Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cycling Europe : Cycling In Austria Wachau Wine Valley & Danube Riverside Cycling

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker -Europe 2015 / Cycling Europe / Austria : Wachau Wine Valley & Danube Riverside Cycling
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Austria : Wachau Wine Valley & Danube Riverside Cycling
Wachau Valley, Austria : 2nd October 2015
Cycling Distance Covered : 28.03 km. (include 1.70 km.hiking up and down to Richard The Lion-hearted prison)
Level: Medium
Time : 11:20 am - 5:30 pm
Time Taken :  6hrs. 10mins. (including wine tasting, tracking up to Richard The Lion-hearted Castle Prison, photo-ops, rest)

Route Recommendations :
1. The route is fairly flat, and do ride there during wine season. Expect to see other cyclist along the route as the Wachau region is quite scenic.
2. Cycling is not allowed within Dürnstein old town centre (which is listed under the UNESCO Heritage Sites), push you bikes through.
3. Wachau Valley is famed for it's vineyards, do stop by an view the vineyards but do not pluck the grapes and try to minimise handling them.
4. The hike up to the Dürnstein Castle Ruins (where King Richard 1 (also know as Richard the Lionheart) was imprisoned) can be quite steep at some stretches, ensure that you are fit for it. Having said that, the hike route up has several view-points of the scenic blue Danube and valley below.
5. Dürnsteinerhof in Dürnstein serves very good authentic Austrian food, including one of the best Goulash that I have tried. It's set in a cosy house with an indoor dining area. The owner, Herr Jan Lescak is very warm and friendly.
6. The route included visits to three wineries; form a commercial wine showroom, to a wine garden and to a small, traditional vineyard run by a jolly couple.
7. Do ride alongside the Danube, where there are nice cycling tracks.
8. Take some time to explore Dürnstein, it's an UNESCO Heritage Site; and also Weißenkirchen (Wessenkirchen) an interesting medieval town.

At the Old Town Square while cycling in Prague.
We were on a tour of Europe and as usual my itchy cycling legs demanded that I do some cycling there, eventhough the rest of my tour buddies were not ardent cyclist. About a week earlier, I had managed to take leave from my buddies and did a short cycling stint in PragueAlthough it was a good ride around the city and managed to soothe my riding itch, it ended too quickly (... see Cycling Prague blog).
Now after a week and we were in Vienna, and those cycling pangs are back! And it's time to take leave of my buddies again; this time it will be for a whole day. The previous day I had decided to join a cycling tour again, instead of going off on my own. But we won't be cycling in Vienna; we would be doing something even better!

Instead, we would be cycling along the vineyards of the Austria's famed Wachau wine valleys. Along the way we would visit a couple of Medieval towns, cycle along the Danube and even climb up to a castle ruins that was once the prison of Richard the Lion-Heart. To top it all, there would be visits to some wineries for some wine tasting. At 59-00 per pax, I think it was a good deal, considering that we did taste some pretty good wines.
Come let's see how the wine valleys are like and how blue the Danube is!


Cycling route Krems>Dürnstein>Burgruine Dürnstein (Dürnstein Castle)>Dürnsteinerhof>Weißenkirchen>Stift Dürnstein>Krems.
This was a guided tour starting with a train ride from Vienna to Krems. The cycling starts from Krems and goes round the famed Wachau Wine Valley and includes a hike up to Dürnstein Castle. There are many vineyards where one can do some lovely wine tasting.

In the early morning I left for the Vienna Explorer shop in Franz-Josef-Kai. It was not that diffiuclt; I just pop into the U-Bahn U3 underground train to Stephansplatz where I changed to the U1 and headed for Schewdenplatz. From there I took a nice morning walk along the canals that feed the Danube, slowly observing the morning life pass by.
At the Vienna Explorer, I was met by their receptionist Max who introduced me to others who would be joining the tour too. Most were couples, some from the USA, England, etc. The shop was manned by young people, people who have a green perspective of life - their shop front was green, their bikes green; and their were even posters of historical explorers clad in green. These explorers were innovatively named by them as "Employee of the Year", like this one of Ferdinand Magellan who was their "Private guide for the Patagonia Tour"!

The shops décor also indicate that they are energetic people as show by this green hand of the Incredible Hulk punching down through the ceiling to hold up a lamp.
Great! With hands punching up we were ready to proceed.

But hold on to your horses first! Josè our guide first gave us a quick talk on safety and not getting lost (i.e. if we lose sight of the group, we were to remain at where we where so that he could come find us). Fortunately none of us got lost.
From the shop, we took a short underground train ride to the Wein Franz-Josefs station where we boarded an Intercity Shuttle that would take us to Krems. Along that journey, as we hit the smaller towns, sights of small villages and vineyards were all round; our hearts started beating with excitement, this and more would be what we would be expecting during our cycle ride.
At KremsJosè took us on a short walk through the small town to Vienna Explorer's bicycle store somewhere in the town centre. There we selected our bikes and helmets and were ready to go. Now is the time for our hands-punching-into-the-air stance!
Yeeeee... Hah!

First order of things: WATER!
As we rode out of Krems, our first stop wast to top up water from a public outlet just next to the Danube. Filling up my water bottle next to the mighty river made me excited too. It's little things like these that are meaningful; imagine this water was from springs of the valley that also fed the Danube! The spring water was cool and fresh, and anytime better than bottled water.

