Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Austria's Wachau Valley: A Land of Magical Beauty

The spectacular Danube Valley, also known as Wachau, is among the most picturesque regions in Europe, with the irresistible allure of country roads, verdant hills, charming villages, lush vineyards, and medieval castles where rolling hills meet the flowing Danube River. A UNESCO world heritage site and region of natural beauty, the Wachau is one of Austria's most exciting and fascinating wine regions: the mild climate, influenced by the river valley, sunny wine slopes and the special geology mean that excellent wines are produced here, appreciated by wine connoisseurs the world over. Furthermore on the 33 kilometre long stretch of the Danube – from Melk to Krems – there is a wealth of historic buildings to be visited. The Wachau also boasts a high density of restaurants, inns and wineries, where one can explore the regions top quality cuisine and locals wines. Gently rolling hills, almost completely striped with vineyards, the medieval character of its villages and the picturesque banks of the Danube combine to a delightful whole.

The Hausstein Chapel at St Nikola on the Danube

Traditional and modern häuser dot the shore of the Danube along the Wachau Valley

Jochenstein Lock in the Wachau Valley as we pass into Bavaria, Germany

Changing the flag as we pass from Germany to Austria along the Danube

The Benedictine Abbey of Melk in lower Austria, sits on a rocky outcrop along the Danube; In his novel The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco named one of the protagonists "Adso of Melk" as a tribute to the abbey and its famous library.

12th-century Schönbühel Castle sits on the Danube's south bank between Melk and Willendorf

The 17th-century Schönbühel Parish Church 

The ruins of 13th-century Medieval Hinterhaus Castle above Spitz in Lower Austria 

The small village of Weissenkirchen

Saint Michael's is the oldest of all of the churches in Austria's Wachau Valley

Vineyards along the Wachau Valley

Cycling is enormously popular along the Danube, with many taking a week or two 
exploring all the small towns along the river

Nestled among Austria’s most famous vines is Dürnstein, known as the “Pearl of the Wachau,” is one of the country’s most beautiful small towns. Well known for its local wines and 15th-century Augustinian Monastery with its unique blue tower, Dürnstein's postcard-perfect village is more well known by the medieval castle of Burgruine Dürnstein,where Richard the Lionheart was once held prisoner by Duke Leopold V, Duke of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. Richard was released after a ransom of 150,000 Silver marks in freedom. Much of the castle has been reclaimed by time, but there is a fairly steep 30-minute hike up to the rocky ruins that provide breathtaking views of the surrounding Wachau Valley.

The medieval castle where Richard the Lionheart was once held captive by Leopold V, Duke of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade, sits above Dürnstein’s famous blue church spire 

Dürnstein has kept its historic character and is regarded as the most romantic place in the Wachau

The Apricot is particularly prevalent and prized in the Wachau area, so I had to buy a jar to take home from this fellow selling jam from the window of his house

One of the lovely small boutique hotels in Durnstein

The Mayor's House

A narrow cobblestone street with views of ancient terraced vineyards

The ruins of Kuenringer Castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in 1193

Exterior of Dürnstein Abbey, a 15th-century former Augustine monastery splendidly redone in the Baroque style in the 18th century, and the adjoining the parish church which contains works by Kremser Schmidt

The enclosed courtyard with roses and fountain

Sunclock on the terracotta roof of the Abbey

The highly stylized Baroque entrance

The beautifully inlaid wood confessionals

The sumptuous interior 

The iconic blue and white tower of the Abbey was designed to blend into the celestial colours of the blue sky and clouds 

View of the Abbey from the rooftop

The verdant vineyards of Durnstein

Famous for its delicious high quality dry white wines, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling  

Durnstein's Alter Klosterkeller with wine tastings from the Tegernseehof Winery

The Klosterkeller sign made of wheat shows that it sells beer also as well as wine

The winery's outdoor terrace overlooking the Danube and the Durnstein's terraced vineyards

The vaulted 13th-century cellars of Klosterkeller

Sign crafted from a barrel commemorating the 2009 vintage of Franz Hirtzberger's Durnsteiner Weintaufe

With wine glasses set out in the lovely cool cellar, the tasting was poised to begin

The first wine was a delicious light and dry 2013 Durnsteiner Gruner Veltliner 

A light and delicious wine, we became ardent fans of Austria's Gruner Veltliner

Introducing each wine was owner and winemaker Emmerich Knoll

The second tasting was a peppery, fruity and dry 2015 Gruner Veltliner 
made from the grapes of a single vineyard, so delicious that  we bought 2 bottles

A moist and crusty bun from Durnstein's top bakery, Baeckerei Schmidl

A velvety and mature 2013 Blauer Zweifelt was the final wine

Departing Durnstein aboard the MS Savor as the sun sets over the beautiful Wachau Valley

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