Of Dungeons and Kings: Durnstein, Austria & Romantik Hotel Richard Lowenherz
It’s been more than 800 years since Richard the Lion Heart of England was a “guest” in the castle dungeon of tiny walled Dürnstein, Austria.
Today's welcome would be a revelation for Richard: gracious service at terrace restaurants overlooking the Donau (Danube), fine regional cuisine, vineyards nudging the village stonework, cobblestone walkways for romantics, medieval architecture, luxurious accommodation, mild climate and always the smooth flowing river.
River cruises are enormously popular. Viewing the fairy tale villages from the deck of a ship on a sunny day is one of life’s best experiences, especially when combined with typical Austrian cuisine.
But the drive from either direction along the Danube has its own charms, not least of which is being able to stop, walk and sightsee in the villages that dot the landscape of this lovely wine producing region known as the Wachau.
The stretch between Grein and Krems is widely considered the most beautiful. Dürnstein lies just west of Krems, 84 km (52 miles) from Vienna. The drive can be done in 1½ hours, but doubling that makes more than double the fun.
The parish church steeple can be seen from a distance with its Wedgewood powder blue Baroque dome presiding over the village.
The Romantik Hotel Richard Löwenherz (Richard the Lion Hearted) sits proudly at the eastern end of Dürnstein, surrounded by its comfortable convent garden and a reigning view of the river.
The interior is a bright, spacious setting for comfortable antique furniture. The window of our second floor room peers onto the garden, separated from vineyards by a tall stone wall marking the village perimeter.
Afternoon cake and coffee give way to aperitifs on the terrace café as the sun begins to cast long shadows across the stonework. I notice that the cool nights of autumn have already turned some leaves to ochre. We walk through the village, following the sunlight as it dwindles and saves its best colour for the church.
A hike to the fortress ruins atop a steep hill leaves us a bit winded. One of the rooms may have been Richard's. From the top we can see floodlights on the church as hills across the river merge into darkness. A small flashlight proves invaluable for the descent on the tricky uneven path.
Dinner at the Richardlöwenherz was served in a high ceilinged room similar to a bierkeller. But this is no beer cellar. Romantik Hotels are synonymous with fine dining. We begin the evening with a sparkling wine and delicate elderberry liqueur for my wife Lis, sparkling with hearty apricot for me. Bread is served with curried butter.
The first course: salad with lox and quail egg, served with a local white wine. Soup: cream of fresh herb topped with sesame wafer and minute basil with a Steinfelder white wine giving an edge to part the cream.
Main course: Veal on polenta with a sprig of thyme set in a nasturtium. Accompanying wines: Reisling Kellenburg and Reisling Kahlenbach, products of the Wachau whose Rieslings the American wine critic Robert Parker once described as “some of the finest white wines made”.
Dessert: Tiramisu with strawberry compote and starfruit, served with an Austrian ice wine for sweet dreams.
Next morning we meet hotel owner Frau Franziska Thiery who proudly shows us rooms and corners of the hotel we hadn’t seen. I include a tour boat in my photography of a suite with a view of the Danube. Sunlight dissolves mist over the garden as a bird flies into my frame. Departing is not easy.
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Story and photos copyright © Gary Crallé 2012. No commercial reproduction without written consent.
Romantik Hotel Richard Löwenherz www.romantikhotels.com/duernstein
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Gary Crallé is a seriously sociable travel photographer who appreciates wherever he is. With almost 70 countries under his travel belt it’s surprising he hasn’t put on weight. He likes to concentrate on what is good for the body and soul (history & culture, gastronomy, health & leisure) and the spirit within us (geography, self-discovery/adventure). Image-based stories are his passion.
Located: Georgetown Canada
Likes: photography, adventure, gastronomy, history, events, health & leisure