The entire Lake Fertő and its and its drainage basin are visible from the lookout point.
“Where Lake Fertő is today, there was once a deep valley in ancient times. Many beautiful girls lived in the valley, so the valley was called Maiden Valley (Leányvölgy). This was the valley where the lord of Fraknó liked to hunt. One day, around noon, darkness fell and a violent storm broke out.
The lord of the castle managed to find shelter in a hut, where a widow lived with her daughter. The lord of the castle took fancy of the good and humble girl. From then on he always visited her when he was hunting in the area. The lord also had a wicked wife who did not take kindly to her husband was visiting the poor widow and her daughter. She caught the girl and said she was a witch. The poor girl was sentenced to death and thrown into the lake nearby lake. Then the water of the lake began to rise and grow higher and higher, quickly flooding the fields, forests and villages all around. The heartless mistress of the castle also died in the lake, only a few people managed to escape into the mountains. The refugees later returned from the mountains and settled on the shores of the lake. They founded Nezsider. (Neusiedl am See, Austria)" According to legend, this is how the Fertő was formed.
Lake Fertő, source: Shutterstock
The area around the lake was inhabited already in the so-called "prehistoric times". During excavations in 1847, Stone Age tools, pots and pans animal bones were found in the lake bed. Pliny from the 1st century AD refers to the lake as Lacus Peiso, around which there was flourishing life at the time. Remains of numerous ancient Roman buildings and cemeteries provide proof to that. On the way to Fertőmeggyes, you can see the Cave of Mithras, where Roman soldiers made their sacrifices on the altar of the Persian Sun of God.
Mithraeum, source: WikipediaLake Fertő in winter, source: sokszinuvidek.24.hu
After the Romans, the Huns settled here in the early 5th century, followed by the Gepids, the Lombards and the Avars during the Migration Period.
References to Lake Fertő can be found mainly in royal donation letters. The first reference is the donation letter of King Imre (1199), in which he gives Count Lőrinc the Pakha livestock, situated between Balf and Fertőrákos, on the Fertő side.
Lake Fertő, the second largest lake in Hungary, has a basin of 315 km2, - the third largest standing water in Central Europe and the forty-fourth largest lake in Europe, with steppe and rocky terrain in the westernmost part. Its estimated age is around 20,000 years. The basin of the lake was probably formed by the prevailing North-west winds. It is 36 km longitudinally and varies in width from 7 to 15 km. Its average depth is 50-60 cm, with 180 cm in the deepest places. Two streams flow into the lake: Wulka at Oka and Rákos at Fertőrákos, but it is also fed by small intermittent streams and rainwater. Prior to water management, it was inherently connected with the Hanság and its water level was determined by the rivers Ikva, Répce, Rábca and the Moson Danube. Nowadays, the water level is adjusted with the floodgate on the main channel of the Hanság at Fertőújlak. According to observations, the water in the lake floods and ebbs in 7-year periods.
A dry summer can have a variety of negative consequences for the lake. Up to 40-50 percent of the water can evaporate, its temperature can reach 32-34 degrees Celsius, increasing the salinity and causing the surrounding area to bloom with lichen.
During very cold and prolonged winters, Lake Fertő not only freezes to the bottom, but its mud becomes hard as stone.
Its shoreline is constantly changing as a result of these influences, and every 100-120 years it dries out completely. The last time it disappeared was between 1866 and 1869, when the people of Fertőrákos crossed the lake with dry feet for the Feast Day of the Assumption of Our Lady. In memory of this occasion, a marble plaque was placed on the wall of the Chapel of Virágosmajor with the following inscription: "In honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in memory of the first pilgrimage of the believers of Rákos through the dry Fertő riverbed to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 3 October 1869."
Legend has it, that when the Fertő basin dried-up, water was carried from the spring in pitchers. An elderly woman asked a young girl for water, but she haughtily refused. The old woman turned out to be a witch, and she cursed the girl, who fell. The pitchers broke, the water spilled, and according to legend, flowed until it filled the basin of Fertő again.
