Ah! Durnstein. A return to the site of my cycling misadventure. This time, no bike, and when Alan suggested a hike up to the castle, I made the proviso that that there be people to accompany me prepared to carry me back down the mountain. As far as I know, it was only a Californian couple who made the climb.
My decision not to climb had something to do with alcohol. All will become clear.
It was another -2c day with snow on the ground but non imminent and in fact we did see patches of blue during the day.
Durnstein is in the Wachau Valley and wine and tourism are the main sources of income that supports just a couple of hundred. It probably means they are quite wealthy because by my reckoning, they produce a lot of fantastic wine and they have boatloads of tourists almost every day, summer and winter.
The Gruner Vetliner wine is fantastic. Most of the vines are grown on steep slopes that retain little soil, so the wine is very minerally. They say that they are wines that can be aged for many years, and in blind tastings have beaten the worlds best Chardonays. I’ll never know because what I drank here was young and fresh and I’m unlikely to find any to buy back in Aus. I’m going to have to drink a bucket over the next day or so. The vines on the flat land near the gated to the town are all tended by the primary school children. They have their photograph posted on a pole at the end of the row.
Durnstein is also famous for it’s Apricot Liqueur and in time will become renowned for its Saffron products.
Durnstein’s first claim to fame is that Richard the Lionheart was returning to England from Jerusalem after the 3rd crusade in 1192, when he was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. They had had a dispute in Jerusalem, so Leopold held him for ransom. Legend has it that his minstrel Blondel went from castle to castle singing a song that only Richard would known and when he heard him singing it back, he knew where he was imprisoned. The castle was destroyed by the Swiss in 1645, and the ruins are more of a vantage point for looking out on the Wachau Valley than a feature in itself.
Anyway, the Durnsteiners make the most of it, so there are references to Richard and Blondel throughout the town. Also capitalizing on the many Australian tourists who travel on the river cruises, a number of shops sell road signs with Kangaroos on them and “There are no Kangaroos in Austria”. If nothing else, they also educate American tourists.
We stopped at the same shop as last time and once again sampled a little too much Apricot Liqueur. We then walked the town which is particularly attractive running along the hillside with the ruined castle hovering overhead and the river below. We then attended an organ recital in the local church which was o.t.t. and would have kept the peasants in poverty for hundreds of years. We then went to the railway station, which while still in use during summer months is now owned by Bernhard Kaar. Bernard speaks with an accent that sounds very English. When questioned, he said that he deliberately spoke with an Austrian accent because he never wanted to be confused with a German.
Bernard had searched the library at Melk Abbey nearby, some nine years ago, and found numerous references to the growing of Crocus and production of Saffron from around 1200. He then purchase land and began growing Crocus and producing saffron honey, vinegar, chocolate and a rum, orange juice and saffron hot punch. We sampled liberally … again.
Ches and I then had the town to ourselves as most people had returned to the ship for lunch. We went in search of Christmas tree decorations etc. and discovered amazing rhodium and copper plated wire balls. Every Christmas market and town we visit seems to have something different. Not the same old same old tourist trinkets everywhere.
We enjoyed lunch looking out on the river and small villages as we cruised into the twilight, had a nap, returned to the lounge for pre-dinner drinks, had dinner and ………..