Judging by the many new faces we saw while breakfasting each morning at Schloss Dürnstein, few people stay more than a night or two in this jewel of a town in Austria’s Wachau Valley. One day is a good start, but we had no trouble filling up four during our recent visit.
Dürnstein is an ideal base for exploring one of the world’s finest and most scenically dramatic wine regions. We enjoyed a day trip to Krems, to see its new Kunstmeile (Art Mile); go on a bike ride through vineyards to untouristy Mautern, where we indulged in some well-earned coffee and cake at Cafe Maria; and take a scenic cruise up the Danube from the stern of one of the Brandner line’s boats, sipping glasses of crisp Grüner Veltliner as we watched steep, terraced vineyards and unspoiled old wine towns glide by.
But if I had only one full day in Dürnstein, here’s how I would probably spend it.
After breakfast at Schloss Dürnstein, walk along the town’s main street to its opposite side, passing through the Kremser Tor (Krems Gate). Just past it, the road uphill turns into the Ruinenweg, the Path of the Ruins, which leads up to the 11th-century castle that once served as the prison of Richard the Lionheart. In spring, fragrant flowering trees make the moderately strenuous walk a pleasure, the views from the top are sensational, and the ruins themselves are fairy-tale romantic.
Return to the Kremser Tor and walk straight out of town to reach Domäne Wachau. This large winery has a friendly, contemporary tasting room and doesn’t require reservations for tastings. (Learn more about the winery and Austrian wine in general.)
Walk back through town about 10 minutes and return to Schloss Dürnstein. Weather permitting, have lunch on the restaurant’s panoramic Danube-view terrace.
Take a little time to explore the town of Dürnstein itself. Back toward the center of town, about a minute or two from the hotel’s entrance, is a shop called Wieser, which offers a range of tempting local whiskeys, gins and other spirits (samples available). Have a peek inside the courtyard of Dürnstein Abbey, home to the town’s splendid sky-blue baroque bell tower, and be on the lookout for some of the many products made from the region’s prized apricots. Consider heading down to the riverbank, and if the water level isn’t too high, take an inexpensive ferry across to the other side, to Rossatz-Arnsdorf, affording memorable views of Dürnstein. Back in Dürnstein, break for coffee and cake — such a wonderful custom — at Bäckerei Schmidl.
Return to Schloss Dürnstein to relax beside its outdoor pool or in its warm and cozy Roman-themed spa in the cellar. If you’re staying, as we did, at Villa Schönthal, a stand-alone house a short walk from the main hotel, head to your private garden overlooking the Danube. Open a bottle that you purchased at Domäne Wachau (or take one from the villa’s wine cellar) and have a glass or two of wine as you enjoy the magnificent view.
Rather than dine in the hotel, I recommend heading to the nearby town of Unterloiben to have dinner at Loibnerhof, which has a large and verdant garden patio. The Backhendl (fried chicken) is first-rate, as is the duck with dumplings and red cabbage. Or if you’re staying in the Villa Schönthal, I strongly recommend requesting a night with the Grillkoch (grill chef). On our villa’s patio, he prepared a wide selection of flawlessly grilled delights, including pork, chicken, scallops, vegetables and a range of salads. It was our favorite dinner of the trip.
Alternatively, if you feel like splashing out a bit, charter a private boat and have a dinner cruise on the Danube. Fähre Dürnstein Rossatz charges about $320 for two hours and $425 for three hours for up to eight people (food and drink packages are available for an extra charge).
After dinner, have one more walk through Dürnstein. At night, even in season, it’s very quiet and atmospheric. On our walk, we stumbled on Dürnstein’s graveyard. Like the town, it was empty. But because we happened to visit on Ascension Day, the cemetery was filled with glimmering candles. The sight was nothing less than magical.