Waidhofen an der Thaya:
Austria′s Northern-Most County Town
Waidhofen an der Thaya is a market town in Lower Austria and occupies a rather rural corner of the province. Waidhofen an der Thaya has a propulation of approximately 6,000 residents and holds the rank of a county town (Bezirkshauptstadt), making it the administrative, economic and spiritual centre for the region.
Within Austria, the Thaya region is generally associated with remoteness and natural beauty – note also my article on the Nationalpark Thayatal. Waidhofen is a logical starting point for exploring the Thayatal region and the northern parts of the Waldviertel area. Most of Waidhofen′s claims to fame are derived from its location – by its own claim, it is the northern-most county town of Austria. If that isn′t quite something! Make sure not to confuse Waidhofen an der Thaya with a town of the same name further south in Lower Austria, Waidhofen an der Ybbs.
Waidhofen an der Thaya was first mentioned in 1171 in a written document. Throughout the Middle Ages, Waidhofen was a town in the border area to Bohemia and used as an outpost by tradesmen. As early as 1230, Waidhofen was raised to the rank of a city. This was clearly caused by the significance Waidhofen played in Austro-Bohemian-Moravian trade and traffic – but the exposure to Bohemia had its disadvantages, too. Frequently, bandits and regular troops attacked the area and Waidhofen was repeatedly besieged. In 1526, the Habsburgs acquired Bohemia and Moravia (a very important principality for political and economic reasons), leading to a lasting pacification of the northern Waldviertel area. Waidhofen lost significance and spent the next centuries in relative peace.
Waidhofen an der Thaya since the 17th Century
In the 17th century, Waidhofen and its surroundings specialised on lace making and other textile manufacturing, which ensured a constant stream of income. The area recovered economically and once again, Waidhofen became an important trading town. There are not really significant events after 1800 which would be specific for Waidhofen – the town shared the turbulent history of many Austrian towns, maybe a tad more tranquil.
Today, the Waldviertel area is popular with Viennese who want to spend their weekends on the countryside. The area is well-connected with the capital and offers all sorts of opportunities for outdoor activities, be it hiking, cycling, golf, fishing or water sports on the river Thaya. In terms of sightseeing, Waidhofen an der Thaya has little to offer. You will find a charming town centre, but many historically significant houses were destroyed in a great fire in 1873.
Note the "Dom des Waldviertels" or "Cathedral of the Waldviertel Area", which is of course no cathedral but simply a very large church. The parish church of Waidhofen, to be precise. The building is Gothic in its course, but in the 18th century, it gained its current Baroque face. Speaking of Baroqe: Note the Trinity or Plague Column on the main square (Hauptplatz), built between 1705 to 1709. Note also the obligatory Rathaus or city hall, originally built in the 16th century.
Culture & Cuisine at Waidhofen an der Thaya
In cultural terms, note the theatre of Waidhofen – the northern-most theatre stage of Austria, woo-hoo. Cultural events include an international festival of folk music, which – despite of the name – is of rather local interest. Biologists like myself and friends of birds will appreciate the "Waldrappvoliere", a breeding project of a rare species of ibis, the Northern Bald Ibis (one hell of an ugly beast, really). For a few years, environmentalist groups in Austria work towards a re-establishment of a breeding Waldrapp population.
In terms of local specialities, try some of the freshwater fish dishes – the Waldviertel is known for its carp dishes. Another regional agricultural good is poppy seed, used mostly for pastries and desserts. With the recent developments in tourism, Waidhofen has tried to establish itself as centre for "gentle" or ecological holidays. The forests, hills and rivers of the area certainly help in this endeavour – most importantly the large granite rocks (Dioritfindlinge) that you can find in the woods of the Waldviertel. Attractions nearby are rare, but not the town of Zwettl.