“Look around and you will see what this region is all about: wine, wine and wine,” tour guide Christine Wölfel said as rows upon rows of terraced vineyards set in steep hillsides drew near stretching as far as the eyes could see.
Located along the Danube River between the towns of Melk and Krems, Austria, Wachau Valley is renowned for its wine making. The area is lined with Heuriger – small taverns where local winemakers serve up their latest Riesling and Grüner Veltliner offerings. Here, twigs tied to the door alongside the name of the establishment represents that the taverns are open and ready to welcome visitors.
Run by Erich Hamböck and Lidia Ramallo, one of the family-run businesses travellers can visit to try a sampling of locally made wine is Heuriger Hamböck, which is home to a 600 year old wine cellar, and has a courtyard with views of the old town of Krems-Stein.
Along with wine, the UNESCO World Heritage Site – designated for its architecture, urban design and agricultural use, principally for the cultivation of vines evolving since prehistoric times – is growing in reputation for its production of apricots, which can be found in many forms ranging from marmalade and dried snacks to apricot liquor, brandy and wine.
The region has also been making a name for itself for centuries thanks to its ties to Richard the Lionheart. Dürnstein Castle, one of the highlights of the Wachau Valley, is where the King was held captive in the 12th century following the Third Crusade. Ransom for his release was set at some 150,000 silver marks – a colossal amount that took a good year to collect from the kingdom in England.
“That’s roughly three billion dollars in today’s equivalency,” Wölfel said.
Legend has it that when no one could locate the King, a loyal minstrel set out to find him by singing his favourite song from castle to castle through the Holy Roman Empire. Upon recognizing the ditty, it’s believed that the imprisoned Richard the Lionheart sang the next refrain back to Blondel.
Whether it’s to drink up and discover the local wine scene or to be regaled by tales of Richard the Lionheart, the Wachau Valley is filled with history, impressive monasteries, castles and ruins, charming medieval villages and vineyards to discover.
For the full story, check out this week’s digital edition of Travel Courier.