradise for the bird watcher-more than 250 species of birds, protected by law, make this their home.
As you drive south on 50, watch for a small road to the left, signposted to Rust, a charming village with picturesque old houses, many still with thatched roofs. Park your car in the center of town and wander around. Look carefully and you will see storks proudly perched on their rooftop nests. If you are lucky, you might even see a baby stork noisily asking for dinner. In addition to having quaint architecture and roofs decorated with storks, Rust also produces some of Austria’s loveliest wines.
On the little streets leading off Rust’s central square, you will frequently see evergreen branches tied above arcaded doorways, indicating a simple wine tavern within, where the owner serves his own wine. Step into the inner courtyard and sit down at one of the wooden tables for a bite to eat and a sample of the famous Rust wine. See if you agree with the Hungarian prince who was so fond of its wine that he gave Rust the stamp of royalty.
In a lovely 16th-century whitewashed building facing the main market square is one of Rust’s most charming small restaurants-the Rusterhof.
Once you settle into your hotel, drive a few kilometers farther south along the lake to Morbisch, another wine town. Mörbisch is not quite as colorful as Rust, but is picturesque with many little lanes spanned by arcades that connect gaily painted houses.
DESTINATION II BERNSTEIN
From Rust, head directly west on 52 to Eisenstadt. Eisenstadt is where Franz Joseph Haydn lived for 30 years and brims with mementos of his musical genius. Continue straight into town and stay on the same street until you come to the Schloss Esterhazy (if you cannot find a place to park, there is a parking garage across from the palace). The powerful princes of Esterhazy, who incidentally claimed descent from Attila the Hun, were an immensely wealthy, powerful family in Burgenland and Hungary, their holdings rivaling those of the emperor, and at times their wealth surpassed his. It was a popular concept for wealthy nobles to have their own court musician, and Haydn was hired to lead the musical life at Schloss Esterhazy.
You must not miss the imposing Schloss Esterhazy: it is well worth a leisurely visit. Check with the tourist office before you leave home to try, if at all possible, to coincide your sightseeing with one of the concerts that are regularly performed here. If you miss a concert, another option is to time your visit with a short daytime musical performance. On a regularly scheduled basis, a group of musicians, dressed as they would have been in Haydn’s day, play chamber music. This is outstanding-if your timing coincides with this event, do not miss it.
Take the tour of the castle itself, which has recently been restored to its original grandeur. Buy a pamphlet in English at the ticket desk so that you can appreciate what you see. There are excellent pieces of art, plus an ever-changing exhibition. When we last visited, there was an incredible display of personal belongings loaned to the museum by the Esterhazy family. Most memorable was a dining table exquisitely set with fantastic china, linens, and silver-as it would have been for a party given by the prince.
You will see several of the rooms where Haydn worked, including the highlight of the tour, the Haydn-Saal, a huge concert hall decorated with 18th-century frescoes. It was here that Haydn entertained the Esterhazy family and their friends almost every evening, usually with his own masterful compositions. The family constantly desired new pieces, which motivated Haydn to compose a stream of superb music. In fact, he must have never had a moment to relax since new compositions were expected from him to celebrate every birthday and other special occasions. Haydn attributed the originality of his music to his isolation in Eisenstadt where he could not copy the stilted music so popular in Vienna.
Either before or after the tour of the castle, take the short walk to Haydn’s Home (only about a block away). As you face the castle, the street where Haydn lived runs along the right side of the castle grounds. Follow this street and you will find his small house on the left side of the road, 21 Haydngasse, marked with a plaque. There is an appealing small courtyard but the house is not grand. Inside, the rooms are simple-mostly showing interesting pictures both of Haydn and his musical contemporaries. Near the piano a tape plays some of Haydn’s delightful compositions. It is almost like magic-you feel he has returned and is playing especially for you.
Plan to eat lunch in Eisenstadt. The town has recently undergone extensive renovation and the plaza in front of the castle stretches out to an inviting pedestrian-only street with many restaurants and shops.
