austria: a bicycle wine tour in the wachau valley

Saturday, September 30:  This morning, we leave our hotel early to get to our Pedal Power Wachau Winery Bike Tour.  We take metro to the Vienna Opera, then walk 10 minutes to the Pedal Power office.

Heading to Pedal Power in the early morning

We arrive early, where we find the doors of Pedal Power closed.  We return to a cafe near the metro stop, where we have an espresso and croissant and use the restroom.  Because we stopped for this treat, we arrive exactly at 8:15, the appointed meeting time.  One of the Pedal Power guys who is checking people in gives us some good-natured grief for not arriving early: “When you fly somewhere do you show up right on time?  If you did that, the plane would leave without you!”

As a group, we take the metro to the U-Bahn stop, where we see an incinerator whose patchwork façade was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau.  The waste incineration plant is one of three thermal waste treatment plants in Wien Energie.  The plant represents the second largest producer in the district heating network of the city of Vienna.

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau has almost as unusual a façade as the Hundertwasserhaus that we visited the first day we arrived in Vienna.

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau

From the metro stop, we take a double-decker train for an hour and 10 minutes to Krems an der Donau.

Giovanni and Mike at the train station

Giovanni from Sicily, our fabulous tour leader, shows us a map of the area where we’ll be biking.  We’ll start at Krems an der Donau, stop at a small private winery, stop for lunch in Dürnstein, and then ride to another small winery in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.  From there, we’ll take a ferry across the Danube and bicycle back along the south of the Danube to the bridge near Krems an der Donau, cross over, then take the train back to Vienna.  It’s to be a 26km bike ride altogether.

map of Wachau Valley
on the train

When we arrive at Krems an der Donau, Giovanni unlocks a small storage room and equips us all with bicycles.  We have sixteen in our group, ten friends who went to Loyola University Maryland together, four Brits, one of whom is a swim coach, and us.

Mike on his bike at Krems/Stein
me on my bike

We ride a while along the main road in Krems an der Donau, with Giovanni in the lead.  We have to cross a number of intersections with traffic lights, and some people get held up by the lights.  Mike has taken it upon himself to keep an eye our for stragglers.  I’m up in front behind Giovanni. At some point, we make a right turn off the main road onto a cobbled street.  I’m looking around for Mike and some of the others are looking for their friends, who have disappeared.  We wait and wait, and still the rest of the group doesn’t catch up to us.  Since we have turned off the main road, I’m worried that the rest of the group has gone straight on the main road and has no clue that we’ve turned.  Giovanni goes back to search for the rest of the group while we wait.

I call Mike on his cell phone and luckily he answers.  He says, “One of those guys doesn’t know how to ride a bike! I finally gave up trying to wait around for him.”  I ask him where he is, and by his description, which doesn’t sound familiar, it seems he has overshot our turn.  He eventually makes his way to where we’re waiting.  He tells us when he arrives that one of the guys in the Loyola group doesn’t know how to ride a bike.  “He rides a few feet, then puts his feet down on the ground and stops and then rides a few feet again. He’ll hold up our whole group.  He can’t come along with us!”

Some of the Loyola friends start complaining.  They imagine it’s their friend Kyle: “He’s been a freaking pain on this whole trip!”

How ridiculous!  Why on earth would someone come on a bicycle tour if they don’t even know how to ride a bike? Not only is it common sense, but the website for Pedal Powers says specifically: “Although we bike at a leisurely pace, you should be able to ride a bike!”

waiting for the lost bikers

We’re waiting for some time at this spot, while Giovanni figures out what to do.  During this time, I walk up and down the street at Krems an der Donau and take some pictures.

I find a beautiful church with frescoes on its façade at Krems an der Donau, as well as a fancy statue.

church in Krems an der Donau
statue in Krems an der Donau

Finally, Giovanni returns.  He tells us he took Kyle back to the storage room and put his bike away.  He then gave him instructions on how to catch a bus to meet up with the group for lunch in Dürnstein.  I guess poor Kyle will have a lot of waiting around to do, as well as having to catch various buses to meet up with us at points along the way.

Our first stop is a small private winery in a rural area in the midst of vineyards.  Giovanni has a key to the winery though the owners are nowhere in sight. It’s pleasant to be in a winery where there aren’t hordes of other people around.

approaching the private winery

Inside the first winery, Giovanni pops a cork and gives us our first tasting.

Inside the private winery, a cozy kitchen area occupies the main floor.

winery

Giovanni grabs a couple of bottles and brings them out behind the winery, where we taste several other wines while admiring the garden and the views of the vineyards.

Outside at the winery are some pretty gardens and seating areas.

outside at the first private winery

We leave the winery, and on the way to Dürnstein, pass through bucolic countryside with lines of vineyards flanked by low-lying mountains.

Wachau Valley
another wine cellar
vineyards in the Wachau Valley
vineyards

When we arrive in Dürnstein, we park our bicycles and head to a gasthaus for lunch.

I enjoy a dish of roasted vegetables in Dürnstein.

lunchtime in Dürnstein

We have about an hour in Dürnstein to do whatever we want.  Mike climbs to Burgruine Dürnstein, also known as Kuenringer castle, a ruined medieval castle perched on a rocky outcrop at 312 metres (1,024 ft) above sea level, while I wander around the town.

