Wachau, Austria

Photo: Lonezor (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via nl.wikipedia
Photo: Lonezor (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via nl.wikipedia
You’re peddling through a lush river valley. The slow-moving river is on one side of you. Two small boats are farther downstream, while a few pure-white geese swim close to the shore. Steep slopes—full of apricot trees, almond trees, and vines—are on the other side. And in the distance: the terra-cotta roofs of a small town, Baroque church steeples, and a castle. But you’re not here to tour the ruins and the monasteries. Those are just an added bonus. You’re here to drink wine.

You’re in the Wachau Valley. It’s located about 50 miles—just a quick train ride—west of Vienna. Some of Austria’s oldest towns, built as early as 995 AD, are located here. The Danube, the longest river in Europe, runs through it. The ruins of Burgruine Dürnstein, the Benedictine Melk Abbey, the Renaissance Schallaburg Castle, and the Steiner Tor landmark draw visitors from around the world.

As do the wineries. The Celts started planting vines on the stony slopes in the 5th century. Warm days and cool nights make the Wachau an ideal wine-growing region. This is white-wine country. Dry, complex whites, particularly Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners, are grown here. You can drive between the wineries, or enjoy the views, the smells, and the sounds while biking between the vineyards.

Photo: jay8085 (originally posted to Flickr as Wachau) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: jay8085 (originally posted to Flickr as Wachau) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Begin the morning by touring the church, the cloister, and the library at the massive Göttweig Abbey. Listen to the church bells ring and enjoy the panoramic view of the valley before heading to nearby Nikolaihof winery. One of Austria’s oldest wineries is located in a former monastery. See the old wooden press and the large oak barrels before heading to the courtyard to taste and learn about the three-tiered Austrian wine-classification system. Steinfeder wines are light, Federspiels have a medium body, and Smaragds are hearty, powerful wines. The alcohol content rises with each category. Try Grüner Veltliners, Rieslings, and their dry Elisabeth Tradition blend.

From Nikolaihof, cross the water and ride along the northern bank (left side) of the river until you reach postcard-worthy Weissenkirchen. Family owned Ferdl Denk has river views and a wine garden. The small, straw wheel at the entrance indicates that Denk is a heuriger. These wine-taverns serve small plates and homemade wine. The grapes are handpicked, and the wines are young, light, and slightly acidic. They pair well with salty meats, cold salads, and the amazing view. You nod and smile each time someone comes around asking if you want more wine. And the meal ends with a shot of apricot-flavored moonshine.

Slightly tipsy, you ride off in search of Spitz, a town known for Gothic St. Maurice Church, Hinterhaus Castle, and Weingut Johann Donabaum. If the cellar door is open, stop by the creekside winery to taste minerally Grüner Smaragds and Rieslings layered with peach and nectarine flavors. Buy a bottle—or two—to enjoy with grilled fish once you return home. If they make it all the way home.

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