Sightseeing in the Seewinkel Area - Part I
The so-called Seewinkel area is the region around Lake Neusiedl - or east of the lake - in the North of the province of Burgenland. Most people who go there will spend their time cycling, drinking wine and enjoying the soothing spirit of the Burgenland. Many people come for bird watching, attracted by some 320 species of birds that make the National Park Neusiedler See a hot-spot for birders of a European dimension. Sightseeing in the stricter sense of the word is not what the crowds come for.
However, if you have a car, there are a few attractions that are well worth a visit. In the following, I try to provide a short guide to the Seewinkel, one of my favourite areas in Austria. Try to stay away from the spots that are popular with domestic tourists - Viennese love to flood the Seewinkel for summer sports, lying by the beach or drinking wine. Since Viennese are not the most attractive nor most charming breed of people, I recommend to avoid in particular Podersdorf, the windsurfing, sailing and swimming capital of the Seewinkel.
The only sight there is a windmill ("Windmühle") on the southern edge of the city. Stop by, look at it, move on. Speaking of moving on: Due to the rural nature of the Seewinkel, a car is somewhat essential for efficient transportation. Public busses do go to every village, but it takes time and some of the nicest spots are just outside of the villages.
Illmitz & Surroundings
Going towards Illmitz, you should pay attention to a road sign on the right hand side of the road indicating the "Gasthaus zur Hölle". Turn right here. "Hölle" means hell, but in this case, it is actually derived from a mid-high German term for "area outside of the village". It refers to a stretch of land north of Illmitz that runs along the shoreline of Lake Neusiedl. Mostly marshlands, the slightly salty soil is famous for its Tramina and Ausleese wines, very sweet, very oily and very expensive, but excellent dessert wines.
In terms of sightseeing, there is a wooden tower to enjoy the view on Lake Neusiedl and the marches, as well as - a bit north of this tower - an enclosure for Mangalitza hogs. These "Wollschweine" ("wool pigs") are an old breed of pigs of which a population in maintained here by the National Park′s administration. Note that the young piglets look a lot like wild boars′ piglets. Go back to the main road between Podersdorf and Illmitz.
Just before you get into Illmitz, stop by at the visitor centre of the National Park. This very nice 1990ies building has great information material about the history, natural history and aims of the National Park. As a bit of a drawback, most of this material is in German and Hungarian only, but the staff tends to be friendly and helpful, so if you ask for advice, they should be able to provide some. The visitor centre also organises tours that I recommend to those savvy for nature.
Europe′s Heaviest Chick
If you are up for a bit of hiking, move on and drive across Illmitz towards Apetlon. Pass Apetlon and go to the in-the-middle-of-nowhere parking lot by the "Lange Lacke" lake. This it a great place for an in-depth experience of the vast flatness of the Neusiedl area, a shallow lake packed with all sorts of fascinating birds and Britons looking at them with binoculars. Walking around the Lange Lacke takes about two hours. Bring your own water, it can get hot there.
Moving on towards Wallern and St. Andrä, you can now go to Andau and further down to road to the so-called "Hansag". This tiny outpost of the National Park is little more than two untouched fields in the midst of agricultural land. However, the Hansag is the home of Austria′s biggest colony of Great Bustards (not to be confused with Austria′s biggest colony of great bastards, which would be Vienna). This bird - nothing but massive - is Europe′s heaviest feathered fellow still able to fly and famous for its impressive courtship behaviour.
The males pop their white inside out and flap their wings not dissimilar to a 1-metre-diameter popcorn. To appeal even more, they open and contract their cloacae (colloquially known as "assholes"). All of this is difficult to see from a distance, so you should bring at least decent binoculars if not a telescope. The courtship takes place around the first of May and can go on for several weeks. In 2007, I watched a great bustard at courtship in June.
Continue with "Seewinkel - Part II"
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