Between 1768 and 1770 the Fertő swelled to the size of Lake Balaton and swallowed up five villages. In the spring and summer of 1926, the water level was so high that the reeds could not be cut down in the Hungarian part of the lake.
A special phenomenon of the lake is the so-called "skewed water level" – in stormy winds there is a large difference in water level between the north and south shores of the lake: on 29 March 1888, a difference of more than 80 cm was measured between the water levels of Fertőboz and Nezsider (Neusiedl am See, now in Austria).
The lake's water is rich in sodium, it is highly alkaline and saline, which is why salinization can be observed, especially in the eastern part. Its salinity is 33 times that of Lake Balaton in the dry season..
Wind farms, Neusiedlersee National Park, source: Shutterstock
From the lookout platform we can observe the wide reed belt, a habitat of protected plants and animals. The utilization of thatch was an important occupation for the people who lived in the countryside. In the past, villages were characterised by thatched houses, while today thatch is an important export product.
Behind the reed belt shines the silvery, greyish waters of the Fertő, while the horizon is capped by the wind turbines of Fertőzúg (Seewinkel), the Little Carpathians in good weather, the mountain range of the Little Carpathians and the Bratislava Castle.
The 20,000-year-old lake has been a protected landscape area since 1977, a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1979 and a Ramsar site (wetland of international importance) since 1989. (Wetlands of International Importance).
Don't miss the Fertő-Hanság National Park during your excursion!
As the lake now covers two countries – 75 km2 in Hungary and 240 km2 in Austria – its location required the lake and its surroundings to be managed jointly by the two countries. The establishment of Europe's first cross-border national park was based on negotiations that began in autumn 1988 – the on the Hungarian side was the Lake Fertő National Park in 1991, followed in 1992 by the Nationalpark Neusiedler See-Seewinkel on the Austrian side.
The inauguration of the joint national park took place in 1994, by which time the Hanság Landscape Protection Area, founded in 1976, had been added to the Hungarian territory, and from then on it was called Fertő-Hanság National Park. Shortly afterwards, the areas of Csáfordjánosfa along the Répce, were also added to this area, making the current Hungarian area 23894 hectares, while the Austrian area is 10 500 hectares.
Fertő Basin map
The territory of the national park is mosaic, with no coherent structure. Its main parts are the Fertő Valley, the Fertőzug, the Hanság, the Tóköz and the Répce valley.
The area of the park has been developed in accordance with the principles of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The nature conservation significance of the national park zoning system is that it defines their long-term nature conservation goals and function, and the strategic and spatial framework for their conservation management and utilization.
It provides a means for a more effective practical enforcement of nature protection, which is also a societal expectation, and an opportunity for sustainable, legitimate and predictable utilization of natural resources compatible with strict protection principles, i.e. the zoning of national parks is in is in the longer term interest of all stakeholders.
Following the amendment of Act LIII of 1996 on Nature Protection, which entered into force on 1 January 2014, Hungarian national parks will continue to be divided into three territorial units but with different names and based on a different but more clearly defined purpose than before: a natural zone, a nature-friendly utilization zone and a service zone.
The Natural zone include the areas of national parks, the sole purpose of which is to restore, maintain and provide necessary conditions for the natural processes and structure of the landscape and the ecosystem. The purpose of conservation management activities is to promote and restore the functioning of natural processes and to provide the necessary conditions for this purpose. This, at Fertő, is the innermost area of the reed belt and the shallow eastern bay territories.
In the Nature-friendly utilization zone, nature conservation management and nature-friendly utilisation are present side by side; the primary goal is to ensure their harmony. In addition to nature conservation management activities that are allowed in Zone A, farming and types of land use that do not damage the landscape and natural values, but which are not primarily aimed at achieving conservation objectives may also be continued. Such areas include pastures, flooded saline ponds in the Sarród border and harvested outer reedbeds.
The Service zone includes areas with infrastructure as well as sites that are designated for an intensive, regular human presence. The infrastructure necessary for nature conservation management activities and nature-friendly utilisation measures must primarily be located in the service area.
