In celebration of our last weekend in Vienna, we decided to hop on a riverboat cruise down the Danube, towards the famed Wachau Valley. Meandering down one of Europe’s mightiest and most storied rivers, we passed by small town vineyards, rooftop fortresses and the obligatory nuclear power plant or two before reaching the fairytale town of Dürnstein. After hiking up a mountain in flip flops and trying out the local apricot ice cream, we returned to Vienna on a beautiful Sunday night.
The boat departed promptly from its dock at 8:30am and was filled with a mix of chatty locals and a few tourists. Fairly nice as far as riverboats go, it featured a fully stocked kitchen serving Austrian favourites like wienerschnitzel, knödeln and sachertorte. Already plump from indulging in spaetzle and other assorted goodies for weeks, we opted for coffee for breakfast followed by sausage and sauerkraut for lunch.
After passing through Vienna, the scenery quieted down into a flat expanse of forest and trees. Along us the entire way was an extensive bike trail which presumably covers a large length of the river. With the water calm and the scenery light on action, I was eagerly awaiting our arrival into the Wachau Valley.
After 5 hours we finally reached Krems, the unofficial entrance to the Wachau Valley. Here, the flat forest transformed into rolling green hills dotted with fairytale castles and romantic vineyards. Though it had chilly earlier in the day, the sun came through in the afternoon, just half an hour before reaching Dürnstein.
The first thing that you notice when arrive in Dürnstein is its distinctive blue abbey, which sits right at the river’s edge. Behind it on a hill are the ruins of the town’s medieval castle which held England’s Richard the Lionhearted captive for a short time in the 1100s. The castle is one of the most popular attraction in the Wachau Valley and requires a steep walk up the rocky hill.
After 30 minutes of hiking (I stupidly did it in flip-flops), visitors are rewarded with some of the most amazing views in the valley. The area immediately around Dürnstein is occupied by small vineyards and the perfect little European farm houses that you’d see in guidebooks.
Further down the river from Dürnstein, the scenery becomes even more rural. The mighty Danube snakes its way through the gentle hills which, upon close inspection, are sprinkled with the medieval foundations of castles and fortresses from days gone by.
Back in town, Dürstein provided a charming setting. Nuzzled up against the hills, it has all the cobblestone streets and beer garden restaurants a tourist could hope for. Along with wine, apricots are the hot commodity in town with shops along the main tourist road selling everything from apricot jam to ice cream, lotions and soaps.
For those visiting Vienna for more than a few days, I highly recommend a trip to the Wachau Valley. Between the thousand year old castles, baroque abbeys and quaint farm houses it represents the Austrian countryside at its finest. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough time to explore it further.