The Neusiedler See, in the east of Austria near the Austro-Hungarian border, is one of Europe's most unusual lakes. The only steppe lake on the continent, it measures 35km/22mi long and between 5-15km/3-9mi wide. It is, however, extremely shallow - 1-1.8m/40-72 ins. deep. The shallow water, slightly saline, thus warms up very quickly in summer to a temperature of over 25°C/77°F. The water level varies according to the rate of evaporation: between 1866 and 1869 the lake dried up completely.
St Margarethen - Quarry
On the road from Rust to St Margarethen (4km/2.5mi), some 300m/330yd to the north, is an old quarry of Leitha limestone which was already being used in Roman times. Stone from this quarry was used in the construction of St Stephen's Cathedral and other buildings in Vienna. During the summer artists of different nationalities work here, producing works of monumental sculpture, usually abstract in form, many examples of which (some of them painted) are scattered about the quarry. Every summer a Passion Play is performed here.
Address: Kirchengasse 20, A-7062 St Margarethen, Austria
This play is performed every five years in the open-air stage of the Romersteinbruch quarry. The play has very deep religious significance to the local residents, hundreds of which participate in the play, reenacting scenes from the New Testament.The play is held on weekends during the summer and is followed by a procession and pageant, after which the local residents rejoice with various events.
South of Podersdorf, between the Neusiedler See and the Hungarian frontier, stretches the Seewinkel, an area of salt steppe country dotted with small lakes and ponds (the "Lacken"), with interesting plants and wildlife (many species of birds). Every year in autumn numerous gray, speckled and white geese come to the Lange Lacke in the Seewinkel. Some breed in Russia and Siberia, and when the "Lacken" and the Neusiedler See freeze they usually migrate to Yugoslavia and Italy. In early summer, too, bird migration can be observed in this region. Also of interest to holidaymakers are the "Pannonia Holiday Center" (a holiday village with reed-thatched bungalows and the Hotel Pannonia; thermal spring) and the "Pamhagen Steppe Animal Park" in the south of the Seewinkel.The Landscape Conservation Area in Seewinkel is comprised of several comprehensive nature reserves.
Rust (121m/397ft; pop. 1,700), situated on the western side of the Neusiedler See, is a well known town and tourist resort with excellent facilities for winter sports. It was given the status of a royal Hungarian free city in 1681. It has many well preserved burghers' houses of the Renaissance and Baroque periods; many of the houses have storks' nests on their roofs. Because the stork population fluctuates greatly the town of Rust has developed a stork protection program in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, with the aim of again providing optimum living conditions for the birds.From Rust a 1km/0.75mi long causeway leads through the reeds to the bathing area (lakeside restaurant).
Rust's Fischerkirche (Fishermen's Church), first recorded in 1493, lost its tower in 1879; some original wall paintings were discovered in 1953, showing scenes from the New Testament. Note also the Gothic altar and Gothic tabernacle. The church is still surrounded by a defensive wall. Candlelight concerts are held in the church during the summer months. In the main street stands the house known as "Zum Auge Gottes" (the Eye of God), with a fine 18th century oriel window. The Seetor (Lake Gate) dates from 1715.
Situated 5.5km/3.5mi south of Rust, near the Hungarian frontier, lies Mörbisch (115m/377ft), an attractive little town of traditional Burgenland style with gaily decorated arcaded houses and long narrow lanes. A mineral spring was bored here in 1959, and a 1.7km/1mi long causeway leads to the bathing beach, with an island offshore. There are excellent facilities here for various water sports, including surfing and sailing, and a floating stage on which performances of operettas (Mörbischer Seefestspiele) are given in August, culminating in a firework display.The town of Mörbisch is known for its beautiful floral decor.
Frauenkirchen, 6km/3.75mi south of Halbturn on the eastern side of the Neusiedler See, is named after its magnificent pilgrimage church (1695-1702); on the high altar can be seen a much venerated Gothic image of the Virgin, taken from the church's medieval predecessor which was destroyed during the Turkish wars. It is said, however, that the original venerated image was the oil painting of a "Maria lactans", which now adorns a side altar. The interior of the church is decorated with painted stucco work and frescos by Italian artists. Near the church is a Calvary (Kalvarienberg).
To the southwest of Breitenbrunn on the northwestern side of the Neusiedler See lies Purbach (124m/407ft), a vine growing town and holiday resort with a well preserved circuit of walls (four massive gates) dating from the time of the Turkish raids (16th-17th century) and some old houses. The town's emblem is the "Purbach Turk", a bust on the chimney of a house. Purbach is the starting point for walks and climbs in the Leitha mountains. At harvest time the visitor can indulge in a "Traubenkur" (curative diet of grapes).
On the "Neusiedler Lake Highway" which runs southwards from Neusiedl to Eisenstadt lies the village of Breitenbrunn (140m/460ft), with a tall watch tower (now a museum) of the Turkish period in the main square. The parish church, in front of which stand the Kreuzkapelle (Chapel of the Cross, 1706) and a Gothic "lantern of the dead", is surrounded by a defensive wall with embrasures. From here a road (4km/2.5mi) and a canal lead to the lake (swimming pool, boat-hire).
10km/6mi northeast of Podersdorf on the eastern side of the Neusiedler See lies the market town of Halbturn (128m/420ft); note the maize stores known as "Tschardaken". The old imperial hunting lodge was built by Lukas von Hildebrandt in 1710; it is one of the finest Baroque buildings in all Austria. Maria Theresa had the Grand Hall decorated with ceiling paintings by Anton Maulpertsch; the park is also well worth seeing.
To the west of Seewinkel lies Illmitz (117m/384ft; pop. 2,400), a typical puszta village at the foot of the vine-clad Illmitzer Höhe, with a mineral spring and a biological station. A road 4km/2.5mi long with a cycle lane runs southwestward between reedy "Lacken" to the bathing beach on the Neusiedler See. In the well known nature reserve around Illmitz rare flora and fauna can be found.Illimitz is located on the beautiful lakeside.
St Andra, Austria
St Andrä (123m/404ft) is the chief place in the Seewinkel area. The wide village green, surrounded by a row of typical Burgenland farmhouses, gives the village its character. A steam train which still runs to Hungary, and some reed thatched houses are reminiscent of olden times. The Zicksee, to the west, a lake with high sodium carbonate content, has a beach of fine sand.
On the eastern side of the Neusiedler See, 15km/9mi south of Neusiedl on the "Seewinkl Highway", lies Podersdorf (122m/400ft), a bathing resort with a reed-free beach and motorboat station). Here, too, there are a number of storks' nests on the houses, some of which are thatched with reeds. The parish church dates from 1791.