Waldviertel in Lower Austria
the "Forest Quarter" outside of Vienna
The province of Lower Austria is divided into four distinct cultural regions, the "Viertel" ("Quarters"): Mostviertel, the Waldviertel, the Weinviertel and Industrieviertel. The Waldviertel ("Forest Quarter") comprises of the north-western parts of Lower Austria. Note that the names of the quarters have developed as vernacular terms and therefore, their borders do not necessarily correspond with political or administrative borders.
In the case of the Waldviertel, its northern borders are those between Austria and the Czech Republic; the western borders are those between Lower Austria and Upper Austria; the southern border is marked by the Danube and includes stretches of the Wachau as well as the Basilica Maria Taferl; the eastern border to the Weinviertel is highlighted by Mount Manhartsberg. Compared to the other three quarters of Lower Austria, the Waldviertel is relatively thinly populated.
This is because it is less suitable as a base for commuting to Vienna. In total, approximately 250,000 people live there. The most important towns of the Waldviertel are picturesque, historic places: Gmünd, Horn, Krems, Eggenburg, Hardegg, Weitra, Waidhofen an der Thaya and Zwettl. Along the Danube, the Waldviertel holds parts of the Wachau, a region that is very important for Lower Austria′s tourism and therefore, economically very significant. The north is much more remote, note the military training area in Alltentsteig, which the Nazis founded in 1938. According to rumours, this was done in an attempt to destroy all records of Hitler′s family, which originated from this area.
History & Attractions of the Weinviertel
The landscape of the Waldviertel is generally pleasant, hilly with agricultural land. In the north, granite blocks are a peculiar feature - often found loosely lying around in a way that a single person can move them. They are called "Wackelsteine" (wobble rocks). This region is suiteable for gentle hiking vacations; combine your walking activities with a few trips to the towns of the region. They were often important centres of trade and transportation between Vienna and Bohemia, until the Habsburgs got hold of Bohemia and Moravia and the region lost its status of a border area. Many of the towns were preserved in a late-Medieval or Renaissance state.
In the 20th century, when the border status was re-established, this re-establishment went a bit over the top when the iron curtain was built. As a result, the northern Waldviertel did not prosper - rather the opposite was the case. Until today, the Waldviertel is considered to be reason for worries in the otherwise prosperous province of Lower Austria. There are almost no major industries and in terms of transportation, other routes (through Linz and the Mühlviertel, for example) are more important.
The historic textile and glass manufacturing that was once important for the Waldviertel as now developed more or less into providing for tourism and niche markets. Especially young and better-educated people see more opportunities in Vienna or Linz and move away. That being said, don′t expect poverty - the Waldviertel is still a wealthy stretch of land even by Western European standards. It′s just not economically booming. This might well turn into an advantage if you are looking for an area to spend a remote and relaxing vacation within easy reach of Vienna. Note also the monasteries of Altenburg, Zwettl and Geras, as well as the castles of Rosenburg, Ottenstein or Rapottenstein.