Southeast of Vienna, hugging the border with Hungary, lies the Austrian region known as Burgenland. Once part of the Roman province of Pannonia, Burgenland is Austria’s oldest wine producing area, a natural wonderland and home to some of Austria’s most charming towns, notably Eisenstadt and Rust.
The northern part of Burgenland is characterized by mainly flat plains around the Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl). This large, shallow lake helps moderate the temperature in what also happens to be Austria’s sunniest region, with over 300 days of sunshine a year. A birdwatcher’s paradise, the lake is home to many different bird species while also serving as an important migratory stop. Six parks dot the region’s landscape including the stunning wetlands of the Neusiedler See – Seewinkel National Park south of Illmitz.
For cyclists, the relatively flat topography around the lake makes for ideal biking conditions. Over 2,500 kilometers of bike paths draw riders from around Europe. One popular Burgenland bike trail is the B10, the northern portion (website) of which is 95km of cycle paths around the lake from Rust on the western shore to Illmitz on the eastern edge. From there, you can take the B10 southern loop through Hungary for another 38 km. The bike paths are well maintained and have modern rest stops that blend into the surroundings – you can also take a ferry at several points across the lake to shorten the route.
Aside from the natural beauty, the major draw to Burgenland is its wines. Long known for its sweet wines, it is increasingly acclaimed for its red varietals. A number of notable Burgenland winemakers have come to the world’s attention in recent years including Heidi Schrock, Josef Umathum, Leo Hillinger, Feiler-Artinger and more.
Sitting at the entrance to Eisenstadt’s Old Town is the graceful Schloss Esterházy (website), a palace with origins in the late 14th century. The baroque façade visible today was added later by the Esterházy family in the 1650s. Today, you can tour the interior, including the spectacular Haydnsaal, an ornate concert hall, and the Apartment of the Princess. Open daily April 1 – December 30, weekends January – March; Adults €9, Reduced €7 for tour, additional fees for Wine Museum and Princess’ Apartment.
Eisenstadt is synonymous with composer Joseph Haydn, who spent more than forty years of his life in the town. Visitors can step back in time at the Haydn House (21 Joseph Haydn Gasse, website), where he lived with his wife for twelve years. Exhibits feature 18th Century furnishings and musical instruments. The house is open Tuesday – Sunday, closed Mondays. Adults €4, Students & Seniors €3.50. The annual Haydn Festival Eisenstadt (website) takes place every September – this year’s 25th edition will be held from September 5 – 22.
Across from the palace, Henrici (Esterhazyplatz 5, website) serves Austrian dishes in a refined setting. The Goose Liver Variation is a standout dish on a menu that features everything from seasonal creations to pastas to catfish from Lake Neusiedl to the national dish, Wiener Schnitzel. In summer, pull up a chair on their terrace and soak in palace views. Afterwards, you can head next door to the Selektion Vinothek Burgenland shop and wine bar for a comprehensive selection of regional wines.
A short drive from Eisenstadt, the charming town of Rust fronts the western edge of Lake Neusiedl. The town’s most famous residents are undoubtedly the storks who roost in its chimneys and fly gracefully through its skies. The birds are a bit noisy at first but you’ll soon grow used to dining outdoors while they clatter their beaks above you. The town is small and easily traversed on foot with several winemakers open to the public for tastings. For a hearty meal, drop into Buschenshank Peter Schandl (Hauptstrasse 20) for rustic seasonal cooking, wines from the Schandl family and a beautiful secluded garden.
If the green gate is open, Weingut Heidi Schröck (Rathausplatz 8, Rust, website) is welcoming visitors for tastings. This small winery produces a range of white and sweet wines. Start with an aromatic Gelber Muskateller or a minerally Furmint then move to a richer Sauvignon Blanc before hitting the sweet wines. The 2010 Spatlese was a highlight, very expressive and opulent, a late harvest but not sweet blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay.
Feiler-Artinger (Hauptstrasse 3, Rust, website) is a short walk from Schrock and keeps its tasting room open six days a week (Monday – Saturday 8am – 7pm). The winery has completed its conversion to biodynamics and is focused on red and sweet wines. Here you can try Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch and various blends such as Solitaire, an intermingling of Blaufrankisch, Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt built for aging and worth cellaring.
Biodynamic winemaker Josef Umathum’s vineyards sit on the plains of Burgenland, east of Neusiedler See, with a view of the church tower in Frauenkirchen. Though the area is famous for its sweet wines, reds are what Umathum (St. Andraer Strasse 7, website) is best known for with 85% of their production comprised of Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and St. Laurent. The Rosa rosé is a fresh lively start but the real stars are the Zweigelts from the Ried Hallebühl, the highest point east of the lake, known for producing elegant wines. Blaufrankischs tasted were both from Kirschgarten, a prized terraced vineyard in Jois that dates back to 1214. Josef took over this abandoned parcel and replanted it in 2001, with the results being big, powerful wines perfect for aging. Tasting room open Monday – Saturday, no appointment necessary.
Ernst Triebaumer (Raiffeisenstrasse 9, Rust, website) does not have a tasting room but if you manage to get an appointment with them, you are in for a treat. The cellars lie beneath a house and hold a collection of old wines. Started in 1972, Triebaumer has always done things his own way – everything about the winery is sustainable – even if in the beginning no one wanted to buy their wine. Ernst just kept doing what he wanted to do and waited for the market to catch up. Here the whites tend to be lean and mineral-driven, even the Chardonnay. Blaufrankisch makes up 55% of the production. Vineyards to look for include the Marienthal, which produces an intense, well structured wine or the Oberer Wald with its 65 year old vines.
Leo Hillinger’s (website) stunning modern winery sits among the vineyards of Jois, a glass-walled building jutting out from a hill with cellars beneath. The expansive view from the winery’s terrace includes both the lake and the mountains, as well as the sloping Jois vineyards. Hillinger is known for its reds, often single varietals including St. Laurent, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Blaufrankisch, especially the one produced from the Leithaberg vineyard site. Open Monday – Friday 9am – 6pm, Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 11am – 6pm.
Where to Stay
Seehotel Rust (Am Seekanal 2-4, Rust, website) has been recently renovated and features 110 rooms, many with balconies, with views either of the lake or the Old Town. Doubles from €128 including breakfast.
On the eastern side of the lake in Apetlon, the Velich Residenz guesthouse from winemaker Heinz Velich (website) offers five rooms in a renovated former Customs House. From here it’s a short walk to outdoor activities on the lake including windsurfing in summer. Breakfast includes local products and they’ll even lend you bicycles for free. €85 – €100 per person. If you stay at the Residenz, make sure to try Heinz’s wines, which are not easily found outside Austria. He specializes in white wines unlike other Burgenland producers – look for the TO blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Welschriesling or the Tiglat Chardonnay from 50 year old vines.
For smaller accommodations, seek out members of Pannonian Living, a collection of unique and charming guesthouses. We recommend the Purbach Estate (Hauptgasse 64, Purbach, website) in Purbach, an off-shoot of Michelin-starred restaurant Gut Purbach. A collection of 16th century buildings, including a former tavern and the town jail, had fallen into decay and was renovated in 2000. €78 per person, including breakfast, which is served in the courtyard in warmer months. The restaurant menu features modern and traditional dishes from Chef Max Stiegl in an elegant setting.
For more information on Burgenland travel, visit Burgenland.info.