Natura 2000 is a network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated by the European Union's Birds and Habitats Directives and assessed by scientists. This placed a total of 18 such areas under the authority of Fertő-Hanság National Park’s Directorate: 4 Special Protection Areas for Birds and 14 Priority conservation areas.
The flora and fauna of the Fertő-Hanság National Park is very rich. In good weather, a significant part of the lake, as well as the surrounding marsh can be observed from the lookout point. The quarry and lookout itself is located in the part of the national park called the "Hill range along Fertő".
Since 2001, the Fertő-Area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was included in the list for the following reasons:
Most of Lake Fertő is a "swamp" (in Hungarian: "fertő" means ‘infection’), that is to say a reed marsh, but in the larger Austrian part, its open water. The reed marsh is broken up by a canal network created for traffic. The silt in the lake bed is transported by the waves and deposited at the edges of the lake - this favours the formation of reeds.
Lake Fertő, reeds, source: Shutterstock
The reed itself is habitat for only a small number of plant species: reed, cattail and swamp sawgrass, bittersweet, nightshade, marsh thistle can be found here, as well as the rare and protected sedge. The reedbed itself is exposed to a variety of hazards: at low water levels, too little fresh water reaches the interior areas – especially if the wind blows from the south, which leads to the thinning of the reedbed. This is avoided by continuous dredging of the canals.
Bittersweet Nightshade, source: Wikipedia
Although its vegetation is not very diverse, the bays, which extend into the protected reed beds, are ideal habitats for birds. They provide home to many otherwise rare birds. The lake's fish population is made up of a wide variety of species, with 35 different types of gills have been detected in recent decades, all of which are freely fishable with the exception of the protected weatherfish. The amphibian population is also significant.
Fire-Bellied Toad, source: Wikipedia
The area's nesting and migrating bird population is particularly valuable. The rare Eurasian spoonbill likes to spend the winter in Northern and Central-Africa, but lives in the reeds for the other parts of the year. During the migration season, flocks of thousands of garganeys and Eurasian teals gather on the lakes waters and head for their wintering grounds. They are then followed by white-tailed eagle and goose.
Eurasian Teal, source: Wikipedia
Mute swans are not rare birds, they have become very common in recent years. Their first breeding was recorded on Lake Fertő, and from here they started to populate Transdanubia. Although herbivorous, it also accepts food from humans.
The red-crested pochard, recognizable by its colourful feathers, also nested at Fertő for the first time. The drake has a bright red beak and a black maw, compared to it, the hen has simple latte-coloured feathers. Similarly to cuckoos, the latter smuggles its eggs into other nests on occasions.
Mute Swan, source: Wikipedia
The Eurasian coot is a common bird, recognizable from the oval white frontal shield on its forehead, its stocky build and black feathers. Similarly common is the northern lapwing with black-and-white feathers and a metallic shimmer with a long feather on its head. The bird of the reeds and shallow waters is the black-headed gull, often seen near settlements or even industrial areas. The permanent resident of the reeds is the Eurasian bittern that has a very distinctive call.
Red-Crested Pochard, source: Wikipedia
The western marsh harriers are also relatively common, with the grey-black-redish-brown males significantly different from dark brown hens.
Western Marsh Harrier, source: Shutterstock
The egret population is one of the most significant populations in the Carpathian Basin, but the number of purple herons, squacco herons and Eurasian spoonbills are also substantial. The greylag geese are known for their pink legs and beaks. Their relatives, the greater white-fronted geese, a species overwintering here, are a northern goose species that can even be hunted.
The population of songbirds is also rich in reeds: moustached warbler, bearded reedling, bluethroat, great reed warbler, Eurasian reed warbler are typical nesters here.
Bearded Reedling, source: Wikipedia
The Fertő hill range, which includes the hill of the quarry, is an area of significant conservation value – it is the habitat of numerous protected and highly protected plants and animal species.
Mainly oak-hornbeam and turkey oak-sessile oak forests cover the hillside, with some downy oak patches, but also small-leaf linden, field maple, cherry and whitebeam trees and shrubs can be found. As the landscape has been subjected to constant human intervention, and with its forest edges and clearings, its present form is sprout-grown and bears the traces of prior sprout forest management. Human intervention can also be traced by the implanted non-native species. As such, several types of black pines and scots pines or locusts can be seen.
