National Park Thayatal
The National Park Thayatal is a national park in the very north of Lower Austria, comprising of the Thaya river valley, which marks the border to the Czech Republic. The park is 1,330 hectares big and connected to the Czech national park Podyji. The Thayatal is considered to be among Austria′s most scenic gorges and popular among hikers, cyclists as well as white-water rafters and people riding kayaks. The National Park Thayatal is internationally recognised by IUNC, not necessarily granted with Austrian "National Parks" (see my article on the National Park Nockberge for a comparison).
The Thayatal is considered to show an unusual degree of biodiversity and a range of microclimates; this has several reasons. On one hand, the valley follows an east-west orientation which allows more sunlight to penetrate than in most other gorges. On the other hand, the geology of the gorge has led to unique geo-chemical and topographic conditions. The park is situated at the border between the mild Pannonian and the harsher Continental Climate. The steep cliffs of the valley generate a gradient in ecologically relevant factors: Light, humidity, composition of the soil, wind exposure.
Highlights of the National Park Thayatal
As a result, the structured gorge with narrow and wider sections, has ideal conditions for species with a variety of preferences. Therefore, the National Park Thayatal is the smallest of all Austrian national parks, but home to a remarkable number of species: Approximately half of all plant species known to occur in Austria can be found here, as well as a large number of animals. This includes many rare or even endangered species of birds and mammals, generally the most "marketable" groups of animals when it comes to advertising the environmentalist cause.
In terms of sightseeing, the castle of Hardegg receives the most attention in the area. It is situated within the national park, just like the ruined castle of Kaja. Other interesting places nearby include Drosendorf and Geras. In Hardegg, there is a bridge connecting the Austrian and the Czech national park. The National Park Thayatal is clearly not the most frequented of Austria′s national parks: Most visitors are Austrians, many of them even locals.
The remoteness of the Waldviertel has contributed to preserving a rural spirit even beyond the protected area of the park itself. This, at least in my opinion, makes the Thayatal even more appealing and unique. For people who live in Vienna, the Waldviertel and the National Park Thayatal are ideally located for a tranquil weekend or short vacation. Hardegg is well-connected to Vienna with public means of transport, but to get around a little bit in the area, a car - or at least a bicycle - will be more convenient.