As I begin this next review of our recent Danube River Cruise, I have to mention just how striking this particular area is with the beauty of the Wachau Valley. We spent a fabulous day cruising between Melk and Durnstein with visits to a Castle in the former and a lovely tiny town with quite the history involving King Richard the Lionheart. This history in the Danube River area is so fascinating as it is just about anywhere in Europe. Everywhere we went on this river cruise, it did not disappoint us.
One of our extremely interesting excursions took place at the Artstetten Castle, near Melk, that also included a visit with a member of the Hohenburg family, who happens to own this chateau. This young lady, Alix, the Great-Great-Granddaughter of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, shared her family history with us as she currently resides there with her 5 young children.
It was such a fascinating story as it revolves around a 'fairy-tale like' love story between her Great-Great-Grandparents, who fell in love and married, in spite of the fact that he had to relinquish his place as heir to the throne in the Austro-Hungarian empire. All for love...
Sadly, their lives were cut short after 14 years of being happily married when they ended up being assassinated in 1914 in Sarajevo. This assassination triggered a series of events that eventually led to the start of World War I. There's a family crypt at the castle that was built in 1910 by Ferdinand knowing his wife could never be buried with him in the Imperial Crypt. Unfortunately, it was just 4 years later that they ended up being buried there together following the assassination.
An interesting note was that the castle was not destroyed by the Russians following World War II, since they thought the onion domes were representative of the Russian Orthodox church. Artstetten Castle is an amazing tribute to their lives, their history and a tremendous number of artifacts and photos depicting all that they endured throughout their relatively short lives. I was incredibly touched by the entire story.
The lovely little town of Durnstein is a well-known wine growing region (apricots too!) and is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Wachau Valley. Between the Durnstein Abbey with its' beautiful, distinctive blue and white towered church (the colors representing heaven and earth) and the medieval Durnstein Castle, this town was well worth the visit. Even the views from the balcony of the Church are spectacular of the Danube River and valley below.
The inside of the Abbey Church is stunning as well with many great artifacts including skeletons that were brought back from Rome and believed to be the remains of St. Clemens and St. Faustinus. You may be familiar with these Catacomb Saints who were ancient Christians exhumed from the catacombs of Rome from the 16th to the 19th century and lavishly adorned with gold and precious stones.
As mentioned previously, the Durnstein Castle was made famous in 1192 by the presence of King Richard I, when he became imprisoned there by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, after their dispute during the Third Crusade. In 1645, near the end of the Thirty Years' War, the castle was almost completely destroyed by the Swedish Empire troops.
Another interesting item pointed out by our guide, while we were in Durnstein was a Danube River water level indicator on a wall that showed the varying levels of the Danube when there was severe flooding. It's very hard to believe that it could possibly rise as high as these water level indicators note, but apparently true - a very scary thought.
While we enjoyed our glide through the Wachau Valley past beautiful scenery, castles, vineyards, and such, we were able to listen to Enrichment Lecture series from experts about topics such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Meanwhile, there were other more adventurous travelers who elected to bike along the Wachau River while we smoothly sailed along. There are 186 miles of bike path along the Danube River although they didn't have to bike that far... ;) Rene and I elected to enjoy a leisurely lunch, drinks, and the lecture noted above. There's always a choice with river cruising!
Next week, I intend on focusing on my ultimate favorite port and that was Vienna, Austria! Please stay tuned and I hope you're enjoying reminiscing if you've been or may want to consider a river cruise in the future either in this part of the world or maybe a different location.