The Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park, which crosses the border from the Austrian region of Burgenland into Hungary, has a distinctive steppe landscape. It is one of the most fascinating natural environments in Europe, featuring reed beds, marsh meadows and saltwater lakes, which periodically disappear and reappear. The reed belt surrounds the resident Lake Neusiedl and follows the Danube Delta as the second largest of its kind in Europe. Eastern and Western fauna and flora come together here to produce an extraordinary display: the Balkan frog croaks while the Danube warty newt hunts for earthworms and slugs. Furthermore, the lake's shores form one of the most important birdwatching sancturies in Europe - a paradise for bird-watchers, but also for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders.
Central Europe’s largest continuous landscape of riverside meadows serves as the ideal habitat for some 5,000 animal species. The unspoilt natural paradise of the Donau-Auen National Park is right on the doorstep of Vienna, providing a fascinating recreational area for those who want to explore the countryside on foot and marvel at its hushed natural beauty. The park authorities offer various excursions, on foot and by boat.
The River Thaya, at the River Park Thayatal, has made its mark up to 150 metres deep in the hard rock of the Waldviertel, creating a valley landscape of great beauty. Thanks to its huge diversity of natural attractions, the area was declared a national park at the beginning of 2000. The meadows, wooded hillsides, cliffs and stretches of grassland provide a habitat for numerous rare animal and plant species like the eagle owl, black stork, green lizard, fraxinella and coloured iris. The valley’s unique charm is perhaps best experienced at the “Umlaufberg”, a narrow ridge of rock which separates the two sections of the river. Another highlight of National Park Thayatal is its wealth of castles and ruined fortresses – and the many legends that have grown up around them.
Central Europe’s largest area of protected landscape extends over three Austrian provinces: Tirol, Carinthia and Salzburg. The Hohe Tauern National Park is a region of ancient forests, lush green alpine pastures, rugged mountainsides and spectacular waterfalls. Nationalpark Hohe Tauern contains more than a hundred peaks over 3,000 metres high and a great diversity of alpine flora and fauna. The national park authorities run a programme of activities which include forest hikes and gold panning.
Kalkalpen National Park is home to the largest uninterrupted forest in Austria. Spruce, fir and beech trees cover four fifths of the terrain, where trees are left to grow, mature and die as nature intends because the fallen trunks are an important habitat for countless species ranging from beetles to woodpeckers. And while the new generation of trees grows on decaying trunks, insects and micro-organisms break the remains down to produce fertile topsoil. Asides from the fascinating cycle of nature, there are also spectacular canyons and gorges, picturesque waterfalls and lakes to admire. The whole family can explore the national park by hiking to one of the many inviting mountain inns. For experienced walkers, the Ebenforst-Alm with rooms and restaurant is a good starting place. A two-day trek across Hohe Nock in the Sengsen massif, for example, is a fantastic adventure.
Austria's third largest and newest, Gesäuse National Park is characterised by steep mountain slopes and gorges in a valley formed by the River Enns. The altitude ranges from 490m up to 2370m at the peak of the Hochtor. The Gesäuse National Park is a natural habitat for 90 species of breeding birds, marmots, chamois and deer, plus around 50 different types of wild orchid. Trained national park rangers organise guided tours during which they share their knowledge of the natural area and you even spend the night in the heart of it all at hotels, on an organic farm or in mountain huts.
The Nockberge Biosphere Reserve is Europe’s only high mountain national park and it boasts the East Alps’ largest pine, larch and spruce forest. The distinctive shape of the gently rolling Nockberge Mountains is rare in the history of geology and unique in the Alps. The mountains developed some hundred million years ago thanks to an interchange of lands, seas, desserts and jungles. This pristine mountain landscape with its soft hills and endless pastures is so exceptional that it was placed under nature conservation laws in 1987.
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