Viking’s Danube Waltz (4): More Austria

Viking’s Danube Waltz (4): More Austria

June 4: Durnstein and Melk, Austria


Cruis­ing Aus­tria …con­tin­ued from part 3… Viking encour­ages you to buy local wine and beer and stash it in your state­room cool­er. In prac­tice this is super­flu­ous because there is so much of it aboard, espe­cial­ly with the pre­mi­um drinks pack­age. You only have to lift a fin­ger or a wine list, and it’s there 24/7.

How­ev­er, if you’re seri­ous about wine or cock­tails, the pre­mi­um “Sil­ver Spir­its” pack­age is worth $300 per cab­in. (It also includes espres­so and oth­er spe­cial­ty cof­fees, juices and min­er­al water.)

Accept­able house wine and beer are poured freely, but not the pre­mi­um stuff, and mixed drinks cost extra. If you order an Old Fash­ioned or a Grey Goose, $8 or $10 will go on your tab every time—as will any of the prici­er bot­tles on the wine list. We are sure the four of us made out against the $600 we paid, con­sid­er­ing a dozen bot­tles of €35-40 pre­mi­um wines—plus a bot­tle our kind­ly wait­er slipped us “to go” on the last day, an uncount­ed quan­ti­ty of mar­ti­nis and vod­ka-rocks, and the many Bailey’s with which we closed the bar sev­er­al nights. (Aldefonso’s bot­tle made it all the way home, but is get­ting a deserved rest in my wine cel­lar after all that shaking.)

Austria red wine

186rubin_carnuntumA dis­cov­ery worth expe­ri­enc­ing is Aus­tri­an red wine. It is not wide­ly export­ed, but now accounts for a third or more of pro­duc­tion, most of it enjoyed local­ly. A rev­e­la­tion was Markowitz “Rubin Car­nun­tum” 2011: 100% zweigelt grapes, a vel­vety red with a flow­ery nose, nor­mal­ly €38 the bot­tle, freely poured on our pre­mi­um pack­age. The pre­dom­i­nant white is gruner veltlinger, like a spritzy sauvi­gnon blanc. You can find veltlinger in North Amer­i­ca, but not in the vari­eties and qual­i­ty of the vin­tages sold local­ly. Oth­er grapes are St. Lau­rent, blaufränkisch, ries­ling, muller thur­gau and chardon­nay. You can find deal­ers stock­ing these delec­tables on the wine-searcher website.

A name like “zweigelt,” says Tony Ceni­co­la, has obsta­cles to over­come: “the Amer­i­can wine-drink­ing pub­lic is attract­ed to melo­di­ous wine terminology….chardonnay and mer­lot and chi­anti and rio­ja flow beau­ti­ful­ly from the tongue, with con­no­ta­tions of cap­ti­vat­ing plea­sures. Ger­man­ic words like zweigelt, blaufränkisch and, yes, rotwein, do not….It’s time to get over it. The pure plea­sures avail­able by being open to some of the less famil­iar Ger­man­ic wines are now too great to allow a lit­tle mat­ter like lan­guage to stand in the way.”


Spectacular vistas

North from Vien­na a is the most scenic sec­tion of Aus­tria and the Danube. This is one day on the cruise where the ship real­ly is your view­ing plat­form. You cruise along the attrac­tive coun­try­side past mini-cas­tles and state­ly homes, punc­tu­at­ed by stops at two pic­turesque towns, and even at 90 degrees there’s a nice breeze on the water.

St. Stefan's, Durnstein
St. Stefan’s, Durnstein


Tiny Durn­stein is pret­ty and medieval,  Melk larg­er, with a monastery. No need for coach­es today. For the option­al morn­ing tour of Durn­stein (€29=$33) the ship ties up at the town pier. Just walk into the vil­lage in ten min­utes. Includ­ed in the pack­age is an after­noon tour of Melk’s 900-year-old Abbey. Its church offers baroque carv­ings and fres­coes. Google these towns for a review of the details. Durn­stein was cel­e­brat­ing a fes­ti­val, with grass­es spread all over the cob­bled or flag­stone streets; still, it’s uphill and down­hill, so be prepared.

Ruins of Richard's lock-up atop the hill, Durnstein.
Ruins of Richard’s lock-up atop the hill, Durnstein.

In Durn­stein, Richard I, the Lion­heart, return­ing from the Cru­sades, ticked off the locals and was held for ran­som in the cas­tle. He was bailed out, so the sto­ry goes, with the help of Robin Hood. There are lots of tourists, includ­ing cyclists. They bike flat riv­er paths from Ravens­burg to Budapest, but they’re not Tour de France types.

I noticed right away the lack of ped­al clips and hel­mets. There are most­ly well-laden hybrid and moun­tain bikes, as opposed to light­weight road bikes. These are every­day peo­ple enjoy­ing them­selves. Many shut­tle about on river­boats. They’re very polite and only once did one dis­obey the signs ask­ing rid­ers to dis­mount in the nar­row streets.

4d-Durnstein4c-DurnsteinAs you’ll see by Googling Durn­stein and Melk, they are attrac­tive, oldy worldy places. The crowds under­line their appeal. Ben­nett Cerf said he always head­ed for the tourist traps on a hol­i­day. “They are tourist traps for a reason.”

Next: Linz and Salzburg

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