Wachau Valley & Krems

Krems – this exceptionally beautiful, historical market town features a multitude of superbly restored sacred buildings, burgher houses and an ancient city wall. Dating back more than 1000 years, it stretches out along the northern bank of the Danube, surrounded by picturesque vineyards. Wander the cobbled streets and secret courtyards of the Old Town, enjoy the tranquil feel, and with an abundance of shops it’s a great place to buy yourself or your loved ones a unique present.

Melk Abbey – perched dramatically above the Danube, this glorious palace-like abbey is the epitome of grand baroque architecture and Europe’s largest Benedictine monastery. This is where the Italian writer Umberto Eco found inspiration for his famous novel The Name of the Rose, which was later made into a film starring Sean Connery. Tour the wonderful suites and state rooms, the richly embellished and gilded church and a library with in excess of 90,000 books. Don’t miss the lovely abbey park, where you’ll find several themed trails and a baroque garden pavilion. And don’t ignore the town of Melk itself, with its attractive old town centre and cobblestone streets.

Dürnstein – dubbed the ‘pearl of the Wachau’, Richard I (the Lionheart) of England was imprisoned in Dürnstein fortress (Kuenringerburg) on his return from the third crusade 800 years ago. Incredibly picturesque, the now ruined castle is easily one of the region’s premier tourist attractions. A 15-20 minutes walk will take you to the fortress where there are some unbeatable views out across the valley.

Danube Shipping Museum & Spitz – the quiet little market town Spitz on the Danube is a good base from which to explore this dreamy landscape. Spitz stands on a low hill called the 1,000-Eimer-Berg (mountain of a thousand vats), right at the Danube, and has been a centre for wine trade for most of its history. Stroll along the peaceful cobbled streets past old burgher houses adorned with frescoes; visit the ruins of the 13th century Hinterhaus castle and the village church, St. Mauritius (14th century), with an altarpiece by Kremser Schmidt (1718-1801); before sampling the local wine at one of the many rustic taverns. Spitz can also lay claim to the impressive Danube Shipping Museum, located in the small baroque castle Erlahof, where you can learn about the historical significance of river traffic to the region.

Venus of Willendorf – this is the place where one of the most famous prehistoric sculptures of the human form was found – the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf. Discovered in 1908 by the Austrian archeologist Josef Szombathy, the rounded female forms of this tiny sandstone figurine suggest a strong connection to fertility. It is now kept in the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museumin Vienna.

Vienna – the stunning city of Vienna is perhaps best known as the birthplace and home of many a musical genius. Johann Strauss was born here; Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven all worked and lived most of their lives here and Mahler reigned over the grand state opera house which first opened back in 1869.  And while music is and always will be a huge part of what makes Vienna, there’s a whole lot more in this beguiling centre to enjoy.

As the former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna is a city rightly proud of its long and colourful history and it is now one of the most important cultural centres in Europe. What’s more it is a delight to visit, as it is easy to navigate and there is something of interest at every turn.

The architecture of Vienna is nothing short of breathtaking. From the wide, tree-lined boulevards to grandiose palaces, historic buildings and galleries, culture-lovers will want to spend several days wandering this living museum.

Take your time to explore the UNESCO-listed, medieval old centre (Innere Stadt) with its cobbled lanes, baroque churches and ancient dwellings. It is here you will also find the world-famous Opera (Wiener Staatsoper), the incredible, 13th century Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), a gothic masterpiece – and the Hofburg, the Habsburg’s imperial palace, a vast and enchanting collection of buildings with no less than 18 different wings and 2,600 rooms.  If you are visiting on a Sunday, be sure to catch the weekly morning recital from the Vienna Boys Choir.

Vienna’s ‘Museumsquartier’ is one of the world’s largest museum complexes, which includes the Leopold Museum with its fine collection of Austrian art, the Museum of Modern Art and the city’s Architectural Centre, to name but a few.  And be sure to take a short walk out of the centre to visit the Belvedere, a former palace with an exceptional art collection and pretty ornamental gardens.

After all this history and splendour, you’ll probably be wanting to take the odd pit-stop.  And you’ll be pleased to learn that the café culture in Vienna is buzzing, with a number of gems, including Café Sperl, Café Demel and the renowned café of the Sacher Hotel, the best place in town to enjoy a melange (Austrian latte) and a slice of Sachertorte, since it was this establishment which gave the famous cake its name.

History & Culture

Due to the mild climate and the river providing an ideal means for trade, the first nomads arrived in the Wachau valley more than 30,000 years ago.

In 16 AD, the region became a Roman province and the Danube formed the empire’s northern boundary. Later on, it was the Church and its monasteries that shaped the economic and cultural life in the Wachau. By the end of the 15th century, almost three-quarters of all regional vineyards were owned by the Church. Wines were transported by barge or ship to Upper Austria and Bavaria; in return salt, iron and other goods arrived in the Wachau. Special pathways were created on the riverbanks so that horses could pull the ships up-river. Today, cyclists from all over the world cycle along these paths. Many monasteries didn’t survive the reforms of the 18th century; these included the monasteries of the Minorite and Dominicans in Krems and Stein, the Aggsbach Charterhouse and the Augustine canon’s monastery in Dürnstein. Unaffected were the Servite monasteries of Schönbühel and Maria Langegg. The Benedictine abbeys of Melk and Göttweig and the Augustines’ monastery in Dürnstein were magnificently reconstructed during the Baroque era by some of the best architects of their time.

Wine Pleasure & Divine Food

Having produced wines since pre-Roman days, the Wachau now has around 1,400 hectares of vineyards, mostly on the steep Danube riverbanks, where the grapes are still hand-picked. Exploring the wineries and vineyards of the Wachau is an ideal way to get to know Lower Austrian culture, meet the friendly Austrian people and, of course, get a taste for some wonderful wines such as the region’s renowned SteinfederFederspiel and Smaragd. These excellent wines owe their quality to an ideal, warm and sunny micro-climate and the fertile loess (clay and silt). Steinfeder is a light and dry white wine, whilst Federspiel wines are more medium-bodied. Smaragd wines are ripe, full-bodied, and named after the European Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), which lives in the ancient stone walls that protect the steep vineyard terraces.

Lower Austria’s cuisine very much follows the seasons and reflects the cultures that have influenced the country over the course of its history, most notably Bohemia and Hungary. The Wachau, in particular, is well-known for its fruits; apricots especially (called Marillen, in Austria), which are prepared in umpteen different ways. However, much of the Wachau’s superb cooking is typical Viennese cuisine, which has an international reputation for its sweet dishes such as Kaiserschmarrn or Apfelstrudel – often served as main courses. Traditional meals of the savoury kind include the celebrated Wiener Schnitzel (breaded escalope of veal served with lemon slices and cranberries), Tafelspitz (boiled beef with horseradish sauce), or Serviettenknödel (a ‘giant bread dumpling’). Game of all kind is also regarded as serious culinary fare and pork and chicken is ever present. You’ll also find enough fish and vegetarian dishes to keep everyone happy.