Sit back and enjoy the ever-changing views as your ship cruises through the Wachau Valley, famous for its apricot groves, Rieslings and natural beauty. Later, take your pick of excursions—a stroll and wine tasting in the centuries-old village of Spitz, or a visit to Melk Abbey and its opulent baroque-style library.You’ll want to find a comfortable seat in the lounge or on the Sun Deck today as your ship cruises through the Wachau Valley toward Spitz. Over the eons, the Danube cut a gorge through the foothills of the Bohemian mountains, resulting in a 19-mile (30-kilometer) stretch of riverine scenery so beautiful, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Landscape. Castle ruins dominate hilltops; baroque church towers appear on the riverbanks, marking historic villages and splendid abbeys; and apricot orchards and vineyards cling to the rocky slopes. Some of Austria’s finest white wines are produced from grapes ripening on the dry-stone terraces above the river, where grapes have been grown for 2,000 years. Your ship will dock in Spitz, midway through this glorious landscape, where you are faced with a difficult choice: Do you explore a charming riverbank village or visit one of the most beautiful libraries in the world?
Choice of Melk Abbey with library visit or Spitz village stroll with exclusive wine tasting
Melk Abbey with library visit
The Babenbergs, a great medieval ducal family that controlled a wide swath of Austria before yielding to the Habsburgs, were the first to erect a castle on the hill above Melk, which they subsequently gave to Benedictine monks. These monks, some 900 years ago, turned it into a fortified abbey—and the greatest center of learning in Central Europe. Their library was celebrated far and wide (and still is: Umberto Eco paid tribute to it in his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose); monks there created more than 1,200 manuscripts, sometimes spending an entire lifetime hand-lettering a single volume. Today the library contains some 100,000 volumes, among them more than 80,000 works printed before 1800. This beautiful complex, completely redone in the early 18th century, is a wonderful example of baroque art and architecture, and the views from its terrace are spectacular. As you walk through the abbey’s Marble Hall with your guide, look up at the ceiling fresco painted by Paul Troger: Those classical gods and goddesses represent Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, allegorically bringing his people from dark to light and demonstrating the link he claimed to the original Roman Empire.After your tour of the abbey, you’ll have time to explore Melk on your own, or you can take the motorcoach back to the ship.
Spitz village stroll with exclusive wine tasting
Wine grapes grow in the heart of the village, which was built around “Thousand Bucket Mountain,” so called because the vineyards planted on it have produced a thousand buckets of wine a year. What kind of wine? Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s very own varietal. Ramble with your local guide along the cobblestone lanes of Spitz, passing baroque and Renaissance-era houses and perhaps pausing to admire the 15th-century parish church, on your way to one of the wine estates that dominate the slopes above the town. There you’ll sample some of the wonderful local wines and have a chance to check out another specialty of the Wachau, apricots, which are turned into all sorts of delicacies, from jam and schnapps to strudel. You may opt to walk back to the ship on your own, browsing through the tiny shops along the way, or continue with your guide to hike uphill to the Red Gate, the only remaining gate in the medieval wall that once guarded Spitz. (Legend says that the gate got its name during the Thirty Years’ War, when the defenders’ blood stained the gate red.) Leave the town behind and hike through the steep vineyards with your guide, learning about the unique qualities of the soil, climate and terrain that make the region’s wine so special.