Biking the vineyards and castles of Austria’s Lake Neusiedl

Rife with bike trails, charming villages, sailboats, a wildlife sanctuary, incredible wines and a palace where Joseph Haydn used to work, Lake Neusiedl is an Austrian attraction often overseen.

Located in Burgenland 50 miles southeast of Vienna, Lake Neusiedl is the largest “endothecia” lake in Central Europe, which is a fancy way of saying that its water does not flow to the ocean but is a closed hydrologic system.

The  lake is on the very eastern edge of Austria, and in fact straddles the Austriann-Hungarian border.

It covers a relatively large area, of which most is on the Austrian side and a smaller part on the Hungarian side. Stretching north south, it’s 36 km / 22.3 mi long, and between 6–12 km / 3.7-7.4 mi wide.

But what’s most curious about this lake is how shallow it is— at its deepest point its only 1.8 m / 5.9 ft. It’s no surprise this lake actually has dried up a couple of times over past couple centuries.

Last summer, while visiting Vienna, we headed over to this magical lake to explore its many wonders, which are pretty popular with locals, but rather unknown to foreign visitors.

A biking paradise around Lake Neusiedl

The Lake Neusiedl region is completely and totally geared for the bike enthusiast. With hundreds of miles of bike paths that wind their way past vineyards, medieval towns, palaces, and the lake’s pristine reed-banked shores, you can spend many wonderful days exploring on two wheels.

While we were there we did all our traveling by bicycle. It’s super easy and really fun. These paths literally go everywhere, as biking is such a big thing here.

And because this is Europe, even when you’re not on a designated path (rare here), cars are very respectful.

We essentially did a slow tour around the Austrian lake shore, spending our nights in the various villages, each of which has its own tone and flavor.

One of our favorites was the small town of Rust, which is a quintessentially beautiful old European town with twisty streets and gorgeous architecture. One of the top features here are the storks that nest on the chimneys.

Lake Neusiedl Rust

The quaint little town of Rust at Lake Neusiedl. (Can you spot the two nests on the white house, and the stork sitting in the far back?)

If you’re too lazy to ride around the whole lake, you can take one of the many “bike ferries” that crisscross the lake.

Even if you’re a super biker, you should take at least on of these ferries, as it’s great to get out on the lake.

Also it’s kind of cool to see so many bikers piling onto a boat. They stash all the bikes on one end, which makes you wonder if you’ll ever find your bike again.

As we had rentals, I was just concerned that I would remember what mine looked like.

Riding is also a great way to burn off the calories you gained eating this region’s fantastic foods and also burn off some of the alcohol running through you veins.

On that note you’ll want to be a bit careful. There are numerous Heurigen or wine/food “huts” that you will pass along the sides of the bike paths and it’s very easy to stop in for a taste.

And whereas rules are more relaxed when in a bike versus a car, be forewarned that those “tastes” can add up, and riding a bike with a serious buzz is also very dangerous and hazardous.

To avoid this, you should drink the popular “Sommer Gspritzter”. This grandfather of the American wine cooler is a refreshing mix of mineral water and white “field wine” usually made from a blend of the most popular local whites wines. Not only are these more refreshing, but they are less intoxicating as well.

We were told that Austrians start drinking those at lunch time, starting with a 1:7 wine-to-water mix, and then slowly increasing this during the course of the day (sounds just as dangerous).

Lake Neusiedl — Austria’s greatest vineyards

The Heurigen already gave it away. Lake Neusiedl is likely best known for is its wines.

With vineyards covering roughly 7,649 ha / 18,893 a, stretching from the wine town of Gols in the north, through the flat terrains of the Heideboden and down to the Seewinkel, adjacent to the Hungarian border, one finds a wide variety of delicious wines here.

Some of the more popular wines from the region are the fruity and harmonious red wines made from the Zweigelt grape that reflect the region’s climate and soil. However, the region is also known for its amazing white wines and dessert wines.

Lake Neusiedl vineyard

One of the countless vineyards around Lake Neusiedl

Like other famous wine regions, such as California’s Napa Valley, wine tours draw a lot of tourists to Lake Neusiedl. In the case of Lake Neusiedl, these are mainly Austrians.

