Nestled between the cities of Melk and Krems, the Wachau Valley is a picturesque region along the Danube River in Austria. It’s just an hour’s drive from Vienna, and if you’re visiting the Austrian capital, this is an excellent weekend destination to add to your journey.
The Wachau Valley is one of Europe’s hidden gems. This 24-miles stretch features beautiful terraced vineyards and stunning nature. Although the locals began clearing natural forests in the Stone Age, radical changes took place around 800, creating the landscape pattern of vine terraces.
The Wachau Valley is also home to tastiest apricots in Austria. Because of its uniqueness, the European Union has proclaimed the Wachau apricot a “protected designation of origin”. Each spring, about 100,000 apricot trees transform the whole region into a pink-white sea of blossom.
The south bank of the Danube River is less populated, while vineyards and villages are on the north side. In addition, ancient monasteries and castles are combined with the urban architecture of the Wachau Valley’s towns and villages, giving this area a sort of architectural elegance.
Because of its architectural and agricultural history, the Wachau Cultural Landscape is inscribed in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. However, this destination has much more to offer. The Wachau Valley is worth exploring for its intriguing history, as well as incredible wines.
Here are six reasons you’ll want to visit this beautiful region in Austria.
1. Wachau Valley Wineries
The Wachau Valley has a wine-making heritage that goes back more than 2,000 years. There’s evidence that the Celts and Illyrians were making wine here, but it was the Romans who began systematic wine growing in the region.
The first terraced vineyards in Wachau that rise steeply from the shore were probably built in the 9th century. Wine-making is a treasured tradition in the valley. There are over a hundred vineyards and more than 600 winegrowers.
Nikolaihof, in Mautern, is the oldest winery dating back to 777. When you visit the region, be sure to stop at one of top wineries in Austria, Domäne Wachau. This wine-making cooperatives is one of the largest wineries in Austria, producing wine in the Steinfeder, Federspiel and Smaragd categories.
Be sure to try some of their award-winning Grüner Veltliner wines, which are refreshing on a warm summer day. Domäne Wachau is also known for their Gemischter Satz and Rieslings.
2. Visit Göttweig Abbey
Göttweig Abbey, called the Austrian Montecassino, is a baroque Benedictine monastery near Krems that overlooks the southern entry to the Wachau Valley. Although it was founded in 1083, it was almost completely destroyed by the fire in the 18th century. Despite the fire, the baroque building was rebuilt on a grander scale.
The impressive ceiling fresco decorating the imperial staircase is considered a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. The abbey has a library and archives that house 150,000 books and manuscripts, as well as music and visual art collections. On the south side of the monastery, you can discover the highest apricot orchard in the Wachau.
Run by 42 monks, the Abbey is a beautiful place, but it’s also a vibrant part of the local community, with youth camps, a bed and breakfast inn, a restaurant, a winery and much more. (They even have an apricot-knödel cooking show!)
Göttweig Abbey provides overnight stays for those who want to experience this unique atmosphere. Göttweig Abbey services as a spiritual center, and welcome visitors. If you see Father Pius while you’re there, please tell him hello from us!
3. Visit Dürnstein
The medieval town of Dürnstein is the most popular with tourists in the Wachau Valley. It’s charming and small, with one narrow main street running through it. Shopping in Dürnstein is rewarding, since the street is dotted with shops selling chocolate, apricot jam, and artworks.
However, Dürnstein is not only popular due to its fairytale scenery. Above the city are the ruins of the Dürnstein Castle (Stift Dürnstein), where the English King Richard the Lion-Heart was held captive in 1193 by Duke Leopold V. The Austrian ruler didn’t release him until a substantial ransom was paid.
If you’d like to take the Dürnstein castle hike, follow the steep trail leading up to the castle. After a 30-minute walk, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of Dürnstein and the Danube River.
4. Take the Melk Abbey Tour
Melk Abbey is situated on a cliff above the Danube River and the town of Melk. Since its foundation in 1089, it has been managed by Benedictine monks. The abbey has caught fire several times, and during the 1683 Turkish invasion suffered serious devastation. The renovated structure was built in the 18th-century Baroque style.
Today the Melk Abbey is known as a spiritual meeting place that is famous for its extensive manuscript collection. During the last restoration, statues and altars have been re-gilded with more than eight pounds of gold bullion. The church with its dramatic interior, the Marble Hall, and the park designed to resemble English landscape gardens make the Melk Abbey complex unique.
5. Visit Kunsthalle Krems and the State Gallery of Lower Austria
The Kunsthalle Krems is an international exhibition house in the small town of Krems. This modern exhibition space was an ambitious project that emerged from a redesigned former tobacco factory.
The Kunsthalle is a part of the Krems Art Mile that combines a large number of galleries, museums, and other cultural experiences within walking distance. The State Gallery of Lower Austria also belongs to the Krems Art Mile. It opened in May 2019. This new exhibition location brought together the holdings of Lower Austrian State Collections with prestigious private collections. It is dedicated to Austrian art and well worth the visit.
6. Dining in the Wachau Valley
In the Wachau Valley, life is all about the grape — and with great wine comes good food. The region is home to some top-class restaurants.
If you find yourself in Spitz, make sure to visit Gasthof Prankl, just 10 minutes from the town’s center. It’s a family-owned guesthouse with an award-winning restaurant. It’s on the bank of the Danube, so you can enjoy the views of the river. The restaurant features a good selection of wines, fresh ingredients, and an upscale atmosphere.
When it comes to atmosphere, Gasthof Jell is hard to beat for its rustic charm. Friendly staff and fine wine from their own vineyard make this one of the best dining spots in Krems. Their cuisine relies on traditional specialties coupled with high-quality regional products.
If You Go
To learn more about the region, please visit Donau.com