The wine region Wachau situated along the Danube was not made a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site without reason. The combination of nature, history and culture has made this one of Austria’s most popular tourist destinations – for foreign visitors and Austrians alike.
The Wachau takes up a 33-kilometre (20-mile) stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems in Upper Austria. The unique blend of picturesque villages, river landscape, history, culture and regional delicatessen are the main attractions. The mild climate, geology and good soil make Wachau one of the prime wine districts of Austria. The tourist season in this part of Austria lasts a bit longer than in most places and stretches from the end of March until the end of October. Nonetheless, for less stress visit Wachau at the beginning or the end of the season.
Spring, summer and autumn
Nature presents itself with a range of variations throughout the tourist season through different colours and the blooming of different plants. The region is where spring often strikes first in Austria. One of the highlights is the blossoming of the apricot trees that colour the river valley pink in April. These trees rarely grow north of the Alps but thrive in Wachau due to the special microclimate. The Wachau Gourmet Festival often coincides with the blossoming and celebrates the region’s culinary heritage over a couple of weeks at the end of March and beginning of April every year. The summer is the peak season for bike- and cruise tourists, and especially in August, the bicycle paths along the Danube can be heavy with traffic. In the Autumn (September-November) it all quiets down a bit and makes this the perfect time to hunt for locally produced wines and culinary indulgences.
Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus
Wine production in Wachau has long traditions. Because of the mineral-rich soils and the warm winds that swipe through the river valley, make the wine from Wachau especially rich. The Romans quickly discovered that grapes thrived in the region and built the first stone terraces already 2000 years ago. Leuthold I (1260-1312) from the noble family Kuenring owned large areas of land in the region and was one of the first to receive the certificate of origin for wines from “Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus”. Not only is wine production itself very important to the region, but also wine tourism. The local wineries offer connoisseurs as well as novices possibilities for wine tasting. And last but not least, to learn about the entire process from grapes to bottles.
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Old tourist destination
Despite that other wine-producing regions in Lower Austria produce far larger quantities, the Wachau enjoys long-time fame among connoisseurs as THE wine and culinary region in Austria. Tourism in the region is not a new phenomenon. Already at the end of the 18th century, the region was a popular tourist destination. Especially for city dwellers from nearby Vienna (80 km away). In those days, the most popular way of travel was by steamboat on the Danube or by train. Both these options are still available today. Since Vienna is only an hour or so away by car, the roads get very crowded in August and on weekends with special events. However, one of the most desirable ways to see Wachau is from a bicycle.
Wachau on two wheels
You find bicycle paths on both sides of the Danube River and can leisurely do the 35 km trip in a day. Nonetheless, we recommend doing it for at least 3 days, which will allow you to appreciate not only the fantastic scenery but also to enjoy some of the local history and culture. The south side tends to see slightly less traffic than the north side of the river and maybe more pleasant on a bicycle. Notwithstanding, you can cross the river at several points, by bridge or ferry to experience all of Wachau. On the south side, you can also find the magnificent mediaeval Aggstein Castle. Get up there (300 m above the Danube) and enjoy the stunning views of the Wachau and surrounding areas.
The top 5 sights
These are the top sights, you should try to fit into your itinerary when in Wachau. If you cannot do them all, it’s just a good excuse to return another time.
1. The captivating splendour of Melk Abbey
2. Dürnstein – a fairy-tale town by the Danube
3. Aggstein Castle
4. Visit a winery
5. Cruise on the Danube
Just like most other regions in Austria, the Wachau offers an extensive network of hiking paths, both along the river and in the surrounding hills. There are also several viewing platforms on the hiking paths in the Danube valley providing stunning views. No matter what your main interests are, in Wachau you will find your thing.
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