What To Watch Out For In The Wachau Valley
River cruising allows you to sail right past some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, taking you closer than you could otherwise get when travelling by land. Europe is home to many of these stunning vistas and, in particular, Austria’s Wachau Valley is one of the most scenic stretches of river in the region.
Whilst sailing on one of our Danube River cruises, this celebrated part of the waterway will come into view between the towns of Krems and Melk. Whether it’s from the glorious sun deck of your ship or during an exciting excursion, there is plenty to look out for…
Welcoming you to the Wachau Valley (when travelling downstream) from high on a hill in Melk, this historic abbey is one of the first sights you will see. Its impressive structure commands your attention, ensuring it immediately takes its place on your to-do list. Formerly a fortress against marauding Hungarian barbarians, the building was first given to monks by the Babenberg dynasty in 1089. Since then, it has changed quite a bit – especially during the period between 1701 and 1736 when much of its current form was constructed – but remains a working abbey with monks living and teaching within its walls.
Highlights of a tour include the intricate library that holds thousands of important texts, the beautiful church with ceiling frescos by Johann Michael Rottmayr and Paul Troger, and a rear terrace that looks out over the Wachau Valley.
A quirk of the climate in this part of Europe means no other winegrowing region has been successful at growing Grüner Veltliner grapes. However, this unique variety flourishes on the steep slopes here and can be seen mostly across the northern bank of the river. As well as the chance to sample a few classes in the wineries, the vineyards also provide a pleasant landscape through which to hike and cycle. These relaxing activities present some of the best vantage points from which to enjoy the scenery all around.
This hilltop castle may have been reduced to ruins in 1645, but the fact that it has an interesting tale to tell makes it one of the most visited attractions in the area. It was here that Richard the Lionheart (Richard I) was imprisoned for a year whilst his mother struggled to gather the funds to pay the ransom put on his head by his Austrian captors. Richard was returning from his Third Crusade when he was spotted by enemies and dumped in the castle.
The ruins are free to visit (there’s no need for a guided tour) and can be reached via a 20-minute hike from the town centre. The route is clearly marked and is part of a system known as the Wachau World Heritage Trail. When you reach the top, you’ll also be rewarded with spectacular views.
Make a stop in Krems and you’ll get to experience the charming medieval atmosphere the town has to offer. One structure helping to create this is the Steiner Tor, the only remaining gate to the Old Town, having been meticulously restored in 2005. Two towers stand either side of the gate, establishing a grand entrance to the historic part of Krems – an area that’s also home to several burgher houses.
If you prefer your fortifications to be a bit more, well, intact than the ruins of Dürnstein, a visit to Aggstein will satiate your craving for more complete castles. Having said that, this structure has definitely fallen into ruin a few times over the years, until it was given some TLC in the early 2000s to enable visitors to take a look around.
Passed from the Kuenring family to a series of nobles and robbers who would use it to attack vessels sailing the Danube, its strategic position is obvious for all to see. Along with the dungeons and knight’s hall, there’s a small museum that details more of Aggstein’s history and a tavern where you can dine like a king or queen. The castle is also the perfect setting for an annual Christmas market.
If you would like to visit the Wachau Valley for yourself, call us on 0800 954 0064 today to talk about the itineraries we have available on the Danube. You can also sign up to our mailing list for regular updates on offers and news.