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As you know I grew up in the western part of the fantastic city Vienna in Austria. Due to its infrastructure and cool vibe its standard of living is incredibly high. My by far favourite thing about the city is that whether I boarded the tram towards the centre or the outskirts, I would reach either in about 20 minutes. Therefore going for a hike, a run or a picnic in the forest, was never further away than 7 stops by public transport.

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Vienna’s west is framed by the wide Vienna Woods, starting with massive forest parks in the city and reaching out several kilometres beyond the city border. The area is great to spend some leisurely days or weekends away from the city buzz. I remember plenty a family trips cycling around the forest or visiting the local sights. Nostalgia was what overcame me, when upon invitation by the local tourism board, my best friend and I jumped into the car (a really cool e-car to be exact – perfect to bridge short distances in an eco-friendly way) and set out to explore the region to find some ideal destinations for those short trips. If you ever find yourself in Vienna, getting tired of the big city, or the unfriendly metropolitans, or the swarms of tourists, all you need to do is rent a car, board a bus or a train and put on your adventure cap. Options are endless, but we have brought together a collection of 5 amazing places to get you started.

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1) Baden

There are several biggish towns surrounding Vienna: Klosterneuburg in the north, Mödling in the south and Baden just a little further down. The latter is popular not only for its thermal springs (Baden literally means ‘bathing’) but also as main private summer residency of the Austrian emperors and aristocracy. And if the emperor came here to escape the stressful city life, why shouldn’t you do the same?

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You can get here either with a regular train from Vienna’s central train station, or take the slower, yet more traditional Badner Bahn – a special train leaving the Vienna Opera Baden-bound every hour. Rumour has it that empress Sisi even used to walk all the way here – so off you go!

Admittedly, Baden is not overflowing with young people, or buzzing nightlife – but there are some other things to find. For example an adorable town centre with candy-colored houses and surreal cake creations at cafe Herwig Gasser on the main square; or mentioned hot springs which are accessible in the towns many bathing houses and thermal spas; or a different food market each weekend at Josefsplatz and local delicacies at the Green Market on Brusattiplatz; or modern art at Arnulf Rainer Museum, which for its architecture alone is worth a visit.

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2) Casino Baden

If that wasn’t enough already, Baden is also home to Austria’s largest casino. Of course, we’re not talking Las Vegas here, but if you have anything to celebrate – this is the place to go. Many Viennese come here to celebrate their birthdays, hen nights, anniversaries or a simple girls’ night out. Casino Baden lies right next to the big Kurpark, a massive park created for the city’s health tourists. Obviously you have to be 18 to enter and also follow the dress code – however I was allowed in just fine even without my high heels. We went for the option ‘Dinner & Casino’. Upon arrival you get a little voucher booklet, which contains your ticket, and vouchers for dinner, a glass of champagne and €25 worth of chips to win or lose at the gambling tables. After a decadent 4 course meal at the even more decadent golden  round room of the restaurant (so much gold!) we headed back for a glass of sparkly champagne at the velvet-red bar. We needed that extra bit of courage to exchange our final vouchers for chips. Loaded with 2€ tokens we set straight for the Roulette tables, as we felt the most comfortable with this game. Don’t be shy – you will need to fight your way to a table when it’s very busy. More experiences gamblers tell the croupier where to set their chips, but we preferred to do it ourselves or not at all. After winning and loosing on and off, I decided to hit the Black Jack tables. All I knew was that I had to get as close to 21 as possible – and I even won (once…). Although there were many very obviously wealthy people and some bad-ass professional gamblers here and there, we had a blast betting, winning and loosing our little fortune. Casinos will always remain a bizarre experience for me, but this one was definitely an unexpected to discover so close to my hometown.

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3) Hinterbrühl

This one I remembered vividly from my childhood – the Seegrotte Hinterbrühl is Europe’s largest underground lake inside of an old mine. On hot summer days this is welcome destination to cool down, as even then the temperature inside the mine doesn’t rise above 9ºC.  You can only enter the mine with a guided tour, so it’s better to book ahead in the busy summer months. After a quick walk around the tunnels and massive halls (incredible that this was all built over a hundred years ago) you will follow the steps down onto the lower level. There  you board a small electro boat and start exploring the large lake, which was formed when an underground blasting operation went wrong and set free 20 million litres of water from behind the rock. Only dimly lit it is hard to tell the exact proportions of the lake, but it surely looks impressive. The water is quite shallow and at the bottom you can see the old railway tracks used to transport carts of cement won in the mine. If you are into visiting film locations, you might find it interesting that Disney’s ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was shot here. No matter what you think of that film, it was still Leonardo DiCaprio setting foot on the same rock as you – gasp!