There are so many cute cottages and inviting shops in the town.

Dürnstein

On one street, I can see clearly Burgruine Dürnstein above the town.  The castle is known for being one of the places where King Richard the Lionheart, returning from the Third Crusade, was imprisoned after being captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria. He was held there from December 1192 until his extradition in March 1193 to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein and Dürnstein).

view of Burgruine Dürnstein

In 1663, Conrad Balthasar of Starhembery purchased the castle, which is still owned by his heirs to this date. From 1679 on, however, the castle was no longer habitable and was abandoned. Today, the fortress is part of the “Wachau Cultural Landscape” UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein).

Burgruine Dürnstein above the town
cute yellow house
converted pigeon roost
Burgruine Dürnstein above the town

I love the window boxes with cascading pink flowers and the metal wall creatures (which remind me of the south of Spain) throughout Dürnstein.

Dürnstein

From the town, we can see the cruise boats plying the Danube.

view of the Danube from Dürnstein
Dürnstein
view of the Danube from Dürnstein

When our appointed meeting time arrives, we hop on our bikes and leave Dürnstein, bicycling through the Wachau Valley on our way to Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.

Wachau Valley
Wachau Valley
Wachau Valley
vineyards in the Wachau Valley

Upon arriving in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, we park our bikes and climb a steep hill to the next private winery.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
climbing steps to the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau

We have magnificent views of the valley, Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, and the Danube.

view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

What a pretty little town!

view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

Again, Giovanni has the keys to the winery, where he gets out several bottles of wine.  We sit on the terrace of this winery for quite a long time; the views are gorgeous, the weather is lovely, and the wines are fabulous.

entering the winery

Inside the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is a seating area and the typical cellar. Again, we have the place all to ourselves.

I take a short walk above the winery, where I find a charming house.  A woman comes out and chats with us about our wine group, asking where we’re from and where else we’re going on our travels.  She knows Giovanni from his many visits to this winery.

From above, I look down on the winery, with some of our touring group on the terrace, and vineyards, the town and the Danube below.

view of the winery terrace and our group from above

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is the last town we’ll visit on the north side of the Danube.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery
view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

We make our way through the town of Weißenkirchen, where we just miss the ferry and have to wait a while for it to come back across the river.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau

The ferry between Weißenkirchen and Sankt Lorenz is powered not by motor or sail, but by rudder set against the river current, anchored to a cable above the river. The ferry carries passengers, bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles.

As we approach Sankt Lorenz, we see a strange nostril sculpture, called the Wachauer Nase,  on the shore.

approaching Sankt Lorenz

On the south side of the Danube, we ride along several long stretches of roads and through a couple of small towns until we come to a little camping area where we have fabulous views of Dürnstein from across the Danube.

view of Dürnstein from across the Danube
view of Dürnstein from across the Danube

The ride back on the south side of the river is shady, cold and windy, and we all are pedaling fast and hard to get back to warmth. By this time, my behind is killing me!

On the train back to Vienna, Giovanni distributes Drunken Apricots to all of us, which we enjoy! Apparently, Krems is the primary producer of Marillenschnaps, an apricot brandy.

When we arrive back in Vienna at around 7:00 p.m., we stop at an Italian restaurant which is so crowded that the maître d asks if we’d like to share a table with two British ladies, Jill and Liz. They are exuberant and chatty.  They met each other 36 years ago when they worked as au pairs for Vienna families and came back here on holiday to take a trip down memory lane.

I enjoy a dinner of tagliatelle with tomato and mozzarella and Mike has lasagna with Bologne sauce, accompanied by wine.

What a fun but exhausting day! This has been one of our favorite days on our trip.

Tomorrow, we’re heading to Český Krumlov in Czech Republic.

Total steps today: 14,725 (6.24 miles) + ~ 26 kilometers (16 miles) by bicycle. 🙂

10 thoughts on “austria: a bicycle wine tour in the wachau valley

  1. An interesting way to tour wineries – it’s been so long since I rode a bike I’m not sure I could taste wine and stay upright, but it sounds like fun. Beautiful countryside!

    1. It was a lot of fun. I like the being active part with having a taste of wine here and there. Luckily, we also had great weather. Also, I did manage to stay upright, so I’m thankful for that. 🙂

    1. It was fun, but I certainly understand your feelings about Kyle (or people like him). I feel the same. I really don’t like group tours with people I don’t know, but Mike and I mostly stayed to ourselves as the two groups were all good friends and very inward-looking. No matter, we had fun and Giovanni was great. I liked the adventure. Luckily, Kyle was sent on his merry way so he didn’t hold us up. 🙂

  2. What a lovely day out in beautiful countryside, Cathy. 🙂 🙂 I have to say the combination of biking and wine doesn’t seem such a good idea to me but it seems to’ve worked out ok.

    1. It was great fun, Jo. I worried the combination of wine and bicycling would make things a challenge, but it turned out, there was enough time and space between tastings that we never really felt too tipsy. 🙂

    1. I’m not a big bicycler either, but I worked hard to stay right behind Giovanni because I didn’t want to end up on the tail end. I’ve had my share of being at the end, in various walks and runs, so I wasn’t about to have that happen again. 🙂

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