As we headed out of the town, I had my first taste of the Wachau valley, blue skies, quaint country houses with sharp roofs and ahead were vineyards on the hill slopes... and this was just a teaser... more will come! It's a taste of the country-side; the wine tasting would be coming soon.

This place is bicycle-friendly, along most of the main roads are cycle lanes which are popular with locals and tourists. Even though it was mid-week, cyclists were busy on the lanes; below and to the left flowed the mighty Danube. Yes! It is indeed BLUE!

Off from the cycle tracks we rode into Durnstein district passing the town of Loiben with it's two parts, Unterlobern on the left and Oberloiben on the right. We were now on quite rural roads right smack in grape territory, the vines are all round us.

Here I am standing in front of grapevines, there were row and rows of them - in the plains and even up in terraced slopes of the surrounding hills.

In fact it's grapes that comes from the steep slopes that makes Wachau wine unique. Out from the Wachau region comes some of the best white wines. (.... click here to read more of Wachau wine).

Just at the outskirt of Durnstein, a statue of a bishop guards the entry.
We made our first winery stop - the Weingut Domäne Wachau. Yup, let's start some serious wine-tasting.

We did the sampling indoors, in a bright and clinically clean showroom. We tasted four of the renown wines - starting with the uniquely named Katzensprung.
The Grüner Veltliner Steinfeder Katzensprung is one of the most famous and most popular white wines in Austria. The wine made history when it was poured at the celebratory banquet for the signing of the Austrian State Treaty.
Next was the Grüner Veltliner which is the most important grape variety in Austria.
Our third wine, the Loinbenberg was a vintage Riesling in a broader style with ripe lemon, pear and white pepper on the palate, and notes of peach as the wine opened up in the glass. Perfect charcuterie wine.
We finished off with a Zweigelt Rose; this beautiful coral pink, onion skin colored wine offered playful aromas of raspberry, redcurrant and gooseberry backed by hints of lime and liquorice. Fresh and racy on the palate, light-bodied and very balanced.

The shop also had specially bottled vintages, like this one interestingly called "Bottle of Fame". I wonder does drinking it make one more famous?

Cycling is not permitted within the centre of old Durnstein town; we pushed our bikes through along the cobble-stone streets, slowly admiring the the place. We parked our bikes at Durnsteinerhof Restaurant, those who were more adventurous (like yours truly) took a hike up the hills to Dürnstein Castle. The rest just enjoyed drinking wine at the restaurant while waiting for us.

As I hiked up the trail, up above Dürnstein Castle stood out conspicuously, it's grey stone walls contrasting against the greenery around . It is a castle ruin, small yet noticeable amidst the quiet hills and it holds the distinction of being Richard the Lion-Heart's prison when he was captured.

Down below, the blue Stift Dürnstein rose above the medieval houses of the town as the Danube flowed slowly by. On the other side were more vineyards and another small town and some villages.

This is the prison cell within the castle where Richard the Lion-Heart was held prisoner, it's a rocky, cold cell with a small window overlooking the Danube. Poor Richard must have felt cold while looking out to the warm scene outside. He was captured on his return from the Crusades and a princely sum was paid to secure his release; probably that's how the phrase "a king's ransom" came about.

Back down at Durnsteinerhof Restaurant, lunch was served. Each of us had paid an additional €10-00 for this lunch and it was worth every penny... er I mean every euro. The goulash that they served was the best that I had during this holiday in Europe. Thick and full of spices, it was served with a couple of slices of their traditional bread.

We continued our cycling, enjoying the countryside and being enchanted by the lovely scenes of vineyards and hill terraces.

Winery number two was the Weingut Hermenegild Mang, at the furthest end of our cycling route, on the outskirts of the Medieval town of Weißenkirche (Weissenkriche). This was a lovely place to enjoy wine, we drank in their large shady gardens, slowly sipping the wine as we took in the surrounding landscaping. This winery is a favourite with locals and tourists, and we were lucky that we were here during off-peak season; during summers the place is packed to the brim.

Our trip back was a nice ride along the banks of the Danube. In the late afternoon, the river was not as blue as earlier on. A river cruise ferry passed by and I waved at it; my tour buddies had mentioned that they would be taking one of these cruises. I was hoping that they were on board this one, looking out the windows and seeing how much I am enjoying myself.

A close-up look at the Stift Dürnstein, a blue tower of the monastery overlooking the town and the river.

Our last winery was Weingut Brustbauer, situated just outside Durnstein and sitting near the banks of the Danube. I like this place best of all; it's a smaller winery with a beautiful, cosy and quiet garden, peppered with flowers.

The cheerful owner, Herr Josef, with his warm smile, gives this place a personal touch. Together with his helpers, he harvest the grapes from his vineyard, crush them by hand, etc. Yes, this place with close to 600 years of history, still make their wine manually.

It was a good trip with nice sceneries, good wine and lovely people.
I was as happy as this tipsy elf!

(For more photos of the ride, click here)

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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker -Europe 2015 / Cycling Europe / Austria : Wachau Wine Valley & Danube Riverside Cycling
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