Biking, Birding, & Walking in Neusiedler See National Park
Neusiedler See National Park
Five to six feet deep. That’s the depth of Lake Neusiedler, which is in the center of Neusiedler See National Park. Though less than 50 miles from Vienna, this unusual park is a world apart. It’s a vast area of reeds and marshes that’s home to hundreds of bird species and many rare animals.
Lake Neusiedler is a special type of lake. For one thing, it straddles two countries, Austria and Hungary. On top of that, it’s a large, shallow steppe lake that drains entirely inside its own watershed, not out to the ocean. In fact, it’s the biggest lake of its kind in Central Europe. For all of these reasons, UNESCO lists its ecosystem as a unique habitat.
Lake Neusiedler was a surprise to David and me. Though we knew it would be a pretty area, we didn’t realize its scenery would be so dramatic.
Once we arrived, we discovered that vast flatlands, hay meadows, marshes, and livestock grazing areas surround the lake. In addition, we learned that its large reed beds are ideal habitats for nearly 300 bird species that migrate through here between Europe and Africa.
Unique Landscape of Neusiedler See National Park
The Neusiedler See National Park is a gem. Half of its land mass is a nature reserve. In that section, the park supports many rare animal species like wild horses, water buffaloes, and endangered albino donkeys. In addition, storks often roost in large nests atop traditional houses and chimneys until late-summer.
In the other half, you’ll find small towns, villages, farms, and vineyards, many of which are protected “cultural landscapes” tied to the UNESCO listing.
Life hasn’t changed much in this area for many centuries. It’s still mainly a farming area, and you can still see old wells and small huts for field workers to rest during the day.
Lake Neusiedler Cycling Path – Biking Across Borders
Whether you’re a casual bike rider or a serious cyclist, you’ll find great bike paths to suit your style in the national park.
One of the most popular routes, the Lake Neusiedler Cycling Path, circles the lake. It’s 84 miles long. Of that, 24 miles are located on the Hungarian side. This beautiful and varied trail winds past lakes, marshes, and vineyards.
Since the whole area is so flat and in great condition, the biking is very easy. Plus, you can take your bikes across the lake on the local ferries to visit small towns and wineries.
Birds, Wild Horses, and More
As I said before, the park is a haven for birds and animals. Even without going off the cycle path or hiking trails, we could see lots of different species. Most of all, it was fun to watch different animals look for food or feed near one another, like these roe deer and egrets.
Similarly, we passed these water buffaloes and birds sharing feeding space near each other. Apparently, it’s very common to see two different types of animals side by side like this throughout the park. Given the rich variety of wildlife there, the National Park works to preserve many animal habitats and endangered species.
In many ways, the albino donkeys were our favorites. There’s something very human-like about their expressions. Moreover, the park’s herd of 40-50 donkeys is the largest in Europe and part of its wildlife management program.
Elsewhere in the park, we saw some black Mangalitza-pigs, black cattle, and other domestic animals. Actually, many of the animals that were common in past centuries still live in the park today.
We spotted Weingut Hölle, a local winery and lunch spot, while on the Lake Neusiedler bike path. Since it was just off the trail, we decided to pause and check it out. It turned out to be a memorable pit stop with great views from the terrace.
Not only did we enjoy a delicious meal and local wine, but we had a specialty cake from the region for dessert. Best of all, the cake is soaked in a sweet white wine from Weingut Hölle.
Walk to Sandeck
In addition to biking, we took a hike to the Sandeck lookout tower. Even if it can be slow going on this sandy trail, it’s still fairly easy walking. Along the way, you see beautiful vistas of reedbeds and marshes on both sides of the trail. To our surprise, we met up with a horse-drawn carriage carrying some friendly tourists coming back from the tower.
Hotel Weingut Rosenhof
We stayed at the Weingut Rosenhof, a small hotel and winery in Illmitz. The best part of the property is its central courtyard with lovely gardens, where we enjoyed several al fresco meals during our visit.
Two of the best known bases for visiting the Neusiedler See area are Illmitz and Rust, across the lake from Illmitz. During the summer season, it’s great to dine at a local heuriger (a wine tavern) where you can sample local food and taste some crisp wines from the latest harvest. In fact, wine tasting and guided cellar tours are available at many of the area’s wineries.
Why Lake Neusiedler National Park
Neusiedler See National Park is a great destination for couples or families. It’s away from most crowds and offers plenty of options for recreation. If you want to see UNESCO-listed scenery, sample local wines, and just relax, the Neusiedler See National Park and lake area are perfect.
The town of Illmitz is a convenient base for exploring the national park. From Illmitz you can drive to Vienna in about an hour and to Budapest in 2 hours. In fact, if you plan to visit both Vienna and Budapest, the park makes a great stopover between the two cities.