The Wachau Valley …. a pastoral delight
A glimpse of Gottweig Abbey on the hill overlooking the Wachau Valley
As well as being picture perfect, The Wachau Valley is a veritable fruit basket. They grow apples, pears, cherries and apricots here, especially apricots! You can buy pretty much anything made from apricots here, jam, chutney, facial scrub, chocs, anti ageing creams, but my recommendation is definitely the apricot Schnapps. Schnapps is a wonderful warmer! The locals reckon its a cure for just about everything that ails you, it even helps the digestion… handy thing for the traveller!
The Avalon Passion has tied up in Krems, about 70k from Vienna. From here we’ll take a bus to explore the beautiful Gottweig Abbey. The Wachau Valley is a World Heritage Site and one of Austria’s most popular tourist destinations. Its been a popular spot for some time. We know that because two exquisite figurines have been found in the valley that show there’s been human habitation here for more than thirty thousand years.(The Venus of Galgenberg and the Venus of Willendorf.)
We head towards Gottweig through bright yellow fields of rapeseed interspersed with vineyards and orchards and then wind our way up through a towering spruce forest to reach the abbey. The monks own five thousand hectares of forest, the income from that helps with maintenance of the abbey.
Gottweig is a working Benedictine monastery founded at the end of the 11th Century. Unlike many working monasteries Gottweig’s focus is outwards. The monks here are closely involved in the lives of their parishioners in the valley below.
The first thing that strikes you about the place is the peace. It is silent but for the birdsong.
We are greeted by a robed monk and ushered into the imperial wing. After a devastating fire in the 18th Century, the abbey was rebuilt in the baroque style. Apparently the Abbot had royal connections and was able to use the emperor’s architect to design his abbey, no surprises then, that there’s a stunning baroque fresco above the impressive imperial staircase that gives a rosey picture of his benefactor’s reign.
Interiors of the Imperial Wing (above)
Our sortie through the royal apartments ends with a wine tasting. The monks, it turns out, know a thing or two about wine. Theirs is one of the oldest vineyards in Austria, nestling in the valley below the monastery. The majority of grapes grown here are Gruener Veltliner, spicy, dry and delicious.
Thirty monks live in the monastery. It is their home for life. They run a guest house here for spiritual retreats and host youth groups. They also have a long tradition of caring for refugees here. It is a serene and beautiful place to visit.
Take time to sit a moment in the chapel before you leave, you won’t be disappointed. It was the only part of the Abbey to survive the fire and dates back to 1072.
A view of the Chapel from the windows of the Imperial Wing.