Dürnstein, otherwise known as the pearl of the Wachau Valley, is a quaint little town on the banks of the Danube river. The Wachau Valley is one of the most beautiful and famous regions in Lower Austria, enticing visitors with its picturesque landscape, the cultural heritage and the excellent wines that have been produced here for hundreds of years.
Picturesque landscape with steep-terraced vineyards - Image: Elaine de Wet
The best time to visit this region is in Spring during the apricot season as Apricot brandy or "Marillenschnaps" is the speciality for this stunning region. The Wachau Valley is one of the most treasured wine producing areas in Austria, producing some of the best white wines, including world-class Rieslings and some of the best Gruner Veltliners - a white wine grape variety grown primarily in Austria - that you will ever taste.
The Danube river provides a majestic backdrop to the beauty of the Wachau Valley - Image: Elaine de Wet
With apricot orchards and steep-terraced vineyards on both sides of the river, harmonising with medieval villages, the Danube, which is nearly two hundred metres wide in the Dürnstein area, provides a majestic backdrop to the beauty of the region.
Wonderful souvenir opportunities along cobbled streets - Image: Elaine de Wet
The little town of Dürnstein protects the most famous stretch of the Danube river, with the 'must-see' tourist attractions being the monastic church and the ruins of the castle fortress. This is, of course, besides the wonderful souvenir opportunities that the locals provide, along the cobbled streets.
So many shopping temptations! Images: Elaine de Wet
It was a perfect Spring morning, so hubby and I decided we were going to climb the hill to find the ruins of the Dürnstein Castle, which are 159 metres above the town and are historically linked to the Crusades.
Our goal - the Dürnstein Castle ruins - Image: Elaine de Wet
The imprisonment of Richard the Lionheart earned Leopold a great deal of ransom money, but also a heap load of criticism. Leopold V never got to spend his ransom money as he was excommunicated by the Pope as punishment for imprisoning King Richard, and then fell off his horse, dying unexpectedly. Karma, perhaps?
Cobbled walkways meandering between homes - Image: Elaine de Wet
The story goes that Richard had insulted the powerful Austrian duke in Palestine, by cheating him out of his bounty, during the Crusades to capture the Holy Land. When Richard was trying to get back home from the Crusades, his boat floundered on the rocks of the Adriatic and he tried to sneak through Austria disguised as a peasant. Somebody recognised Richard, when his servant wanted to pay for purchases with a Byzantine coin and the English Monarch was arrested and imprisoned by Leopold.
Our walk took us up through cobbled walkways that meander between the homes, many of which are centuries old and beautifully maintained. As walks go the gentle slopes made for easy walking, with of course, my obligatory stops for photo (rest?) opportunities along the way.
The views were breathtaking - Image: Elaine de Wet
The climb was all the more interesting as one had to negotiate the loose pebbles along the way and with no mobile phone coverage, a twist of the ankle could have been disastrous. Did I mention that we hadn't told anybody that we were doing the climb! Once reaching the top, the views overlooking the town of Dürnstein were absolutely breathtaking and definitely worth the 'effort' to find them.
Once having 'conquered' our 'mountain', we had extra free time to explore Dürnstein, one of Austria's smallest towns with less than one thousand inhabitants and to enjoy the local wares that were on offer and, of course, enjoy a coffee! In Austria, it's customary to serve a glass of water with your coffee, though I'm never sure if I should drink the water before or after my coffee!
The Abbey of the Augustinian Canons belonged to a monastery and was founded on a rock cliff high above the Danube in 1410. The exceptional blue and white tower of the Abbey church in Dürnstein that greets visitors from all directions, is a regional landmark of the Wachau Valley.
Blue and white tower of the Abbey church - Image: Elaine de Wet
Our next stop was Melk, a little sleepy village just 34kms beyond Dürnstein. After our morning walk we were feeling very energetic and instead of exploring the little village of Melk, hubby and I decided to do the 34km bicycle ride from Dürnstein to Melk.
As you can see from the bicycles left behind, there weren't too many takers for the 34km cycle - Image: Elaine de Wet
Now you must remember I haven't cycled in about 100 years (slight exaggeration), fifteen is more like it and that's an awful long time not to have had my butt (excuse the German) in a saddle. Nevertheless, this wasn't going to deter me, I was doing the 34kms cycle, come what may. Nobody had prepared me for the headwinds nor the traffic on the wrong side of the road, never mind the fact that I had no idea what gear to be cycling in. My better half had to keep checking 'what gear are you in?'…then 'no, no, put it up'. 'What's up?' was my usual response. This all added to a somewhat interesting, adventurous cycle.
Our cycle took us over the Danube in a ferry (rest time for me?) and as I had spent all my energies concentrating on just keeping my manual bicycle (which weighed a ton) on the road, I seemed to have missed all of the scenic spots. Anyway, decision made - I'm not quite ready for the Tour de France! Perhaps a return trip one day will satisfy my curiosity as to what my other options might have been! This region IS, after all, in the spectacular Wachau Valley in Lower Austria.