Travelling on the Edge (of Austria):
Hardegg, Geras & Drosendorf
The very North of Lower Austria is an area blessed with a very scenic landscape, but neglected by international tourists. It is quite popular with domestic tourists from Austria, though, who come from Vienna in the quest for a soothing time on the countryside. The stretch of land between the old towns of Hardegg and Drosendorf is worth a visit for cultural reasons that go beyond the countryside′s appeal.
Hardegg was shaped by the river valley of the Thaya as well as its role as a border town to Bohemia. Its mighty medieval fortress is the most prominent feature of the town, which grows around the building on a hill. Originally built in the 11th century, it lost much of its significance when Bohemia became part of the Habsburg empire and fell under disrepair. In the 19th century, the Count Johann-Carl of Khevenhüller-Metsch.
The count came from one of Austria′s most important noble families, who had proved to be loyal to the Habsburgs on many occasions (note that one line of the Khevenhüllers still owns the famous Burg Hochosterwitz Castle in Carinthia). In the case of Johann-Carl, his closest Habsburg buddy was the somewhat maniac Archduke Maximilian, brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I.
Sightseeing at the Outskirts of Lower Austria
The local museum in Hardegg Castle is mostly dedicated to him and his foolish decision to accept a French invitation to become "Emperor" of Mexico. The French neglected to ask the Mexicans what they thought about the matter and in the end, Maximilian was shot by a firing squat. Traces of Maximilian can be found mostly in Vienna: He started the fundraising campaign for the construction of the Votivkirche, he brought the feather crown of Montezuma to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and his giant sombrero can be admired in the Hofmobiliendepot.
In Hardegg Castle, you can see a replica of his crown (no feathers in that one), although the castle itself is more of an attraction. Beyond that, I would recommend to stroll around in the city and enjoy its historic centre. If you are starving for more castle-action, check out the Riegersburg outside of Hardegg, not to be confused with the castle of the same name in Styria. There are combination tickets available that cover both Hardegg Castle and Riegersburg. The area is also very popular for cycling, particularly around the area of the Thaya River.
On the way to Drosendorf, you will come across Geras, which is famous for its elaborate Baroque Abbey. The monastery is covered in a separate article and so I won′t go into further detail. Only that much: It is well worth a stay for a few hours. Moving on to Drosendorf, you will have an opportunity to explore one of Austria′s loveliest and most forgotten walled towns. Aside of the obligatory set of Rathaus Town Hall, town museum and Hauptplatz main square, Drosendorf is a great place for a relaxed coffee or a rest from a cycling tour. There are few sights to put a finger on, a Renaissance castle, the town walls and a several 16th century burgher houses are about it, but the general impression of Drosendorf makes it a worthwhile destination.