Several endangered plants grow in the area:
The rock buckthorn is a small shrub, insignificant to the eye, but the most important species in the area from a nature conservation point of view, as in Hungary it can only be found near Sopron, mainly in the quarry – that’s why the trail around the quarry is named after it. Its small yellowish-green flowers can be found on steep, inaccessible walls as well.
Rock Buckthorn, source: Wikipedia
Iris, source: Wikipedia
The lady's-slipper orchid – known as thrush-cup in folk speech – a yellow-burgundy, orchid-shaped species – used to live in fair numbers in the Szárhalom forest, but now it is almost completely extinct – greatly due to the flower-picking hikers. It is related to the lady orchid, which has a magenta and pink inflorescence and blooms from early spring on the leafless stems in the Szárhalom forest and around Margitbánya (Sankt Margarethen) in Austria.
The population of the dwarf iris has decreased greatly as well. It’s low, purple or pale-yellow flowers can be seen in early spring. It is related to the Hungarian iris, also native here, with purple, burgundy or brown leaves on a yellow background, and can mainly be found in small cracks.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl, source: Shutterstock
Tawny Owl, source: Wikipedia
Long-Eared Owl, source: Wikipedia
Several species of owls also live in this area, such as the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo, as in the popular Hungarian cartoon), small tawny owl, little owl, also known as the death owl in the old times (owl of Athena in mythology), but these woods are also home to the honey buzzard, named after its preference for eating wasp nests from the ground. The forest is also a favoured hideout for the goshawk, known for its speed and dexterity.
Due to previous grazing, so-called sloping steppe meadows and rock grasslands have formed in the forest clearings. These have rich vegetation very typical of the quarries and its surroundings in Fertőrákos and Szentmargitbánya (Sankt Margarethen), Austria.
The saline meadows and pastures along the Fertő also have their own birdlife: the largest coastal bird species of Hungary, the Eurasian curlew with its long, curved bill, prefers large, undisturbed grasslands.
This very timid bird blends well into its surroundings with its brownish-white plumage. Its Hungarian name derives from the sound it makes: "poooli-poooli," it shouts. It's a highly protected species. The short-eared owl also likes to nest here, named after the white tufts resembling ears on his head. Also, his lemon-yellow eyes differ from the orange eyes of other owls.
The songbird called corn bunting nests here too, which has a special role: it is an indicator species, its presence it indicates whether the amount of ditch banks and field margins in a given area is sufficient. If these disappear due to intensive cultivation, so will the corn bunting. It’s a protected bird and it's their unique characteristic that while they feed bugs to their chicks, the grown-ups are seed eaters. The males sing while balancing of thin weeds.
Eurasian Curlew, source: Wikipedia
The extremely rare eastern imperial eagle likes to settle on lonely trees.
Lake Fertő is suitable for both shipping and sailing, with regular boat services between major towns. (Fertőrákos, Mörbisch, Rust, Neusiedl am See, Illmitz, Podersdorf, Breitenbrunn). Sailing competitions are common in summer.
Corn Bunting, source: Shutterstock
Laszlomajor, the former economic centre of the Esterházy Estate, is located in the Fertő-Hanság National Park, next to the village of Sarród. Here, a spectacular visitors' centre and demonstration manor has been established, where you can learn about the traditional forms of farming typical in the region as well as the old folk crafts associated with livestock farming, richly complemented with visual and material memorabilia and explanations.
Include a visit to the Lászlómajor Manor Visitor Centre as part of your trip!
In the main building there is an auditorium with a projector, with an exhibition showing the nature conservation history of the Fertő- Hanság area. In the opposite exhibition rooms, the national park's habitats are presented in a colourful, interactive manner through educational games.
At the back, the rows of pens are showing old Hungarian domestic breeds such as the Hungarian grey cattle, the domestic buffalo, Mangalica pig, and various Hungarian sheep and poultry.
While the playground between the buildings offers entertainment for the little ones, for bigger kids and adults an “adventure trail” of the interactive natural science games will provide further recreation.