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Travel review: Austria’s gem

Posted on September 27, 2011
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umathum Vineyard Austria

The Umathum vineyard

THINK ‘Austria’ and for many, Viennese whirls (the dancing kind), snowy mountains, singing nuns and Lederhosen spring immediately to mind. But tropical weather and wine-infused sunshine breaks? Not really.

However I was lucky enough to sample just that when I paid a visit to one of the country’s undiscovered gems – the beautiful Burgenland region

With 300 days of sunshine every year – interspersed with the occasional tropically-tinged storm – this stunning part of the country is the heart of Austria’s winemaking trade, which has recently been celebrating a massive resurgence since the lows of the mid-80s crisis which virtually wiped it out.

Savour

And with its added rustic charms, mouthwatering ‘pannonian’ cuisine, beautiful architecture and artistic heritage, Burgenland is definitely one to savour.

Burgenland is one of the Austrian republic’s easternmost provinces, forming the connecting link between the Austrian Alps and the lowland plains of Hungary.

For this reason it also offers an often hot and humid climate, and a wide variety of different landscapes: from mountains to wooded hills to flatlands with the famous ‘steppe’ lake known in English as Lake Neusiedl.

It’s also got cultural riches to spare. The Esterházy, Batthyány and Nádasdy dynasties used fine architecture to immortalise their names in the region and legendary artistic names have helped shape its cultural legacy.

We flew on a comfortable and convenient Easyjey flight from London Gatwick to Vienna airport for a three-day break.

We were transported to our hotel, the stunning St Martin’s Spa and Lodge, a beautiful family-friendly retreat with a variety of treatments which make it tempting to just stay hotel-bound during your stay.

But step out we did. to an array of tourist delights offering something for everyone, enough to soothe the mind, body AND spirit in fact.

Our first stop was the regional capital Eisenstadt, starting with the “Lisztomania“ museum and the Haydn House, absolute musts for culture buffs.

The first is dedicated to child prodigy, piano virtuoso, heartthrob and original ‘rockstar’ Franz Liszt, who was born in Burgenland.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth in the town of Raiding, and a whole year of events is being staged in the province in his honour,

It is also worth having a look at the “Haydnhaus”, where composer Josef Haydn lived with his wife Aloisia during the time he was working as a conductor for the Esterházy court at the Esterházy palace in Eisenstadt.

As well as its palace – the former seat of one of the mightiest and richest families of the Hapsburg empire – Eisenstadt features a stunning historic centre full of baroque bourgeois houses.

Highlights include the ‘Bergkirche’, with its 24 biblically-themed stations which wind their way through the inside of the church.

With statues of biblical figures playing out religious scenes, it’s a unique experience to say the least.

Burgenland’s people are very proud of their regional cuisine and at Henrici’s, right opposite the palace, you can sample some of their finest homegrown ingredients.

The building in which the restaurant is housed used to be the palace stables. Now a bustling high-class eaterie, it is named after architect Benedikt Henrici.

After lunch, what better to work it off than a guided tour of the palace. Among its highlights is the huge concert hall, the ‘Glanzlichter’ where Haydn put on some of his most memorable performances. With its opulent, gilded furniture and huge painted ceilings it’s a pleasure to sit in the hall and evoke some of its past musical glories.

If that’s enough to satisfy your cultural appetite, then this might be the time to sit back and reflect on it all with a nice glass of wine.

Vineyards

With many centuries of viticultural experience – and huge swathes of its land dedicated to vineyards – Burgenland is a first-class winegrowing region.

Specialities include full-bodied whites and reds, and unique dessert wines from the Lake Neusiedl region.

Also popular are the Blaufränkisch in central Burgenland and the ancient Uhudler with its bouquet of wild strawberries, from the idyllic winegrowing area of southern Burgenland.

For our viticultural adventures, we were first taken to the Feilinger-Artinger family-run winery in Rust, which has centuries of links with the town. The charming courtyard setting and friendly hosts make this a nice break from the usual touristy spots.

Rust’s ‘Ausbruch’ wine, a sweet late-harvest wine, is produced from specially selected shrivelled berries.

And straight after some tasters, a walk around the town itself is a daydreamer’s delight. The town is as famous for its storks as its wine, with huge nests scattered across the rooftops. The baroque town centre is also one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

Back to the wines though, and a visit to Umathum’s vineyards and cellars is a must for the aficionados.

The family estate is located in Frauenkirchen, east of Lake Neusiedl.

Host and winery boss Pepi Umathum clearly lives for his art and will treat visitors to a real eye-opening tour.

His red cuvée “Ried Hallebühl” is already legendary, but Umathum is equally known for its sweet wines. Last year, its “Scheurebe 2002” won the Decanter Sweet Wine Trophy.

Park

After two days of fine food and finer wines, we rounded off our trip with a visit to the Illmitz nature park – one of six nature reserves in the region.

Because of its marshy land, the area is home to many species of birds, flora and fauna.

A quick jeep ride from the main centre at Illmitz opens the way for a day of birdwatching, and with guides available, it’s one for seasoned twitchers and novices alike.

And if a gentle waterside bike ride is more your thing, how about a cycle along Lake Neusiedl to work off yet another hearty meal?

In fact, with 300km square of water, it’s a water-sport lover’s paradise.

With so much on offer it’s really hard to fit all of Burgenland’s tourist offerings into a short break. With its mix of fine food, range of accommodation including spa hotels to quaint cottages, cultural gems and – of course – wine-buff’s playground, it definitely has something for everyone.

Travelfacts

We stayed at the St. Martins Spa and Lodge hotel. Prices start from 115 Euros per person per night. for more information, visit www.stmartins.at or telephone 00 43 2172 20500

Various flighst are available with Easyjet, BA, Austrian Airlines, BMI to Vienna/Schwechat or with Ryanair to Bratislava. We flew with Easyjet from London Gatwick and flew back with Ryanair via Bratislava.

Aisha Iqbal

26 Sept 2011

http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/lifestyle/travel-reviews/travel_review_austria_s_gem_1_3810384

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