My highlight of our winery visits was the village of Purbach where you can stroll the “Kellergasse” — an ancient street lined with wine “cellars” dating back to the Middle Ages.

Unlike traditional cellars, these long, narrow, stone-arched structures are only partially underground since the water table here is quite high. And while many still store wine, some have been converted into eclectic bars or restaurants.

On the first Saturday of each month (during summer only) the owners of the cellars put out chairs and tables and turn Kellergasse into an open-air wine festival. Just by accident, we hit it at just the right time.

Lake Neusiedl Kellergasse Purbach

At the Kellergasse in Purbach

Lake Neusiedl’s royal past

If you like to indulge in European history, visit the Esterházy family palace in Eisenstadt, west of Lake Neusiedl.

This palace was first constructed in the late 13th century, and soon came under the power of King Louis the first of Hungary who developed the castle into a “medieval city castle” included in the northwest perimeter of the city of Eisenstadt.

It next came under ownership of the Hungarian Esterházy family in 1622 and was converted into a baroque castle, which served as the principal residence and center of administration of the family for over 300 years.

You can take wonderful guided tours of this amazing castle that we highly recommend. One of its “gems” is the “Haydnsaal”, which was originally the castle’s large multi-purpose festival and banquet room.

Named for and used by Joseph Haydn who lived and worked as a musician for the Esterházy family for 40 years, the room is fabulously ornated and beautiful. It’s also one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls of the world.

One of my favorite attractions at the castle is the large wine museum. As wine has been a major product of this region for centuries, the Esterházy family had a large hand in growing and producing some of the region’s best wines.

In the basement of the castle there are rooms and rooms filled with old wine casks and strange ancient wine making apparatus, as well as thousands of moldy bottles stacked in corners (not sure they are really any good any more, but very cool).

Lake Neusiedl Esterhazy palace

The Esterházy palace in Eisenstadt

The silent sailboats of Lake Neusiedl

Lake Neusiedl is famous for its strong winds, which attract sailors and windsurfers alike.

When we were there we saw many sailboats gliding peacefully across the waves, which made me kind of want to get out there and sail.

Of course you need to have a shallow draft boat to ply these waters, as it is a very shallow lake. You also need to have a good set of batteries, as gas and diesel powered boats are banned here.

At first I was perplexed at how quiet the sailboats and other boats we encountered were, and then someone explained it — duh!

These favorable sailing conditions also have attracted many racers and Lake Neusiedl has a number of regattas throughout the season. The most famous of these is the International Sailing Foundation’s World Sailing Games, which brings in some of the world’s very best yachtsman.

On our bike ferry ride we passed many strange and nifty houses that sit on stilts over some of the marshy areas of the lake. I was kind of jealous watching the pensioners from nearby Vienna relaxing on their own little piece of heaven. I am still waiting for my house on the lake.

Lake Neusiedl stilt house

Stilt house on Lake Neusiedl

Lake Neusiedl serves as a refuge for hundreds of bird species

The first national park in Austria, National Park Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel, is a stretch of protected land along the shores of the lake that were formerly covered by water.

Founded in 1993, and currently a designated World Heritage Site, the biodiversity of the National Park Lake Neusiedl-Seewinkel makes it one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in Europe.

Here you can walk or bike the extensive network of paths, and try to catch a glimpse of some of the over 300 bird species that have been spotted here (binoculars are a big help).

lakeneusiedl_birds

The wetlands around Lake Neusiedl are a heaven for more than 300 species of birds

The National Park Information Center is open all year round and is a great place to get valuable information about the region and its wildlife. Visitors can take part in one of the many excursions to different parts of the park or learn how to discover the wonders of nature for themselves.



When I used to think of Austria, I just though of the Alps and great skiers. Our recent trip to Lake Neusiedl changed all that. Now I know that this amazing country is so much more than yodeling, mountain huts and Käsespätzle. Next time I’m back, I’m going to have to go sailing!

Did we miss anything at Lake Neusiedl? We’re happy to listen to your advise in the comments and go back to check it out.

Eric

Eric got the travel writing bug after working as a journalist in Cambodia in the mid-90s. Over the years he has written for numerous U.S. magazines and newspapers and taught writing at universities. He finally decided to go full-time with his travel writing because life is short, the world is big and he wants to experience it all.

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