The Wachau on the Danube is known and loved for its beautiful landscape of vineyards and apricot orchards with pretty villages, medieval castles and imposing palaces.
The Wachau is the extremely idyllic stretch of land about 30 kilometres long along the Danube between Melk and Krems in Lower Austria. It is located about 80km from the Austrian capital Vienna and is one of our top 10 sights of Austria.
In the Wachau, the Danube meanders through rolling hills, partly wooded partly full of vineyards, past picturesque villages, picture-book castles and medieval fortresses. The area was added to UNESCO's list of World Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites in 2000 for its natural beauty and its cultural and architectural treasures.
Table of contents
Settlement of the Wachau
The Wachau was already inhabited in the Upper Palaeolithic several tens of thousands of years before Christ at the time of the Neanderthals. This is proven by the internationally known finds of the two primitive female statuettes Venus vom Galgenberg and Venus von Willendorf. The latter can be seen in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.
Many archaeological discoveries also date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. The first documented mention is in the year 972 in a document of Emperor Otto I, at that time still under the name "Vuachoua".
As early as the year 800, the Danube valley was used by the Bavarian and Salzburg monasteries as a wine-growing area. At that time, they laid the first paths of today's vineyards.
Medieval village architecture in the Wachau region
The appearance of the towns and villages in the Wachau dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Dürnstein, Stein an der Donau, Weissenkirchen and Spitz an der Donau are particularly attractive. The seemingly aimless arrangement of the houses and the narrow winding streets between them are still typical of the Middle Ages.
Some of the village centres have been enlarged, some houses demolished and some façades renewed, but in many cases you can still see the paintings, figures, niches and baroque decorations of yesteryear on the walls.
Baroque architecture in the Wachau
At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, some of the greatest monuments of the Austrian Baroque were built, including the imposing collegiate churches of Melk, Dürnstein and Göttweig. All perched on hills, they are visible from afar and offer a magnificent view over the gentle slopes of the Wachau.
Castles and palaces of the Wachau
The Wachau was also a hive of activity outside the villages. Due to the proximity to the Danube, which was the most important traffic route at the time, castles and palaces or their ruins repeatedly rise up on the hills throughout the Wachau region.
Some of the best known and most beautiful are the Renaissance Schallaburg Castle, where exhibitions are held time and again, or the Aggstein ruins. As a medieval castle ruin with defence towers, loopholes, knights' halls, dungeons and robber baron relics, it is one of the most fascinating sights in the Wachau.
At the end of the 19th century, when transport routes shifted noticeably from the Danube to road and rail, the Wachau gradually lost its importance. However, it received a boost from the "Golden Wachau" campaign, in which the area was marketed to tourists as a historical, artistic and idyllic-relaxing treasure trove. The television series "Donauprinzessin" also helped to raise its profile. As you can see, with success.
Holidays in the Wachau
Today, the Wachau is not only a jewel of nature and architecture but also one of Austria's most important wine-growing regions. The best wines can be tasted here at the local "Heurigen". In addition to the wines, the apricots from the Wachau and various products made from the velvety fruit have a particularly tasty reputation.
In addition to hiking and cycling tours along the Danube, the Wachau can also be explored by water. The Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft or the Donau Schiffsstationen GmbH offer a discovery of the most idyllic places and picturesque villages by luxury steamer.
The best time to travel to the Wachau
The Wachau is worth a visit all year round. Every season offers a different highlight:
- In spring, the scent of thousands of apricot blossoms (or spring wine) steals your senses.
- In summer, the gentle current of the Danube invites you to swim. I
- n autumn, the breathtaking colouring of the vines and deciduous trees between the wafts of mist is a feast for the eyes.
- In winter, it is time to enjoy the first young wine.
Events in the Wachau
Special events include the Wachau Wine Spring on the first weekend in May, when you can take part in wine tastings free of charge, the Marillenkirtag, the fireworks display at the summer solstice, the grape harvest and wine autumn, and the annual Wachau Marathon.