Cruising the Danube River is a wonderful river cruise experience, and the Wachau Valley of Austria is one of the most scenic sections of the river. This beautiful valley stretches for about 20 miles along the river between Melk and Krems. Along the narrow Wachau Valley, there are many charming towns, terraced vineyards, castles, and monasteries.
The Wachau Valley is included on many Danube River cruise itineraries, and river ships sail through the valley in daylight, with stopovers in Melk and sometimes in Durnstein. Cruises sailing the Danube upstream from Budapest to Passau or Nuremberg pass through the Wachau Valley.
Although much of the Danube is very scenic, another spectacular section is the Iron Gates in Serbia, which is included in eastern European itineraries to/from the Black Sea.
The Schonbuhel Castle is over 1000 years old and was the property of the Bishops of Passau. The castle is known as the "Watchman of the Wachau". It is located about 3 miles from Melk.
Spitz is one of the oldest towns in the Wachau Valley and has been inhabited since the 9th century. The town is famous for its grape vineyards and is the site of the Hinterhaus Castle.
Spitz and Hinterhaus Castle
Hinterhaus Castle overlooks the Austrian village of Spitz. This 13th-century fortress looks remarkably well-preserved for its age, and Danube River cruise travelers get a great look at the castle from their ship.
Wachau Valley Vineyard
The Wachau Valley is not just a UNESCO world heritage site and region of natural beauty. It is also famous for its vineyards. The varieties Grüner Veltliner and Riesling prevail on over a thousand hectares, with many of the vines on steep-inclined terraces. Some of the best white wines in the world come from the Wachau Valley.
Many river cruises sailing the Danube River through the Wachau Valley include wine tours as part of their itinerary. It's fun and educational to tour one of the vineyards and learn how many of the farmers combine their crops to see to the wineries.
Statue of Richard the Lionheart and Blondel the Minstrel
When on a river cruise, you never know what surprises might await you ashore. This interesting statue is on the Danube River in the Wachau Valley near Durnstein where Richard the Lionheart was held captive.
Many know that Richard left England to lead his troops to fight in the Crusades, but while he was away, tensions increased between the kings of England and France. Richard decided to avoid France on his way home but was captured in Venice by Duke Leopold of Austria, whom he had disagreed with during the Battle of Acre. The Duke imprisoned Richard in his castle at Durnstein but soon turned him over to the German Emperor Henry VI. Richard was moved around by Henry VI to his various castles and eventually released after a huge ransom was paid.
Although many believe that Richard was only imprisoned in Durnstein for a few weeks in 1192-1193, the castle and the legend of Richard and Blondel continue.