To discover a calm, quiet and fabulous region, consider visiting the small Thayatal National Park in Austria. The country's smallest national park is next to the Czech border, in the Thaya River valley. The park, just over 13 km2 in size, stretches for 26 kilometres along the border next to the river.
The park is not as famous as the Hohe Tauern National Park, but that gives it its charm. In addition to the colourful flora, clean air is guaranteed here. The secluded little countryside is an ideal long weekend program if you don't want to climb huge mountains.
|Thayatal National Park||Details|
|Country||Austria (bordering the Czech Republic)|
|Distance from Vienna||1.5 hours / 100 km|
|Distanc from St Pölten||1.5 hours / 100 km|
|What is it known for?||Thaya River's rich flora, easy hiking trails, dense forest|
|Top attractions||Burg Hardegg castle|
Map - Where is Thayatal National Park?
The Thayatal Nature Park is located on the border of Austria and the Czech Republic. The area's most famous town is Hardegg, just 1.5 hours away from St Pölten (the province's capital). The park is located in Lower Austria and can be reached by several routes. Vienna is only 1.5 hours away by car.
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The park is difficult to access, as it is close to car traffic. You can hike as much as you want, but there is also a bus service, or renting bicycles is also a suitable alternative.
- Distance from St Pölten: 1.5 hours / 100 km
- Distance from Vienna: 1.5 hours / 100 km
- Distance from Prague: 2.5 hours / 200 km
More about the park
- Despite the restrictions, the Thayatal National Park promises perfect relaxation, where you can take a peaceful hike in almost untouched nature.
- More than 1,200 different plants are native here, and hundreds of species of birds and butterflies further enrich the wildlife. Many endangered species have found a home and refuge here.
- A minor part of the park is dotted with meadows, where, thanks to the place's unique climate, you can simultaneously find creatures native to Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Alps.
- There are two national parks in Lower Austria. In addition to the Thayatal region, the Donau Auen National Park is also located here. Both areas preserve the river world for posterity.
Podyjí National Park
On the other side of the Thaya River, the national park is called Podyjí. Its fauna is very similar to its neighbour in Austria, only it covers a much larger area, 63 km2 (about five times the size of the Austrian Thayatal). Crossing from one bank to the other for a long time was almost impossible, as there was no crossing over the river. Nowadays, a suspension bridge takes care of that. There is an unparalleled view of the Thaya River in calm weather.
Popular hiking trails
Due to its small area, you won't find many castles, ruins, or waterfalls in the park. There are mainly hiking trails leading through the forest. You will find several tours and excursion routes in the park area, of which we will now present 6 routes.
|Thayatal hiking trails||Duration||Difficulty|
|Hardegger Rundwanderweg||1.5 hours||Easy|
|Merkersdorfer Rundwanderweg||2.5 hours||Easy|
#1 Thayatalweg route
2 hours and 6 km / round trip: 3 hours and 9.5 km
The 3-hour tour takes you along the Thaya River to admire the countryside formed by the river up close. Sometimes, you must conquer more challenging terrain, so a certain fitness level is good for this tour. It can also be mentally tiring - you must go up and down several times before reaching the trail's end.
The Einsiedlerweg route is a more accessible, faster version of the Thayatalweg. You can finish the hike in 2 hours if you do not take long breaks. Also, on the way, you will find the Bärenmühle meadow, where a hermit lived. He showed the locals where to find a silver mine, which brought prosperity to the area.
#3 Hardegger Rundwanderweg
The only 1.5-hour tour leads to Hardegg Castle, the biggest landmark of the tiny park. Since the building has an exceptionally beautiful view from here, this is quite a popular route - don't be surprised if you meet many hikers on this line.
#4 Merkersdorfer Rundwanderweg
The 2.5-hour hike goes towards the park's edge, and the path gradually resembles a mountain hiking route. The ascending part of the route has some challenges; a steep, winding path leads down.
If you can only spend a short time in the park but want to feel like you've completed a full trail, then the Hennerweg route is for you. You can run along it in just 40 minutes. At the end you will have a beautiful view, you can see the city of Hardegg and the river Thaya simultaneously.
The Kaja valley can be reached in just half an hour's walk, from which you can enjoy a great view of the Kaja castle ruins, and in spring, countless flowers colour the surroundings. From May to October, you can also visit the Merkersdorf ruin, one of the main features of which is an amazingly deep dungeon.
Attractions & Things to see
#1 Hardegg Castle
The smallest city in Austria
Hardegg is the most crucial settlement around the Thayatal National Park, even though it is the smallest town in Austria. You can find many alternative programs here if you want to do something besides hiking and walking.
Hardegg Castle has been around since 1290, and its name is a combination of the words forest (hard) and rock (egg), meaning "strong house in the forest". The strong house means a castle in this case, which still stands today, although it was damaged by the 30-year war and by the great fire of 1764, which swept through the entire settlement.
- Season: open from April to October
- Opening hours: 10:00 - 17:00
- Admission: 7.5 - 4 euros
- Address: Burg Hardegg Stadt 38, 2082 Hardegg, Austria
(Prices might slightly increase yearly!)
The old town hall of Hardegg has been home to the Kultur.Punkt gallery since 2006. It is the smallest gallery in the country, which the artists of the area created. Locals regularly hold workshops where anyone can learn some tricks from more experienced artists.
#3 Pearl manufacturing
Also in this tiny settlement is Austria's only manufactory dealing with pearl cultivation, the Mother-of-pearl turnery Mattejka. You can admire how buttons and jewellery are made from the houses of pearls.
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