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Hungry from all the gasping we visited one of the most famous restaurants in the area. Depending on whether you are into classical music and Biedermeier art or not, you might have never come across it, but Höldrichsmühle is featured in numerous artworks from that time – whether it is in compositions by Franz Schubert or in paintings by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. We definitely had to learn Schubert’s song about the linden tree outside today’s hotel and restaurant. But even if all that doesn’t mean anything to you, the food here is worth a stop. Particularly famous is the Milchrahmstrudel (milk-cream strudel), a traditional Viennese sweet strudel (often served with hot vanilla sauce).

To get here jump on a train to Mödling and from there take bus 364 directly to Hinterbrühl.

day trips from vienna / kathi kamleitner milk cream strudel / day trips from vienna / kathi kamleitner

4) Laxenburg Castle Gardens

Just a few kilometres away from Vienna lies one of the former royal family’s biggest treasures: Laxenburg Castle Gardens. The old castle here was the official summer residence of the royal household – they apparently had plenty of those. Although the castle itself looks impressive, most of it is inaccessible for the public. The gardens behind it however offer a wide network of trails, forests and meadows to be explored for days. The fact that emperor Franz, who was responsible for its expansion in the 19th century, was a landscape gardener himself definitely adds to the neat layout of the area. Some parts are contracted star-shaped, there is a canal flowing right through it with several dreamy bridges and in the midst of it all stands a medieval castle by a pond. This castle called Franzensburg however has never seen a real knight, as it was built in the early 19th century. The emperor loved the medieval times so much, that he simply needed to have a medieval castle – said and down. The castle is only accessible with a guided tour, which is totally worth it even if you are not a history-freak. The building itself is rather impressive and the view from the top of the tower simply amazing (foggy or not).

On a beautiful day you can also rent boats and explore the pond by water; and in summer the castle’s courtyard is used as a stage for outdoor theatre performances.

To get here catch the bus 566 from Vienna’s central train station, or bus 215 from outside Mödling’s train station.

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5) ‘Heuriger’ and wine in Gumpoldskirchen

The Vienna Woods is characterised by a rather coldish climate, but on its edges, where it is warmer, there are perfect conditions for some of Austria’s top wine-growers. Gumpoldskirchen and surrounding villages between Mödling and Baden are home to some of them. Every September the over 80 local wine-growers come together to present their best products on the so-called Genussmeile, 10km of easy trails leading through the vineyards and villages. Every couple of hundred metres another wine-grower pitches a tent, and puts up tables and benches to entertain a few guests at a time. Some people walk the entire way, others only sections – hardly anybody managed to stop at every tent, but hey, it’s worth a try.

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If walking far is not your thing, consider to center your adventure around Gumpoldskirchen. The village is tiny but has everything that a traditional Austrian wine village needs: old wine cellars, colourful, low houses, a picturesque view of the surrounding hills and plenty of ‘Heuriger’ – a blend of cozy wine cellar and casual restaurants.  Traditionally a Heuriger is only open a few times a year – whether or not it is open is signalled by a couple of shrub twigs hung up outside the entrance and the words “Ausg’steckt is” – which means that the wine is currently “at display”.

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We headed to the Heurigen ‘Altes Zechhaus‘ which belongs to the wine-growing family Krug. We were allowed a sneak peak into the wine cellar (including a wine tasting directly from the barrel – yummy!) and went for traditional delicacies (‘Schmanklerl’) to accompany the wine. Later that evening we found ourselves with locals in the small bar, chatting over a glass of wine and trying to make space for the busy waitresses – like with a flat party, the best atmosphere is always in the smallest room. Usually Heurigen are quite uncomplicated and people like to share tables with strangers. The wine brings the people together – and makes them very talkative as well. The perfect spot to test your German skills!

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The region is very proud of its wine and many of the annual festivities evolve around it. In May 40 to 50 local wine-growers offer their produce in the Kurpark in Baden; you pay roughly €20 for a glass with which you are allowed to taste every wine from any producer. In summer many villages organise a ‘Großheurigen’, where all wine-growers of a village open at the same time and sell their wine on the streets. In September you can visit the mentioned ‘Genussmeile’, and later in autumn the producers are ready to sell their first fresh produce of the year: Most and Sturm, two variants of very young wine, usually quite sweet and delicious!

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If you feel like staying and exploring the region for a couple more days, book your room at the hotel At the Park, which is in Baden just opposite of the casino. The hotel underwent some renovations and re-opened this year with a lot of stylish potential. The furniture is simple, but colourful and retro. My favourite part of the stay was having breakfast. Not only because of the joyful porcelain dishes used, but also because of the beautiful view over the Kurpark – if only we could have sat outside, but unfortunately it was raining a lot during our stay.

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So, next time you are in Vienna and need to escape the busy city, you know where to go!

 

Thanks to Maro und Partner and the local tourism board Wienerwald Tourismus for inviting us to this beautiful region and letting us taste all the wine!

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner, Kathi Greinstetter, Wienerwald Tourismus & Altes Zechhaus, except Vienna Woods via & Casino Baden via.