In Search of a Straw Hat

Who would have thought that only an hour away in Burgenland, one day can seem like three - a scene of sunshine and sensuality.

At the waters edge, the warmth is iressistable – as the shallow lake is never cold | Photo:

Radiant sunbeams breaking through the window wake me a few minutes before the alarm clock begins to ring. It is a beautiful Wednesday morning in June and although it’s vacation time, I am unusually happy to get out of bed at 8 o’ clock.

My adventurous girlfriend Lena has been begging me to go on a day trip to Burgenland. Too much time in Vienna, and I too, am longing for new impressions.

Bikini, towel, music and une petite piquenique are all the essentials for our little voyage. Half an hour later, the Mini is parked in front of my friend’s house. Energized and highly motivated, we turn up the volume of our `Burgenland songs’ and hit the road.

The East Autobahn, however, seduces us toward the first destination of the day: the Parndorf Designer Outlet Center. I need a straw hat… well maybe that’s just an excuse. Famous for its large selection of trendy stores with ridiculously discounted prices, it is a certain stop on our route.

As promised by the guide books, only 30 minutes later we catch a glimpse of the outlet. And what a sight it is! A scene from a kitschy Technicolor Western, except that all the fake facades are in Habsburg Baroque, appears in the middle of the Austrian countryside.

Row after row of cotton candy coloured houses, arranged in a perfect square make up this bizarre shopping oasis. Everything is neat and perfect, instantly bringing back memories of a Florida mall I visited last summer.

We begin to lazily slender past several stores, much of whose contents look decidedly unappealing. Finally though, we find a Mango outlet, the Spanish clothing store similar to Zara and H&M with slightly higher prices.

Inside, it’s like a rummage sale, chaotic, with clothes scattered everywhere. After half an hour of poking around in the piles, we meet at the cash point and are happily surprised at our stylish and very cheap finds.

An hour later, our tour around the shopping square ends at the parking lot where we fill the car with a respectable number of bags, contents ranging from trainers to towels.

Parndorf might not be the most glamorous place to shop, but it is certainly worth a weird and wonderful visit and if it is only for that warm feeling of finding a bargain.

Greed indulged, we continue our drive towards the Neusiedlersee. There are only very few cars on the country road, leaving the beautiful, lush landscape undisturbed.

The sun is glistening on the yellow ochre and green fields, and the slight breeze blowing through the car window mix with the sounds of Jack Johnson’s guitar and our laughter to create an ultimate potpourri of bliss. High on happiness, we arrive in the little town of Neusiedl.

The road does not lead right by the lake, which makes it difficult to look for that quiet little meadow we have in mind.

So we park in a somewhat improvised lot near a modern iron gate. Looking a bit like burros, we stroll along a path until finally, the lake comes into view. Unfortunately, approximately 300 other happy bathers have discovered the same thing.

Determined to have our sun bathing session undisturbed, we hide away in the furthest corner of the meadow. The midday heat is now unmistakable, making the lake even more appealing.

But what a surprise!The water is as hot as the air and, even worse, shallow and muddy! As I learn later, the entire lake is never deeper than 2.5 meters!

If we cannot cool off in the water, we might as well seek refreshment elsewhere: Next stop, the vineyards!

A short car ride takes us to the town of Frauenkirchen, which accommodates one of the smallest, but most renowned vineyards. The winery Umathum has been a family business since the time of Maria Theresia. Initially it was a mixed agricultural establishment but since the 1980’s the family has concentrated exclusively on their award-winning wine.

A charming woman invites us into a sparse, yet cozy room where glasses of their different wines may be sampled. Beginning with a mild, dry yellow and red Traminer, and a golden-yellow intensely structured Scheurebe, we drink ourselves through an aromatic deep-red Zweigelt until we reach the highlight of the tasting.

A slender bottle contains a wine with the enigmatic name ‘Red Phases of the Moon.’ Immediately a scent of ripe berries tickles the nose, while the taste is creamy, a little smoky yet dry and fragrant at the same time.

This wine is a masterpiece; created from St. Laurent grapes and then matured to age in a barrel.

The intense flavours of these exceptional wines are pure joy and it is with a heavy heart that we make our way to the car, needless to say with a few bottles of this noble draught to take home.

The straw hat I finally found in Rust, a splendid little village on the west shore where storks nest on the chimney stacks and every second doorway is a Heuriger. Down the main street is a barn-like shop of fine handmade hats and baskets at prices hardly worthy of the word. But who’s complaining.

The sun is slowly beginning to set as we take the road back to Vienna. A vibrant field of sunflowers is too tempting to resist and just like little children, we saw off two full-size flowers.

Back in the city, the last drops of sunlight hit my friend’s little balcony. Framed by the sunflowers, a glass of Red Phases of the Moon in our hands, we give up the search for words.

Who would have thought that only an hour away in Burgenland, one day can seem like three, in a scene of sunshine and sensual pleasures?

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