Winter wine weekend: Austria
- Friday 17 December 2010
Top choice for a winter break has to be Rust, the ideal antidote to city life, perched on the eastern edge of Lake Neusiedl. This is a town that has survived remarkably unscathed from centuries of European wars, and has finally finished up in Austria . Rust has it all for those keen to recover after a busy, noisy Christmas: ice skating, snow flurries, resounding peace and quiet, refreshingly chill winds, easy walking, outstanding sweet wine, delightful winemakers, warming hearty food, all wrapped up in a picturesque charm.
Start the visit with a day or two in the fleshpots of Vienna, drinking chocolate and eating sachertorte to keep out the chilly winter. Then travel to Rust – car hire or taxi is easiest, and it is an hour south-east of Vienna, and not far from Eisenstadt where Joseph Haydn was court musician to the Esterhazys.
Rust’s 1800 inhabitants enjoy life in a delightful town more or less unchanged from 1532, with a number of exceptional wineries tucked away in the courtyards behind the decorative frontages. In winter, winemakers may be away or not receiving visitors but it’s always worth making an appointment beforehand to visit their lovely old premises and buy glinting, burnished bottles of the historic sweet wines.
The unique feature of Rust is the Lake. Hard to see from the town, it’s best to book a lake view room in the Seehotel. This huge, shallow lake is, along with Rust itself, a UNESCO world heritage site.
In the winter it freezes easily and the whole town turns out just like a Breughel painting: babes are strapped on sledges, hockey players appear, I have even watched a wedding on ice from the hotel window (though as it had been a warm winter it was held on a pier over the ice in case priest and family fell in). It’s the lake of course that gives rise to the mist that encourages the noble rot that distinguishes the historic Ruster Ausbruch wines.
In summer Rust is buzzing with visitors – and storks across the roofs and chimney stacks. In winter the gift shops and disco are shut and it’s the time to savour the silence. Begin the morning with a hearty, wholesome breakfast, with pumpkin seed bread and muesli. Then wrap up very warm, take a map from the hotel desk and put on the walking boots.
The gently rolling slopes of the lake have been organised into a number of well-structured walks, clearly signposted, that take you through the vineyards with great views. Every 1km there is an encouraging waymarker, so there is no chance of getting lost. Take lunch in a local town and return to warm up. Dinner is hearty and nourishing but the wine’s the thing.
How to get there
Fly to Vienna: airlines include British Airways, Easy jet, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, United AIrlien. Or fly to Bratislava, airlines include Ryanair.
www.rust.at for history and tourist information, accommodation.
Austria’s Wine Academy is headquartered here, where it teaches WSET courses and a wide range of other wine-related courses. European Master of Wine students spend a first-year residential study week there. www.weinakademie.at