It happens every year: When temperatures rise and the long, gray Viennese winter finally ends, Fernweh kicks in – a very useful German word denoting a yearning for faraway lands and experiences, and the polar opposite of homesickness. Yet, it is all too easy to forget that some of Austria’s most picturesque springtime vistas are right on Vienna’s doorstep, and few (if any) can match the Kamptal (Kamp Valley), just barely over an hour away in Lower Austria’s Waldviertel: Named after the Kamp River flowing through it, the upper parts are hard to access – but at the village of Rosenburg, the river turns south and widens into one of the loveliest riverscapes in the country, with an appealing mixture of history, characteristic architecture, culture and culinary delights that has something for everyone.
The Kamptal is easily reachable via a 75-minute train ride to a village named Sigmundsherberg. Bringing your bike is easy: Regional Express Trains (REX) will transport them for an extra fee of €2 and leave Vienna’s Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof workdays and weekends every hour.
Cycle about 10 kilometers southwest past the villages Meiseldorf, Stockern, Maria Dreieichen and Mold and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the imposing Rosenburg castle, towering above the dark forest and – if the light is just right – glistening in the sun. The ideal entry point to the Kamptal, it’s a must-see on your tour.
Originally built in the mid-12th century and remodeled in the 1500s, this Renaissance jewel has been in the possession of the Hoyos family since 1681, who have opened many sections to the public and taken great pains to maintain their ancestral home. Among the many attractions are the oldest tournament ground in Austria, a museum displaying medieval weapons, a falconry show and four stunning gardens with – of course – lots of roses. Enjoy refreshments at the central courtyard café or grab lunch at the excellent castle restaurant. They also offer overnight accommodation and event spaces (very popular for weddings) and host various festivals and seasonal markets from April through October.
Named after the castle, the surrounding Rosenburg village boasts several elegant Jugendstil villas, something you’ll see at several points in the Kamptal. Back in the 19th century, writers, artists and composers were among the first to discover the area, drawn by its natural beauty, fresh air and mild, southerly climate. One of them was Franz von Suppè (1819-1895), the father of Viennese operetta, who owned a cozy house named Sophienheim in Gars am Kamp, the most prominent town in the area. He created many of his over 200 stage works there, including the operetta Boccaccio, which is still popular today. Another frequent resident was Heimito von Doderer, (1896-1966), author of the Austrian classic Die Strudlhofstiege,who spent several summer holidays at the Hotel Blauensteiner in Gars.
Once the single-track Kamptal railway opened in 1889, Vienna’s nobles and wealthy upper-class flocked to the valley in the summer, hiring some of the best Austro-Hungarian architects to design fashionable country houses. Soon, river spas sprang up to accommodate the growing number of guests; featuring architecturally distinct wooden pavilions, you can still see some of these examples of past grandeur in Gars, Plank, Stiefern or Langenlois. Another beautiful reminder of the past is the old railway station of Gars-Thunau, still largely the same as it was in 1889.
During the 1980s, a new generation of celebrities came to Gars: Among them was Austrian Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda, who was followed by fellow racers like Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger and Michael Schuhmacher, as well as tennis stars Steffi Graf and Thomas Muster. In fact, they weren’t just enjoying the clean air – many sought the advice of legendary massage therapist Willi Dungl, who specialized in healing typical sports injuries like muscle pain or tendon damage at his Biotrainings-Zentrum Gars am Kamp.
One of the first in Austria to propagate organic food, herbal cures and frequent exercise, Dungl passed away in 2002, but a monument in the Kurpark Gars pays tribute to the health pioneer. Another memorial in Gars honors the Austrian popstar Falco, who topped the Billboard charts in 1986 with his song “Rock me Amadeus;” he owned a villa here where he frequently sought refuge, right up to his untimely death by car accident in 1998.
Of course, the main attraction of the Kamptal is the river itself. It’s unsurprising that city slickers have been coming here to unwind for over a century: Just sit by the waterfront and feel its calming effect. In most places, it flows slow and quiet, only babbling over the occasional waterfall. From its headwaters on the border to Upper Austria to where it eventually flows into the Danube east of Krems, the Kamp playfully winds its way through the landscape, looping its arms around lush islands. The cycling trail itself rarely follows a straight line, intertwining with the river and the railroad track, switching banks several times by crossing over picturesque iron bridges.
The route from Rosenburg to the vast vineyards around Langenlois on the southern end goes for about 25 to 30 kilometers, depending on how many sights you visit. The track is mostly paved, in good shape and clearly marked with signposts, but be mindful of several unguarded railroad crossings. Practiced cyclists can expect a leisurely ride except for a short, steep incline after passing the village of Oberplank. It pays off though: On the summit, a rest area with a gorgeous view awaits.
The valley widens once you reach the southern vineyards, so you won’t get stressed even if the pace accelerates. There’s a lot to see once you reach the charming wine villages of Schönberg, Neustift and Zöbing, which are well regarded among wine lovers. One of the more famous varieties is called Zöbinger Heiligenstein, named after a nearby slope that boasts one of the best terroirs in the area. At the very beginning of Zöbing, you’ll find the Gasthaus Gutmann in a yellow building on the left, which I can warmly recommend. If you reserve in time, you can grab a table on their charming second floor terrace and take in an amazing view of the Kamp River while you enjoy a scrumptious (mostly regional) meal with excellent wine, shaded by ancient chestnut trees.
If Gutmann is closed, just take the next bridge and continue to Langenlois, one of Austria’s most famed wine villages. On its west side, you’ll find the Loisium Wine & Spa Hotel nestled between the vineyards, an icon of modern architecture designed by Steven Holl. Dedicated to delicious food, wellness and excellent wines, it also includes the outstanding Loisium museum, which showcases 900 years of wine tradition; the perfect place for a celestial dinner and – if you’re still thirsty for more – to rest your head at the end of an extraordinary day.
If you ́d like to stay a bit longer, there’s a lot more to see around Langenlois: There are the charming Baroque houses of Hadersdorf am Kamp, which also hosts a museum to Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri and star chef Roland Huber’s excellent restaurant, Esslokal, nearby; the vast Kellergassen (wine cellars) in the villages Strass im Strassertale and Ettsdorf, or the picturesque Grafenegg castle and the classical concerts it hosts in summer, only a few kilometers away. Of course, these are just some of the delights right on Vienna’s doorstep, but that’s a story for next time.
Sights and Attractions
Apr, May, Jun & Oct: Fri-Sun & holidays 9:30-17:00 Jul-Sep: Wed-Mon (Tue closed): 9:30-17:00
Restaurant Reservation: [email protected]
0676 77 77 118
Restaurant Gasthof Gutmann
Heiligensteinstraße 32 3561 Zöbing
Wed-Fri 11:30-14:30 & 18:00-21:30 Sat 11:00-21:30, Sun 11:00-15:00
Loisium Wine & Spa Hotel Langenlois
Tue & Wed 18:00-20:30 Thu-Sat 9:00-13:30 & 18:00-20:30
Jun-Oct Fri-Sun 11:00-17:00
Variant 1 – Direct
Regional Express (REX) Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Sigmundsherberg
Daily every hour: 8:28, 9:28 and so on.
Variant 2 – One Transfer
Every hour from 8:05 onward: Regional Express (REX 4) from Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Hadersdorf am Kamp; switch there to the R44 to Rosenburg am Kamp; arrival 9:47 (saves the 10-kilometer stretch from Sigmundsherberg to Rosenburg)