On any other day, being awakened from a deep slumber a little too early in the morning by an unexpected voice coming over a loudspeaker in my room would pretty much equal disastrous consequences for anyone who tried to interact with me the rest of the day, but when that wake-up call is to alert me that we’re entering one of Austria’s most scenic landscapes, exceptions can be made.
The third morning of our Viking River Cruise began just this way, with me sleeping soundly thanks to the rhythmic thrum of the boat’s engines, only to be jolted awake as our ship’s program director announced we were entering Austria’s majestic Wachau Valley. Less than .053 seconds later, I was standing on our balcony in my pajamas, hoping no one else on their balcony could see just how awful I look in the morning, while I snapped picture after picture of the dramatic scenery we were passing through.
As I stood outside in the crisp morning air, watching castle ruins and little orange-roofed villages tucked into the mountains pass by as we drifted along the Danube, I knew there was no way I’d be spending the rest of the day grumpy if I was surrounded in beauty like this.
THE WACHAU VALLEY
The Wachau Valley stretches for 25 scenic miles from Krems an der Donau to Melk in Lower Austria. Coming from Vienna, we entered the valley in Krems and made our way towards Melk, our final destination for the day. As we cruised through the Wachau Valley, the dense fog that had covered the tops of the mountains when we woke up began to lift, and we struggled to get ready for the day in between intermittent dashes out to the balcony to take photos when we passed through yet another especially scenic area. (One of my favorites was the town of Dürnstein, pictured above.)
The Wachau Valley is located in the heart of Austria’s wine country. As we passed through the valley, we could see vineyards dotting the landscape in between towns. Like the tea plantations in Darjeeling, the vineyards in the Wachau Valley are cultivated terrace-style on hillsides. Due to its significance visually, agriculturally (the Wachau Valley is also known for its apricot trees), and architecturally (both entire towns and the castles/monasteries in them), the Wachau Valley has been honored with a spot on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
As we were eating breakfast on the ship, we cruised into a town that was so pretty, I was forced to choose between two things no one should ever have to choose between – to finish my pancakes or run up to the ship’s top deck and take photos. One guess which one I chose.
Between the cold temperatures and the wind coming off the water, it was unbearably cold on the top deck, so we kept warm by running from one side of the ship to the other, taking photos and admiring the gorgeous views on both banks. The fog had almost completely dissipated, so for the first time all morning we had a completely clear view of the picturesque valley we’d been cruising through.
I was thrilled when I discovered this beautiful town we’d entered was Melk, where we’d be spending our third day on the Danube. Situated on a quiet, tranquil stretch of the river, the town of Melk is probably most well known for Melk Abbey, the Benedictine monastery pictured last above. We would have the opportunity to visit the abbey later in the day, but first, a stop to check out one of the other things this region is most famous for – wine!
MÖRWALD WINERY TOUR
I should preface this by saying I’m more of a tea drinker than a wine drinker. I know almost nothing about wine. Case in point – until this trip, I didn’t even realize Austria had vineyards. That being said, I was still totally stoked about going on my first winery tour.
As part of our day’s excursions in Melk and the surrounding area, we visited Mörwald Winery who provide a large portion of the wines offered on Viking River Cruises down the Danube. We were led through the wine-making process by the owner himself, Erhard Mörwald, his son, and our energetic guide/translator Trinka. The Mörwald family has been producing wine in the Wachau Valley for several generations. Erhard is the 5th generation and has made it his philosophy to produce high-quality grapes in harmony with nature and respect for the land they’re grown on.
From pressing to fermenting to bottling, we were taken through all the steps necessary to turn healthy Austrian grapes into fruity, award-winning wines. Afterwards, we were served a hearty lunch of schnitzel, potatoes, and Austrian cookies (I seriously love Austria) followed by a tasting of some of Mörwald’s best-selling wines. Similar to our tea tasting in Darjeeling, we were given a sample of each wine to swish around to appreciate its full flavor…and then spit out into a bucket. (Big thanks to Carolann of One Modern Couple for modeling proper spit technique for me, ha!)
To read more about Mörwald Winery, you can visit their website here.
After our wine tasting, we headed back into the town of Melk to take a tour of its famous 900-year-old Baroque abbey. Perched high on top of a cliff overlooking the town and river below, Melk Abbey was originally a royal palace, but in the 11th century was gifted to the Benedictine monks by Leopold II who turned it into a fortified abbey and monastic school. It’s still an active monastery and school today, but as we were arriving at evening, we didn’t get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the black-robed monks who live, work, and pray within the abbey’s colorful walls.
The majority of our tour was through a portion of Melk Abbey that has been turned into a museum of sorts, but I especially enjoyed visiting the library where over 80,000 medieval manuscripts have been preserved. The Abbey Church with its high, fresco-adorned ceilings and embellished interior was another highlight. The one thing I regret from our visit to Melk Abbey was that I didn’t look up when we reached the bottom of the staircase pictured above. What looks semi-cool from the top turns into one of the most incredible staircases in the world when you reach the bottom and look up. (See what I mean here.) And I totally didn’t look up.
At the end of our tour, we said goodbye to Melk from the rooftop of Melk Abbey. The city lights at night looked so magical from up here, I felt like I was looking down on one of those little Christmas village scenes people decorate their homes with during the holidays.
Even though our time in Melk was short, it still left quite an impression on me. From our morning cruise through the Wachau Valley to our afternoon spent with the delightful Erhard and Trinka to our evening standing on the rooftop of one of Austria’s most beloved monasteries, I enjoyed it all tremendously. We were halfway through the trip, but there were still so many more adventures to come!
This post is part of a series. If you’d like to read more about cruising the Danube with Viking River Cruises, just follow the link!
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