DISCLAIMER: I have cycled less than 100 meters of the Wachau Valley: The UNESCO-listed, Danube-banked wine producing region extraordinaire, just west of Vienna. However, I now know how, were it not for two thunderstorms, a knackered wrist and some squiffy direction taking. I’ll be taking this on as soon as possible.
I wrote briefly last year about W. Einker’s most convivial little wine cave in central Vienna which does wine tasting with almost entirely Austrian products. This inspired rooting around for the vine locations in more depth for this year’s visit. The towns of Melk, Krems and Spitz serve as a hub for this part of the Danube and they’re connected by cycling, train and boat on a remarkably flat route.
We woke up to a quite spectacular storm on the morning of this expedition and nearly abandoned the trip altogether, at odds with an early start. However, it seems that rain in this part of Central Europe is often sharp downpours after sustained build up of humidity in summer months. So a shower shouldn’t necessarily derail the trip. An optimal day-long trip can be had by taking a 0930 or 1030 train from Vienna to Melk, with the very easy Austrian state railway for about EUR 30 return.
I had, in the main part, consulted a newspaper article which highlighted the virtues of NextBike, however, this was plagued with difficulties. The service is an iteration of the bike hire schemes in London, New York and Paris and has docking stations in all three towns on the route – but it does seem to be harder than all three of the metropolises to use. Registering is easy enough, but QR codes and data access is needed to unlock them, and the system seems to struggle with non-Austrian cards.
A much simpler non-digital alternative was Wachau Touristic Bernhardt. Renting a cycle here was simple, with ID required, and includes drop offs at Spitz (20kms) and Melk (35kms) for EUR 10 for a bike for half a day. It was at this point our day unravelled with a few wrong turns onto a semi-island and then a bang on the wrist forcing a curtailment 15 minutes in. We’d wanted to go to the, admittedly splendous, Melk Abbey ahead of a winery lunch and splashing around in the river anyhow.
Putting it right
As we’d set off so late, we were probably always going to be up against it for time anyhow, so I’d say 0930 or 1030 are the correct times to leave Vienna, arriving at the bike hut for 1030 or an hour later. I was advised that 20kms to Spitz, where a few wineries, vines growing in the centre of town and several Heuriges, wine taverns, are available for lunch, would take an hour. I think two would be more agreeable, though the pathways seemed to be very easy going and are slightly downhill.
A bit more research and investigating some quite expensive guided tours revealed swimming in the river is a done thing as well, to consolidate an appetite and a thirst. This was dug out through organised tour research, though this was slightly off putting through prices and availability. Swimming locations aren’t the easiest to dig out, though it seems Dürnstein is an area where this can be done.
Returning to base from either Spitz or Krems can be done by a combination of bus, train or most appealingly, boat, for an upstream tour. We witnessed a quite amusing stand off in the tourist office with two large-of-backside tourists opining that the EUR 20 fee was too expensive and car hire would be cheaper. This misses the point, however, that the scenery from deck is the main draw of this part of the world. I can only see the appeal of car, bus or rail if budget or timings conspire against you.
This would leave a provisional schedule of:
1030 train from Vienna to Melk
1130 bike hire from Melk
1430 libation activities and lunch at Spitz
1730 Boat from Spitz
1901 Train from Melk to Vienna
I’ve got a stash of paper literature from the tourist office, below. It seems this was actually most useful and I can email any parts of it if you leave a comment below.
A word for our hosts: 25hours hotel Vienna
For different reasons, Langham and 25hours are consistently my favourite hotel chains across the world, and the latter came up trumps here. The Germanic based mini chain have exciting, artistic and vibrant set ups and the circus theme in Vienna is no exception. They have lively bars, this one coming with an aerial view of the Musuems Quartier, and good food, this branch focussing on pizzas with relatively local Italian ingredients and an inventive and amusing burger van in the garden.
It was a great piece of customer service that won us over on this occasion, however. A jammed plug in the sink, admittedly, wasn’t fixed when reported. It was above and beyond, then, to be migrated and upgraded to a top floor suite, replete with coffee machine and cooking facilities. I could see how busy reception was when this was reported, so welcome to see an above-proportion response to the omission, making this a fun stay and an efficient one.
(River image credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons)