Austria's easternmost and newest province, Burgenland is a little border region created in 1921 from German-speaking areas of what was formerly Hungary. It marks the beginning of a large, flat puszta (steppe) that almost reaches Budapest, yet also lies practically on Vienna's doorstep. The province shares a western border with Styria and Lower Austria, and its long eastern boundary separates it from Hungary.
Called "the vegetable garden of Vienna," Burgenland is mostly an agricultural province. It's noted for its vineyards, producing more than one-third of all the wine made in Austria. The province is situated where the Hungarian puszta gradually modulates into the foothills of the eastern Alps; forests cover 29% of its area, and vineyards compose 7% of its agricultural lands. Its wonderful climate consists of hot summers with little rainfall and moderate winters. For the most part, you can enjoy sunny days from early spring until late autumn.
Burgenland's population represents a middle-Europe melting pot. Around 2% of the population is Hungarian, while some 10% consists of Croats who settled here in the 16th century after fleeing their southern Slav homes before the advance of Turkish armies. For hundreds of years, the Croats, Hungarians, and German-speaking people have lived together in this area. Many Burgenlanders still wear their traditional garb on Sunday.
This ethnic diversity has resulted in a regional cuisine that's among the best in Europe. Its eastern neighbors, especially Hungary, provide strong influences that you'll appreciate when you savor goulashes and strudels, as well as goose dishes. Much wild game lives in the wooded areas of Burgenland and is often featured on menus.
Eisenstadt, the small provincial capital of Burgenland since 1924, was for many years the home of Franz Josef Haydn, and the composer is buried here. Near Eisenstadt is another composer's shrine: Franz Liszt's birthplace. Each summer there's an International Operetta Festival at Mörbisch am See, using Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) as a theatrical backdrop. Neusiedl is the only steppe lake in central Europe. If you're here in summer, we suggest exploring it by motorboat. Seewinkel, a marshy haven for birds and rare flora, surrounds Illmitz, an old village near Lake Neusiedl. Many Viennese come to Burgenland on weekends for sailing, bird-watching, and other outdoor activities. The summer resort of Rust is famous for its stork nests and its town walls built in 1614.
Like Lower Austria, Burgenland contains numerous fortresses and castles, many in ruins. You'll see several affiliated with the Esterházy family, a great Hungarian family descended from Attila the Hun. These include Schloss Esterházy and the Eisenstadt château, as well as Forchtenstein Castle, dating from the 13th century.
Accommodations in this province are extremely limited, but they're among the least expensive in the country. You'll find a few romantic castle hotels, as well as small guesthouses. Parking is rarely a problem in these places, and, unless otherwise noted, you park for free. The touring season in Burgenland lasts April through October.