The Wachau is the name given to the 30km/18mi stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems, where the river cuts a narrow rocky valley between the foothills of the Bohemian Forest to the northwest and the Dunkelsteiner Wald to the southeast. This is surely the most beautiful part of the Danube, with ancient little towns nestling below historic old castles and castle ruins woven in legends. The best time to visit the Wachau is in spring or autumn, when there are fewer visitors. At the time of the Renaissance there were 31 monasteries in the Wachau. In 1784 Emperor Joseph II allowed the set up of inns known as "Buschenschenken" (vine branches were placed outside the entrance).
Schloss Schonbuhel5km/3mi below Melk, on the right bank of the Danube, stands Schloss Schönbühel, on a crag rearing 40m/130ft above the river. The castle, originally built in the 12th C., has been remodeled several times and dates in its present form - incorporating the old walls - from the early 19th C. A relief of The Last Supper will be found on the external wall. Near the Schloss stand the Rosalienkapelle (chapel) and a Servite convent built in 1668-74. At the foot of the Schloss lies the market town of Schönbühel (214m/702ft).
Maria Langegg weisserstier7km/4.5mi to the northeast of Aggsbach Dorg lies the Servite monastery of Maria Langegg (550m/1,805ft), rebuilt in Baroque style 1765-73, with some interesting old frescos and a fine library.
Aggsbach Dorf - Aggsbach Dorf
The village of Aggsbach Dorf (250m/820ft) is on the right bank of the Danube.From here an excursion can be made up the Aggsbach valley to the Servite monastery of Maria Langegg (550m/1,805ft). In this former Carthusian monastery 2.5km/1.5mi east of the village (1380-1782), there remain parts of the Gothic cloister and the abbot's lodging (1592), together with a fine church.Aggsbach is 5km/3mi from Schloss Schönbühel in the Wachau.
On the left bank, across the Danube from Aggsbach Dorf, lies Aggsbach Markt (240m/788ft; first mentioned in the records in 830), a favorite holiday resort, with a Late Romanesque parish church (13 C.), from which the pilgrimage church of Maria Laach can be visited.
Maria Laach Pilgrimage Church
7km/4.5mi west of Aggsbach Markt, high up above the Danube valley, stands the Late Gothic pilgrimage church of Maria Laach am Jauerling (580m/1,903ft). The church is richly decorated and furnished, with an image of the "Virgin with Six Fingers" (1440), depicting the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus, to whom an angel is offering a rose, the whole surrounded by golden rays. Also of much interest are the Late Gothic winged-altar (1490), the tomb of Freiherr Georg von Kuefstein (d. 1603) on the wall, and that of Anna Kirchberg.
7km/4.5mi north of Maria Laach rears the Jauerling (959m/3,146ft; radio transmitter with a mast 139.5m/458ft high); from the top of the mountain there is a fine view of the Danube valley (observatory).
In the Jauerling-Wachau Nature Park is a herb museum.
Aggstein RuinsA little way downstream will be seen the ruins of Burg Aggstein, some 300m/1,000ft above the river on a steep-sided crag with a magnificent view of the valley. The castle, founded in 1231 and several times destroyed and rebuilt, is of imposing bulk; it preserves parts of its towers, kitchen and dining hall, the chapel and its mighty walls. On this rock lived the robber barons known as the Kuenringer, who attacked and plundered merchant ships and wagons as they passed through the valley.
Opposite the ruins of Burg Aggstein, on the left bank of the Danube, lies the village of Willendorf (250m/820ft), where the famous "Venus of Willendorf" was found in 1909. This Paleolithic image of a generously proportioned female figure is now in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.
Krems an der Donau, Austria
Mautern an der Donau, Austria
On the southern bank of the Danube nestles the ancient little town of Mautern (195m/640ft), a toll-collecting point at the bridge over the Danube and the "Mutaren" of the "Nibelungenlied". There are remains of the old town walls, and the Early Gothic parish church contains pictures by Kremser Schmidt. The Roman museum in the Margarethenkapelle displays finds from the Roman station of Castrum Favianis, which once occupied this site.A road bridge spans the Danube, linking the towns of Mautern and Krems. Mautern, on the Danube's right bank, is the oldest of the two. It was once a Celtic settlement and later the Roman Castrum Favianus, the favorite residence of St Severinus (died 482), and appears in the "Nibelungenlied" as Mutaren.
Krems an der Donau - Göttweig Abbey
Gottweig AbbeyThis 18th C. Benedictine Abbey contains exquisite Baroque staircases.
Church, Weissenkirchen Cha gia Jose6km/4mi beyond Spitz, also on the left bank of the river, lies Weissenkirchen (206m/676ft; pop. 1,800), perhaps the prettiest of all the Wachau vine-growing villages, with old houses and courtyards (16th C.). Particularly fine is the Teisenhofer Hof, with an external staircase, arcades and towers, which now houses the Wachau Museum (many pictures by Kremser Schmidt). A covered flight of steps leads up to the Gothic fortified church of the Assumption, surrounded by a defensive wall and towers. In the square in front of the church stands an 18th C. statue of St John Nepomuk.
16km/10mi northwest, on the plateau, lies Hartenstein (500m/1,640ft), below the ruins of an imposing 12th C. castle. At the foot of the crag on which the castle stands will be found the Gudenus Cave, which yielded Paleolithic material now in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.