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Lainzer Tiergarten

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For one of Vienna's finest outdoors experiences visitors must head a short distance outside the city to the Lainzer Tiergarten wildlife preserve. This untamed wilderness sits at the point where the foothills of the Northern Limestone Alps meet the edge of Vienna itself, and being just 10 miles from the centre of the city makes the park highly accessible even for tourists.

One of the last vestiges of primeval forest in the Vienna region, the Lainzer Tiergarten covers over 6,054 acres of rugged forest and pristine open grasslands. The establishment of the park dates back to around 1561 when Ferdinand I of Austria fenced in the land in order to create an idyllic hunting preserve. Yet it was only in 1919 that the Lainzer was officially opened up to the Viennese public, who come here in their droves each year.

Many of the forest walks in the park are paved, sign-posted and wide enough to let in sunlight, but dozens of smaller paths cutting through dense woodland also exist. The woods primarily consist of beech and oak trees, with many of the oldest specimens dating back some 400 years. Yet a variety of wild, indigenous flora can be found here, and walkers will undoubtedly come across hardwood hornbeams, cherry trees, rare mosses, gentian flowers and meadows of abundant heather. Lucky nature lovers may also discover some of the plentiful animals who make their home here, with park rangers estimating that over 1000 wild boars, 250 fallow deer, 100 red elk and 700 horned mouflons inhabit the Lainzer Tiergarten. The enclosed meadows near the main entrance are a great place for spotting wildlife, though as with all wild animals, most tend to steer clear of humans.

A number of intriguing structures dot the expanse of the park, including a six entry gates. The main entrance, the Lainzer Tor, houses a visitor centre with information about the preserve, and horse carriage rides around parts of the forest start from here. The Hubertuswarte observation tower, built in 1927 and standing at an elevation of over 1667 feet above sea level, features views across the forest and all the way to central Vienna. A couple of remote restaurants, the Hirschgstemm and the Rohrhaus, offer magical dining experiences deep in the woods, perfect spots to take a break hiking and indulge in some rich apple strudel and a mug of warming hot chocolate. Come during the autumn months to eat surrounded by leaves of deep crimson and fiery orange. The famed Hermesvilla museum and park is also located a short way inside the Lainzer Tiergarten.

The forest has the feel of a place abounding with myth and legend, ancient groves where the Habsburg princes once hunted, and the mysical, brooding atmosphere has inspired works from composers such as Johann Strauss and writers like Odon von Horvath. When walking through the Lainzer Tiergarten visitors can really feel they are a world away from the well-heeled streets of Vienna, yet the sense is usually just an illusion, as a casual glance back in the direction of the city confirms it was never more than a couple of miles away.


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