Durstein, Austria

Durstein, Austria

By Eileen Ogintz

KREMS, Austria — We were set. Hiking shoes, hiking poles, granola bars… water bottles.

We were set to spend much of the day hiking along the highly touted 110-mile  Wachau World Heritage Trail. In Austria’s famous wine country in the Danube valley, there’s the chance to hike amid vineyards, the region’s famous apricot trees, fortresses, castles and more.

We’re about an hour northwest of Vienna—a great place for a respite after city touring, even for a day (you can take the train from Vienna to Melk)—and we can pick up the trail right behind the Steigenberger Hotel in Krems where we have a little patio overlooking the  vineyards on the terraced hillsides.

The entire area is famous for its abbeys, churches, castles, picturesque villages and hiking and cycling. The best part—It’s not at all crowded!

Krems, a pretty town of about 24,000 right on the Danube, is where we are staying– a 1,000 year old wine town that is one of the oldest in Austria with the first documented reference dating back to 995. Krems and neighboring Durnstein are popular on the river cruise circuit. In fact, we were supposed to cruise right by here on a christening trip of Tauck’s new MS Joy a few days after our visit but high water (the boat couldn’t fit under the bridges) forced a change of itinerary.

I was especially glad for that reason that we had gotten the opportunity to visit.

At the Winzer Krems cooperative winery

At the Winzer Krems cooperative winery

We enjoyed a dinner with a pairing of local wines at Hofmeisterai Hirtzberger–traditional Austrian specialties  in a historic building served up with a modern twist and prepared with local, fresh ingredients tomatoes and herbs from a local farm, Arctic char with wild asparagus, Wiener Schnitzel, venison with cranberries, roasted sweet breads with green asparagus. The two-year-old restaurant is in a 700 year old building that has been refurbished to be comfortable, open and relaxing. Our waitress, who is German, has come to this region with her boyfriend because both are sommeliers and there is such a vibrant wine scene, she explains.

Who thought calves liver could taste so good? We loved the pate served up with the freshly baked bread.  I loved that the restaurant was as welcoming to the families there on a Sunday evening as to couples.

This is the most famous wine making region of Austria, we learn, thanks to the climate and the ancient stone terraces we see everywhere.

We had lunch at the Richard Lowenherz Hotel Restaurant in neighboring Durnstein where the ruins of the castle and the quaint town are up stone steps from the Danube. Richard the Lionhearted is believed to have been their first famous guest—eight centuries ago. The best part—the Wachauer apricot dumplings for desert—a kind of big puffy donut –the apricot-filled dough balls have first been boiled and then fried in bread crumbs and cinnamon before being dusted with sugar and served with ice cream. Wow! No wonder it’s a signature desert in these parts.

Unfortunately, we weren’t indulging after our hike–we got rained out. We’re not wusses—we’ve hiked plenty in the rain. But it was pouring and the forecast was for rain all day.  And why hike in the rain when we have such lovely alternatives—like a leisurely lunch and the expansive spa at the Steigenberger Hotel  known for its wellness programs.

Time for a massage?