Waidhofen & the Ybbstal River Valley
Waidhofen an der Ybbs is a very pretty small town with a historic core, lots of noteworthy architecture and great access to the Ybbstal or Ybbs River Valley. If you think that "Ybbs" sounds funny only to the foreign ear, you are wrong - I consider it a rather odd name myself. Waidhofen′s Altstadt or old city centre is comprised of two large squares, the Upper and Lower City Square (Unterer and Oberer Stadtplatz). There is an onion-domed tower between these two squares, the Stadtturm, the most famous landmark of Waidhofen.
The tower makes a good starting point for Waidhofen sightseeing: It is open to the public (for a fee, it′s Austria after all), and grants a great view over the city and its surroundings. Nearby, there is the Heimatmuseum or town museum, which will give you further insights to the history and culture of the Ybbstal Valley. Here you will quickly grasp how traumatic the permanent threat of a Turkish invasion was.
In 1683, in the course of the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna, the Ottoman Empire was finally defeated and the heavy fortifications of Waidhofen became redundant. Rather peaceful times followed until the Napoleonic Wars broke out and Waidhofen was conquered three times by the French. The exhibition of the Heimatmuseum is surprisingly large and presented in quite a lively manner.
General Sightseeing in Waidhofen
The next attraction on the list is the city′s parish church, with predominantly Gothic interiors that date back to the 15th century. It is worth looking into the side-chapels, as one is occupied by a copy of the Prager Jesukind, the centre of quite active pilgrimage action.
Directly by the church is the local castle, which was built in 1407. The building owes its current appearance two recent architectural make-overs: the first in the 1880ies, when the Viennese Rothschild family hired Friedrich von Schmidt (who also designed the Rathaus of Vienna) to create a pseudo-Medieval something; the second more recently, when star-architect Hans Hollein added some new and highly modern elements in 2007.
Modern Elements in a Rothschild-Kitsch-Fantasy
The latter move caused quite an uproar in Austria, as every piece of modern architecture does. The only surprising thing about this is that despite of all the resistance against architectural innovation, Austria does actually have a strong tradition in contemporary architecture ever since Adolf Loos and the the early 20th century.
There is a narrow gauge railway called the "Ybbstalbahn", which famously follows the scenic river valley from Waidhofen. Popular destinations are the villages of Göstling and Lunz. The latter one is situated by a lake and thus called "Lunz am See" (Lunz by the Lake), which I find rather peculiar as it does not specify which like it lies by. In any case, it′s a pretty one (the Lunzer Lake, in fact), and a popular destination for all sorts of water leisure things.
Near Lunz (some ten kilometres away), you can visit the Carthusian monastery of Gaming, which is separately described in my article on the monasteries of Lower Austria and Vienna. The most popular destination in the Ybbstal Valley, however, is the town of Lackenhof. The popularity is drawn from the Ötscher mountain, one of the relatively few places in Lower Austria that offer good opportunities for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.