We arrived back in Vienna from Budapest by train (2 1/2 hrs.) mid day on Wednesday, May 24th. Picked up our rental car…Robin is very happy, we have a Fiat 500C convertible!
We always find that it is such a small world. When we picked up the car, the agent for Europcar told us he had been to Calgary and a place called Red Deer (where he has family). He could not believe the drive from Red Deer to Calgary wherein one drove for 1 1/2 hrs and hardly saw any villages,very unlike Europe.When we told him that our children lived in Toronto and took us 4 1/2 hours by plane to get visit, he was surprised! Could not believe Canada is such a large size.
It took us about one hour to get to Krems an der Donau (on the Danube). Krems, as everyone refers to it, is the largest town in the Wachau region of Austria. We chose this area as this is a wine valley and most importantly all the small villages along the Danube and the ability to bike along the Danube. The Wachau runs from Krems to Melk, a total of 40 kilometres.
The Wachau was named as the “Wachau Cultural Landscape” as a Unesco World Heritage site because of its architectural and agricultural history, in December 2000. OK. I get to add another one to the list!
We get to our apartment which is located just above the town around 2 pm. A very modern apartment on the main level, yeah!. A nice garden area in the front overlooking the town and vineyards. We get settled in and drive into town, only a few minutes by car, and buy some provisions for the next few days.
The town of Krems is the major town in the Wachau and is the centre of the wine producing area. A population of 24,000, so a nice size. The Alstadt (Old Town) is quite charming with its pedestrian only cobbled streets. Nice change to be out in the country and out of large cities.
There are three distinctive types of white wines produced in the valley, Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd. Must say after having tasted some of their wines, they are very smooth.
In addition to being famous for its white wine, this area also known for its apricots (Marille), mustards, saffron and hot peppers. In shops in all the small towns along the Danube one will find marille jam, marille mustard, marille schnapps,marille torte, marille struddle, marille brandy….you get the idea!
On Thursday morning, the 25th, we meet up with the owner in the small town of Spitz about a 20 minute drive from Krems for coffee. Cornelia spent time with us, advising us where to spend time, good restaurants to eat at and in general sharing information on the area. Just as we are about to leave she mentions that she has a gift for us and we join her at her home in the very small town of Schwallenbach, just 5 minutes from Spitz. What a lovely home and the gardens were incredible. Her gift to us was a jar of her homemade Marille jam! By the way, it is delicious.
Meant to mention that when we were having coffee with Cornelia one of the waitresses come over and spoke to us. She is Cornelia’s best friend here in the Wachau. Her friend said they had known each other for years and she was still trying to correct Cornelia on her accent. Cornelia is of german descent and has only been in Austria for 10 yrs. The Austrians and Germans understand each other, but have different pronunciation on certain words. Her friend allowed me to take a picture of her as she was wearing a traditional Austrian clothing.
After spending time with Cornelia, we head off to Melk another 15 minutes down the road to visit the famous Melk Abbey (Stift Melk – means seminary or cathedral chapter). A little cloudy today, so perfect day for touring. The abbey, yellow in colour, can be seen from afar and is very imposing.
Since 1089, Benedictine monks have continually been living and working in Melk Abbey. Their motto is Ora et Labora et Lege (Pray, Work, Learn). It is a huge Baroque building situated on top of a rock overlooking the Danube. A reconstruction took place in 1736. Once again, we were not able to take pictures of the interior, but took some exterior shots. A magnificent library was part of our tour, more than 1000,000 books. Also spent time in the gardens adjoining the Abbey. Some interesting art work throughout the gardens.
Must say that the most spectacular thing we came across was the church. As we were descending some stairs to get into the church, we could hear some beautiful organ music. Well mass was just coming to a close, but we were able to sit in a pew and listen to the music and celebrate the end of the mass. There were about 6 monks in attendance,most of them quite old. Very moving.
We walk though the small town of Melk, a lovely little cobblestoned main street. We then drive on the other side of the Danube and cross the river on a small ferry. We were the last car on, only 5 cars in total, that’s all that would fit and many cyclists.
We head back toward Krems and stop in Durnstein, a beautiful village. It is so crowded as the town is a “must see” in this area. The main street, Haupstrasse, is lined with beautiful 16th century residences and the streets are cobblestoned. Many of the river cruise boats and bus tours stop here. The Stifskirche , local church, dates back to the early 1700’s and has a beautiful blue facade. Above the town sit the ruins of the Richard the Lionheart Castle (his name has come up a couple of times!). It is said that Leopold V held Richard the Lionheart here after his capture on his way home from the crusades. Cornelia told us that the Chinese have built a replica of this town in China!