Leaving Eisenstadt, follow Highway S31 south watching for the town of Mattersburg, at which point you head west for a few kilometers to Forchtenstein Castle. You should not get lost because not only is the castle well signposted, it can also be seen from far away, dominating the top of a hill.
The approach road to Forchtenstein Castle twists up the mountain to the car park at the summit. The restaurant on the cliff next to the castle has a stunning view of the valley. The castle, originally built by the powerful Mattersburg family and then later rebuilt by the Esterhazys, was a key defense against the terrible Turks.
Forchtenstein Castle is still in fabulous condition and the castle tour is particularly interesting. In the museum you see the original equipment used by the Esterhazy army. This is a dazzling display-the largest private collection of armor in Europe. Even the Tower of London with its enormous military museum is not much more impressive. In some ways, the museum of Forchtenstein is even more interesting because it is more personalized. You walk through enormous rooms where the equipment was kept-one complete room of helmets, another of spears, another of saddlebags. What a dramatic reminder of the power, wealth, and splendor of the Austrian nobility!
The armory is not all there is to see, however. The kitchen is also very interesting with its giant spit over an open fire-seemingly large enough to roast meat for an army, which it probably did. In the courtyard there is a well over 120 meters deep which was dug by some of the less fortunate Turks who were captured and had to work as slaves. Also on display are other mementos of the battles with the Turks: you will see many captured weapons and, most interesting of all, a wonderful Turkish tent, probably used by the commanding officer. In one of the corridors of the castle is an assortment of elaborate coaches and sleighs used by the Esterhazy family. All in all, it is a wonderful museum.
Leaving Forchtenstein Castle, return east to the main Highway S31 and continue south for about 15 kilometers to Weppersdorf then take 62 east for about 5 kilometers. At Horitschon turn south, following signs to Raiding, the birthplace of another musical genius, Franz Liszt. Liszt’s Birthplace is now a museum, the walls covered with musical mementos and photographs. It is interesting to see the photographs of many of Austria’s musical masters, many of whose lives were interwoven. In the lobby is a small shop where you can purchase literature and musical tapes.
After a visit to Liszt’s birthplace, return to Highway S31 (which becomes Highway 50 at Oberpullendorf) and continue on to your destination for the night, Bernstein.
DESTINATION III KAPFENSTEIN
As you leave Bernstein, continue south along Highway 50. In a few kilometers you will come to the popular health spa of Bad Tatzmannsdorf. The town is not very interesting and quite crowded with tourists “taking the waters,” but there is a splendid park in the center of town that you might want to see.
Driving south from Bad Tatzmannsdorf on Highway 50, you soon come to Oberwart. Five kilometers beyond Oberwart, turn right (west) on a small road that leads to the Autobahn A2. In 7 kilometers you hit the A2, which you take south in the direction of Graz. In about 28 kilometers you come to a turnoff to the 66, which you take south toward Feldbach. From the junction, it is about 13 kilometers until you reach Riegersburg where you will see high above the town, to the right of the road, the sensational Riegersburg Castle. Park your car in town at one of the designated parking places and walk up the path to the castle. Be forewarned: it is at least a half-hour’s hike. But if you are not in a hurry, the walk is part of the fun. When you finally reach the top, there is a restaurant where you can sit outside and enjoy the stunning panorama from your perch high in the sky.
You need to join a tour to visit the castle. The interior is not spectacular-it is the combination of the incredible setting, the views, and the structure of the castle that makes a trip here worthwhile. Note: As you climb up the path to the castle, before you reach the summit, there is a place to the right where falconry demonstrations are given. If this interests you, ask the tourist office in advance for the schedule.
After Riegersburg, continue south on 66 for approximately 9 kilometers. Just before you come to the town of Feldbach, 66 makes a junction with 68. Turn left (east) here and 4 kilometers later take Highway 57 east to Fehring. When you come to Fehring, head south for about 7 kilometers to your destination, Kapfenstein. This region of Austria is glorious with its tranquil, unspoiled perfection. As you approach Kapfenstein, the castle crowns a hill to the left of the road. Kapfenstein makes a most fitting conclusion to the “wine” portion of this itinerary since from here you can venture out each day to explore the vineyards in the region.