The Lake Neusiedl region is a famous getaway for the Viennese, and North Americans will find it just as desirable. The lake offers countless diversions, making it an ideal destination for families or active travelers. You can play in and around the lake all day, and then relax over a fine meal of Burgenland cuisine. The geological anomaly of the Neusiedler and the steppe landscape make for intriguing hikes and strolls. The towns tend to be small, sleepy hamlets offering little more than lakeside relaxation, but they are ideal bases for exploring the surrounding countryside.

The Capricious Lake -- Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) is a popular steppe lake lying in the northern part of Burgenland. But this strange lake should never be taken for granted -- in fact, from 1868 to 1872, it completely dried up, as it has done periodically throughout its known history. Such behavior has led to some confusing real-estate disputes among bordering landowners. The lake was once part of a body of water that blanketed all of the Pannonian Plain. Today its greatest depth is about 1.8m (6 ft.), and the wind can shift the water dramatically, even causing parts of the lake to dry up. The lake is between 7 and 15km (4 1/4-9 1/4 miles) wide and about 35km (22 miles) long.

A broad belt of reeds encircles the huge expanse. This thicket is an ideal habitat for many varieties of waterfowl. In all, some 250 different species of birds inhabit the lake, including the usual collection of storks, geese, duck, and herons. The plant and animal life in the lake is unique in Europe. Within its slightly salty waters, alpine, Baltic, and Pannonian flora and fauna meet.

Viennese flock to the lake throughout the year, in summer to fish, sail, and windsurf, and in winter to skate. Nearly every lakeside village has a beach (although on any given day it might be swallowed up by the lake or be miles from the shore, depending on which way the wind blows). The temperate climate and fertile soil surrounding the west bank are ideal for vineyards. Washed in sun, the orchards in Rust produce famous award-winning vintages.

Neusiedl Am See -- On the northern shore of Lake Neusiedl lies this popular summer weekend spot, where watersports prevail. You can rent sailboats here and spend the day drifting around the lake. The town's Gothic parish church is noted for its "ship pulpit." A watchtower from the Middle Ages still stands guard over the town, although it's no longer occupied. Many vineyards cover the nearby fields. If you plan to be here on a summer weekend, make advance reservations.