Lower Austria’s Thermenradweg bike path is an impressionist dream just south of Vienna

Waterways tell stories that have touched generations. Sometimes they have a silvery glimmer, sometimes green, golden or shades of blue, reflecting the sky, the clouds, the bridges or the trees along the way, filling the imaginations of poets, painters or composers.

© Wienerwald Tourismus Gmbh

I myself have cycled many times along rivers, creeks and canals – in France, Germany, South Moravia, Slovakia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia – and have always been fascinated. But nowhere so much as here in Austria, where I have often followed the Danube east or west from Vienna, through the legendary Wachau and beyond. But just south of Vienna, there is another waterway, the Thermenradweg – less well known, but none the less worth discovering.

Following a canal between Vienna and Wienerneustadt, the Thermenradweg is part of the EuroVelo 9, a trans-European bikeway that connects the Baltic Sea with the Adriatic. This Wiener Neustädter Kanal plays games with nature, sometimes wide and leisurely, sometimes narrow and roaring; in some places, it runs over a bridge crossing another river, something that would surely have fascinated the impressionists.

After biking about an hour you’ll see columns of poplars, reflected as their mirror images dance on the waterway. Not a kilometer goes by that doesn’t have a memorable view: A variety of different sluice gates, one slowing, the other accelerating the flow of water. An old stone bridge with water running through a round hole in the middle.

But you don’t have to follow the waterway: Just a short detour away are the Schlosspark Laxenburg or the spas of Baden and Bad Vöslau, the moated Schloss and restaurant Kottingbrunn or the enchanting wine village of Gumpoldskirchen, whose hillside vineyards and bike paths stretch in all directions.

September is a good month to visit: On two consecutive weekends (Sep 1-2 and 8-9), local food and wine producers set out their wares alongside the 1. Wiener Wasserleitungswanderweg (first Vienna Water System Hiking Trail). Called the Genussmeile (The mile of enjoyment), it extends from Mödling to Bad Vöslau, covering a distance of 10 km.

© Raimo Rudi Rumpler

Southbound

© Raimo Rudi Rumpler

From Vienna, there are several ways to reach the Thermenradweg. One of the easiest is to simply hop on the U6 toward Siebenhirten, getting off in Alterlaa. Here you cycle a short way back on the street and follow the bike path alongside Liesingbach to the east until you see the sign “Thermenradweg.” Another possibility would be to take the Laxenburg Radweg from Hauptbahnhof to Vorarlberger Allee at the southern edge of Vienna and enter the Thermenradweg there. A third way is to take the S-Bahn to Guntramsdorf, where the Thermenradweg connects with the Wiener Neustädter Kanal.

© Wienerwald Tourismus Gmbh

As soon as you get to Vösendorf and cross Ortsstrasse, you are in another world. A solid but unpaved gravel path is hidden between two walls of green, blossoming shrubs, leading you to a land of thermal springs with a climate noticeably milder than the surrounding region. Towns and villages like Baden, Bad Vöslau or Bad Fischau-Brunn are a reminder of the long bathing tradition that gave the Thermenland its name.

The baths of Bad Vöslau und Bad Fischau-Brunn, built in imperial times, are especially important landmarks. Behind them, spacious vineyards grow from the flatlands up the hills to the eastern edge of the Vienna Woods, which explode into a riot of color in October as leaves turn from green to yellow, red, orange and brilliant purple.

After some 2 kms, the unpaved gravel path reaches the Schönbrunner Allee, a broad, paved road leading directly to Laxenburg. But you can avoid the traffic: Simply follow the signs for the Thermenradweg. From here, the bikeway is extensively marked with signs that direct you to sights and rest stops.

Imperial Retreat

One place you should absolutely make time for is Schlosspark Laxenburg, only about a kilometer off the Thermenradweg. Encompassing about 2.8 square kilometers, it was originally a hunting ground for the nobility dating to the 12th century; today it’s an enormous garden with 300-year-old oaks, a pond with seven islands you can discover by pedal boat – and three baroque castles originally built between the 12th and the 17th century. The “new” or “blue” castle is famous for its magnificent staircase and Schlosstheater (castle theater); it’s also the home of the International Institute of Applied Studies (IIASA), one of the most internationally respected scientific institutes of Austria.

The old and the new castles and the Franzensburg were once among the main residences of the Habsburgs. It was Empress Maria Theresia (who reigned from 1740-1780) who ordered the connecting road, today’s Schönbrunner Allee, between Schönbrunn Palace and the castles of Laxenburg, where Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth spent their honeymoon in 1854 and their daughter Gisela and Crown Prince Rudolf were born. Karl I, the last emperor, established his office here so he could be close to the imperial army headquarters in Baden.

After exploring the expansive Schlosspark, you can cool off on your way back at the Badeteich, a cultivated public swimming pond. And for refreshment, the well-regarded Teichheuriger Gausterer in the neighboring village of Guntramsdorf is there to serve you.

Guntramsdorf is, in fact, the intersection where the Thermenradweg crosses the Wiener Neustädter Kanal and is only a stone’s throw from the Klostergut Thallern, known for its crisp and flavorful Backhendl, a regional specialty – breaded baked chicken, organic and locally sourced. From here you can cycle directly to nearby Gumpoldskirchen, where century-old houses conceal charming courtyards, thick with vines and ablaze with flowers. Alongside Heuriger wine taverns, and up-market country restaurants, there are also some nice small hotels and guest-houses, in case you want to take your place along the Kellergasse, the winding lanes of wine cellars, rumored to be the longest bar in Europe.

The Thermenradweg offers impressive vistas in the fall as well as memorable detours like the Klostergut Thallern, famed for its Backhendl / © Raimo Rudi Rumpler