Los Angeles Times
The wonders of village life
Richard the Lionheart wasn’t fond of Austria’s Wachau Valley, but almost everyone else is.
In 1192, Austrian Duke Leopold V imprisoned the crusading English king in this beautiful wine-growing region before turning him over to the Holy Roman emperor, who released Richard for a ransom.
Visitors get better treatment these days, whether they’re exploring by riverboat, bike or vehicle.
The valley, formed by the Danube River west of Vienna, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Austria and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A 20-mile stretch of the Danube, between the towns of Melk and Krems, is a highlight of most Danube river cruises.
Observation decks are crowded with passengers eyeing the villages, churches and castles of the region as vessels glide by.
Fall is particularly impressive, although the leafy green days of summer are beautiful too.
Wine tasting, kayaking and biking are major draws for tourists who aren’t bound by tight riverboat schedules.
Another popular activity is a visit to 64-acre Göttweig Abbey, founded by Benedictine monks more than 900 years ago. Besides viewing the monastery’s art and facilities, you can watch a pastry chef whip up apricot dumplings or taste the abbey’s homegrown fruit juices.
“They’re called marillenknödel,” said an abbey chef who was demonstrating her cooking skills when I visited. “But it’s a lot easier to just say ‘apricot dumpling.’ ”