Austrian Answer to Dolce Vita
The picturesque region embraced by warm Daube shores is one of the most popular destinations of Lower Austria. The Unesco World Heritage area, located about an hour away from Vienna, welcomes history fans, foodies & wine lovers, hiking & cycling enthusiasts and relax-seekers.
From palaeolithic Venus figurines to Richard the Lionheart
Humans had been inhabiting the region of Lower Austria on Danube’s shores at least since the Late Stone Age. Austria’s most famous archaeological finds, the white oolite figurine Venus of Willendorf and the green shiny serpentine mini-statue Venus of Galgenberg, prove human activity of the region in the Palaeolithic. Scientists discovered that both ladies were approximately 30.000 years old. Today, visitors can admire the sculptures in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.
Around 30.000 years after the Stone Age artists had crafted their Venuses, the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. The river Danube served as a natural border to the mighty empire. Romans built fortifications with watchtowers along the river, creating a vast military frontier – the Danubian Limes. Remains of walls, towers and even roads are spread all over the Wachau. However, military structures aren’t the only witnesses of Roman rule in the territory. The Wachau is also home to the oldest wine estate in Austria – Nikolaihof. Its cellar, originally a Roman crypt, dates back to the 1st century B.C. Tours in the ancient cellar combined with wine tasting are possible on request.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages, the Wachau remained in the spotlight of European history. The region has a connection to the legendary King of England and crusader Richard the Lionheart. In the late 12th century, Duke Leopold V ruled the Duchy of Austria. Leopold and Richard both fought in the third crusade in the Holy Land and conquered the town of Akron. However, according to a legend, they had a dispute over whose contribution led to the conquest. Richard was so angry when Leopold raised his flag on a town’s castle tower that he immediately took the flag down and threw it into the abyss. A typical medieval quarrel of honour begun. Leopold captured Richard on his return journey from the crusade and kept him a prisoner at Dürnstein Castle.
Today, the ruin of the castle guards high above the small town of Dürnstein. It’s well worth climbing the steep steps from the village to the castle. The views over the Danube valley with its vineyards are breathtaking. The Dürnstein abbey, with its sky-blue baroque facade, is the region’s most picturesque eye-catcher, especially in the soft evening light. Visitors shouldn’t miss the panoramic view over Dürnstein from Rossatz on the other side of the Danube.
Good to know: A small ferry operates on demand between Dürnstein and Rossatz . Simply ring the bell at the pier and wait for the solar boat to pick you up.
Aggstein Castle on the right bank of the Danube is another medieval castle set in spectacular scenery. The ancient abbeys Melk and Göttweig dating back to the 11th century complete the UNESCO World Heritage Site landscape.
From Heuriger to chic restaurants
The Wachau region offers Austrian hospitality at its best. In almost every village, you’ll find a Heuriger. It’s a small guest house with an adjacent garden, where local winemakers offer wine during the growing season. The name Heuriger comes from heuriger Wein – this year’s wine, which is served accompanied by simple local dishes.
More demanding gourmands will find chic restaurants all over the area. Just pick one, relax and spoil your taste buds. The restaurants aren’t necessarily located in bigger towns. Instead, establishments in villages along the Danube will surprise you with their excellent services.
Tips for spectacular landscape views
A walk through the vineyards to the Red Gate (Rotes Tor) close to the village of Spitz offers excellent views over the Danube. After the walk, delicious food awaits in one of the many wineries, such as Weingut Holzapfel.
St. Michael’s fortified church and the view from its watchtower will take you back in time to the early medieval period.
The hills on Danube’s left bank also provide fantastic views over the landscape shaped by vineyards. Like the winding roads above Weißenkirchen in der Wachau or the small paths in the vineyard above Oberloiben.
Whether you decide to explore the Wachau on foot, on a bicycle or the lazy way in a car (but you’d miss the wine experience, though), the charming region nestled along the shores of the Danube will welcome you with open arms.