While in Durnstein we stop for coffee and a local pastry. I had read about the Wachau torte. A very light torte made with apricots (marille – of course), grounds almonds and chocolate. Very, very good!
Cornelia had mentioned that today was Ascension Day. We forgot that in Europe, holy days are still respected and all shops are closed. We arrive back in Krems to find closed shops everywhere. We had planned on buying some groceries to make dinner. Robin, bless his heart, spots a Chinese restaurant in town and we order take out. Can’t remember the last time we had Chinese take out! We were even able to buy a bottle of wine from them!
During the day today, we saw many local Austrians dressed in their traditional clothing, as this was a religious holiday. One sees this clothing sold in most towns and as we were told by our guide in Vienna, their traditional clothing is worn to weddings and festivities as a norm. Wonderful to see.
Friday arrives and we awake to a beautiful sunny day. We head into town and arrange to rent bikes for the day. We head off around 10 am and return around 3:30 pm. What a great day, wonderful to get out cycling. Easy to get out of Krems and find the bike route along the Danube, the Danube Bike Trail (Donauradweg) , you certainly can’t get lost. The route is absolutely wonderful as one cycles through vineyards and small towns. I thank the Lord that I am here and able to enjoy this with Robin. We stop in many of the small towns to simply walk around, have coffee/lunch and cycle to the next town. Such wonderful picture opportunities, this valley is so beautiful! We biked a total of 42 klms.
The bike path along the Danube is so busy, and this is still May, would not want to be here in the height of the summer season!
Along the bike paths and vineyards you see “holy niches” with pictures or statues of saints. These have been built over the centuries to thank the lord for the crops. Also along the way some interesting art!
We stop at the small church of St.Michael in Weibenkirchen. It says that this church dates back to 987 and was the only place of worship in the region. What caught our eye as we rode near, were the burial plots, all so beautifully tended to. One cannot enter the church, but there are viewing windows. I peek in and see the altar table filled with skulls! I tried to find out why these skulls are on the altar, but could find no information about it. Certainly makes for an interesting sight.
As Robin was getting off his bike,he caught his leg on the back carrier and skinned it quite badly. The owner of the bike shop, an elderly gentleman, saw this and insisted on looking after it. By the way, he only spoke German, although the young people in the shop do speak english. He took Robin into a back room where he had a first aid kit. He proceeded to spray some type of liquid on the gash (Robin said it stung a lot!) then covered it with a large bandage. We thought this was so nice.
After that long bike ride we went to the local beer garden in Krems and enjoyed a cool beverage, great way to end our day.
We made the decision to cycle for two days while in this beautiful valley and we arranged to rent the same bikes on Saturday. When we arrived at 9 am to pick up our bikes, the owner, who had looked after Robin yesterday insisted on changing his bandage! After he was finished, Robin thanked him by saying in German “Danke, mein Doktor!”. The old guy thought this was pretty funny!
On our way again. Bike path so much busier today as is a weekend,so lots of locals and Viennese here for the weekend. Once again a great day, mainly sunny with some clouds. We make it to Spitz once again.
Its’ funny, this was our third time in Spitz and only today do we notice a castle on top of the hill. The ruins of the Hinterhaus Castle sit perched above the town and originate from the 12th century. It was a strategic stronghold and from here they were able to rule the entire Wachau valley.
I did a bit or reading on the Hinterhaus castle. There is a 600 year old legend that says the ruler at the time was unfaithful to his wife, Adelheid. When she died, he remarried two months later, although customary to wait a whole year in those times. They say that Adelheid, dressed in snow white clothing appears at the window of the fortress ruins every year on the anniversary of her husband’s death and constantly wails “Not even a year!”.
We decide to take the ferry and ride on the south side of the Danube back to Krems. Definitely not as busy on this side. Although not as picturesque, still nice to ride along the Danube on one side and vineyards and orchards on the other. On the north side of the river, one cycles through more towns, so more amenities (coffee shops, etc.). We stop in the small town of Mautern on the way back.
In each village we have visited, we have seen “maypoles”. The maypole (Maibaum)is a tradition going back to the 16th century. It is a decorated tree or tree trunk that is usually erected on May 1st. It is usual to have a ceremony to erect the maypole on the village green and to combine it with a village celebration.
While cycling along the bike paths in the last couple of days, we have noticed high water marks on some buildings. The last bad flood they had was 2013 – 10.8 metres above its normal level and prior to that 2002.
Our last night in Krems and we go out to a restaurant in Spitz which was recommended by our landlord. Very good. We are off tomorrow morning to Bad Ischl for 3 nights, a 2 1/2 hour drive.
A final picture which I think truly captures this beautiful Wachau Valley!