Reichenau an der Rax usually does not make it onto the bucket lists of the average tourist visiting Austria. But this little town, just one hour from Vienna is the perfect city escape for a day.
Even though the town was heavily influenced by the mining industry in the region, it established itself as a popular destination for holidays. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Reichenau was a place where the rich and famous spent their “Sommerfrische”. The Sommerfrische was a time of retreat in the cool mountains. From intellectuals (e.g. Theodor Herzl), composers, artists (Oskar Kokoschka amongst others) writers (such as Arthur Schnitzler and Heimito von Doderer), to what would today be considered socialites (Alma Mahler Werfel, for example), to the Emperor himself and his entourage – they all escaped the stuffy Austrian capital and came to Reichenau.
Reichenau is also a so-called “Kurort”. “Kur” means the recovery after an illness. Due to its location in the mountains and its air quality, Reichenau an der Rax has been such a place to recover from illnesses which is still popular until today.
Explore the Nature
Reichenau is only an hour’s drive from Vienna but you will be surprised to find yourself in the mountains. It feels as if you escaped to Western Austria for a few hours.
There are many possibilities to hike or walk and enjoy the beautiful landscape. You can hike up the mountains or stay in the town centre, if you do not feel like going on a longer hike.
The Schwarza River runs directly through the town and it is really beautiful to go for a walk along the river. Right in the centre, next to the park, there is a small hydropower plant. Almost a third of Austria’s energy consumption is met with hydropower. There is also a former mill which is still used by the regional energy company.
Explore the Architecture and Reichenau’s History
I really love the architecture from the turn of the 19th/20th century, especially in the area South of Vienna. Many houses still have the signature wooden verandas. In some gardens I spotted a so-called “Lusthaus”, a beautiful garden hut for reading and entertaining.
Throughout Reichenau, you can almost feel the vibrant arts and culture scene of the turn of the century. The who-is-who spent their summers here. The list of celebrities also involves many writers such as Ferdinand Raimund, Adalbert Stifter, Johann Nestroy, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach and Peter Altenberg. (The latter was known as a living example of the Viennese coffee culture and had his mail delivered to the Café Central in Vienna. You can read more about the history of Viennese coffee culture here.)
The Thalhof was a place where many intellectuals stayed and worked. It was where Arthur Schnitzler wrote his play “Leutnant Gustl” and Sigmund Freud worked on his interpretation of dreams.
Schloss Reichenau, the palace, has a permanent exhibition about the history of Reichenau – from a town heavily influenced by mining to a place of arts and culture.
Visit the Festspiele (Theatre Festival)
Until today, arts and culture are part auf Reichenau’s DNA. Every year, there are plays and readings during the Festspiele, the theatre festival.
Have Coffee and Cake
There are various cafés in Reichenau an der Rax. But I think probably the most scenic and pretty one is part of the Schloss Wartholz, a palace.
The palace is privately owned but parts of the garden can be accessed. There is an interior design and garden boutique with a café and a beautiful terrace.
I walked around and enjoyed the view of the mountains, the pretty flower beds and all the details. The shop was cute too but it would be nice if they focused more niche-products rather than mainstream brands whose products are borderline kitsch.
How to Get to Reichenau an der Rax
There are direct train connections every half an hour from Vienna Hauptbahnhof (central station) to Payerbach-Reichenau which takes about one hour and 40 minutes. You can then take a bus to Reichenau from Payerbach which takes about five minutes. (If you want to get some exercise in, you can also walk, it is not that far.)
Train tickets are about EUR 42 (USD 50).
Reichenau an der Rax is easily accessible via the Autobahn (highway) A2. It takes about one hour to get there from Vienna.