Dürrenstein-Lassingtal Wilderness Area

A wild jewel in the alpine Mostviertel region.

The most untouched place in Austria: The Dürrenstein-Lassingtal Wilderness Area is the largest preserved remnant of the primeval forest in the Arc of the Viennese Alps, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017.

This natural gem at the foot of the 1,878 m high Dürrenstein mountain once caused a conflict. For centuries, the Carthusian monks of Gaming and the Benedictine brothers of Admont Abbey disputed the ownership of part of the forest. The jungle-like forest has remained untouched ever since – even when Albert Rothschild, from the Austrian part of the famous banking dynasty, purchased the land in 1875. Not only was the new owner the richest man in Europe, he was also a passionate botanist and photographer. It is easy to imagine that the pristine primeval forest was a perfect source of objects of study and image motifs.

Untouched for 12,000 years

A few more strokes of good fortune were to follow. The land is now known as the Rothwald in honour of the banking family; and it is not only the largest preserved remnant of the primeval forest in the Arc of the Viennese Alps, but also the heart of the Dürrenstein-Lassingtal Wilderness Area. The protected area spans 3,500 hectares, of which around 400 hectares have been forest land since the last ice age thawed around 12,000 years ago. There is neither an axe nor a saw in sight, and people are rarely spotted there. These are indeed amazing circumstances, in which rare forest dwellers such as black grouse, white-backed woodpeckers, and the occasional lynx can rejoice. Further towards the summit, alpine creatures such as mountain newts, alpine salamanders, adders, and golden eagles feel right at home in their natural habitat.

UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017

In the primeval forest, the trees are able to reach their natural maximum age: up to 600 years for spruces and firs, and up to 450 years for beeches. Some of the yews and firs are true “golden oldies”. They were planted around 1000 years ago, and are still going strong! A tremendous amount of dead wood is used as a habitat by an incomparably large population of mushroom, moss, lichen and beetle species. And to ensure that it stays that way, the entire Wilderness Area – which, incidentally, is the only one in Austria thus far – has been placed in the strictest protection category of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Since 2017, around 50 percent of the wilderness area has also been part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage list of “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. The Wilderness Area is therefore in the same league as the Grand Canyon, the Galapagos Islands, the Dolomites and the Great Barrier Reef.

A unique experience: the European primeval forest

Despite strict protective measures, the Dürrenstein reserve administration offers a diverse visitor programme, which ranges from bird watching, butterfly studies and flower walks, to a “night with the bats”, and guided tours for children. Booking is required! Some routes, such as the Owl Path and the Moor Path, let visitors explore the Dürrenstein Wilderness Area without a guide. If you want to experience the Wilderness Area on a smaller scale, the best thing to do is to visit the Haus der Wildnis visitor centre in Lunz am See. Thanks to modern technology, you have the opportunity to experience the primeval forest in a realistic and thrilling way.