The Dunkelsteinerwald region is geographically situated in the triangle between St. Pölten, Krems and Melk. The region’s north-west border is formed by the Wachau and the Danube valley. To the east and south, the region rolls away gently into the foothills of the Alps.
In geological terms, the Dunkelsteinerwald is the south-eastern section of the Bohemian Massif, which was cut off from the Waldviertel by the Danube. The region covers a total of 177.4 km² and has 8,740 inhabitants (as at 1.1.2014) living in the six municipalities of Bergern im Dunkelsteinerwald, Schönbühel-Aggsbach, Dunkelsteinerwald, Haunoldstein, Hafnerbach and Neidling. Its location in the above-mentioned triangle gives the region significant economic and functional advantages that were already recognised in this region by the Celts and Romans. Of particular note is the direct access afforded by the Westautobahn via the Loosdorf interchange from the south and the Melk interchange from the west.
On the other hand, the location between three urban agglomerations and in three different political districts also presents the region with disadvantages, some of which are painfully felt in a lack of regional identity and in outflows of purchasing power, economic strength and labour, and are the reasons for the close cooperation between the six municipalities.
The Dunkelsteinerwald has a hilly landscape that is characterised by small fields away from the large forested areas. While the forests are mainly concentrated on the core area and the slopes that fall away northwards in the direction of the Danube, this landscape transitions to a mix of flat and hilly areas in the wine and fruit landscape in the north-east. Adjoining this is expansive agricultural land and larger ownership structures in the southern part of the micro-region. Special parts of the landscape are:
- the conservation area of the Wachau with the Gurhofgraben nature reserve in the municipality of Dunkelsteinerwald: the Danube and the narrow valley, slopes covered with forests and vineyards, rock and loess characterise this part of the landscape
- the conservation and bird sanctuary at the mouth of the Pielach in the municipality of Schönbühel/Aggsbach: small wilderness areas of wetland with river meanders, steep rockfaces and gravel banks that flood regularly characterise this part of the landscape.
The Dunkelsteinerwald is characterised primarily by the wooded area from which it derives its name, and which, with a surface area of 99 km², constitutes the largest share of the surface area. The large connected forest not only gave the region its name but also shapes the life and economic activity of the region. Over 20 wood-processing companies – from saw mills and carpentry to joiners – still exist in the Dunkelsteinerwald. The lion's share of the wooded area, comprising four large forest estates, is managed using the latest methods in forest technology. Hunting, especially for red deer and wild boar, also plays an important role. And finally, it is the forest in the Dunkelsteinerwald itself that lends the region its idiosyncratic beauty.