Project Description

During a stay in Vienna, I chose to spend one or two days in the countryside to visit some important sites and to escape for a few hours from the bustle of the Austrian capital city. Thus, I had the opportunity to visit the Wachau region in the Danube Valley as well as the site of Mayerling. You will find below a summary of these two days of travel using various organized tours.

Wachau and Melk

Today, it is a nice journey in the Danube Valley that awaits me. With other tourists, we left Vienna in the morning, go through the Austrian countryside for an hour or so, pass next to the city of Krems at the confluence of the Danube rivers (Donau) to finally arriving to Spitz. We then board a small boat and our crossing of the Wachau Valley from the the eastern end begins.

We sail well on the Danube waters and cross a distance of about 18 km with a very nice panorama before reaching Melk just before noon. Such kind of trip is great and you can quietly enjoy the time on the boat, despite the large number of tourists there. Personally, I choose to sit down at the very front of the boat and enjoy the fresh air and the beautiful surrounding countryside, characterized by huge vineyards, green wooded slopes, charming wine villages, mysterious castles perched in heights and fortresses both equally impressive and imposing. This harmonious blend of natural and cultural beauty of the Wachau region has given the area its deserved place in the UNESCO World Heritage.

After having set our foot back on the solid ground at Melk, a bus brings us directly outside the entrance to the Abbey of Melk which we will visit. Just before that, we have about an hour to grab something to eat. I then take the opportunity to enjoy a sandwich I have bought in Vienna the same morning and explore the outside of the complex which can be visited for free. And for a Benedictine abbey located a rocky promontory overlooking the Danube, the place is clearly impressive: it is almost like in Versailles, minus the river! First established in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 18th century, Melk Abbey is home to monks for over 900 years and its architecture is today an outstanding example of the Austrian Baroque.

Later, I join my group for a tour of the inside of the premises. We are accompanied by a guide of the Abbey and start our visit by the new abbey museum in the former imperial rooms, the most modern in Austria. The exhibition is entitled “A journey from past to present – the Abbey of Melk yesterday and today” and is staged in different rooms through various means such as architecture, sounds & lights effects or the use of various media.

Besides the imperial halls, the visit of the abbey include the marble hall and the library, masterpieces of Baroque architecture with the famous frescoes by Paul Troger and the terrace with a magnificent view over the Danube and on the west facade of the abbey church. The latter, undoubtedly the most important and most impressive building of the complexe, marks the end of our visit. Here, artists such as Jakob Prandtauer, Johann Michael Rottmayr, Troger Paul, Antonio Beduzzi Lorenzo Mattielli and Peter Widerin created, with the help of many others, a magnificent work of art that is undoubtedly one of the best examples of baroque art in Austria.

After leaving the Abbey, we join our bus and returned to Vienna in the late afternoon. The visit of the Abbey was definitely what I liked the most during the day and despite the very touristy aspect of the place, one can still appreciate the style and architecture of the religious site, not to mention its sumptuous library (where photos and videos are prohibited) and its church, both wonderful and gigantic!

Mayerling, Heiligenkreuz and the “Seegrotte”

New day of visit in the Austrian countryside from Vienna which we leave in the early morning. To begin with, we pass through the romantic Helenental valley to the former Mayerling hunting lodge, passing through the Roman town of Baden, famous for its thermal baths.

Mayerling Castle, later a hunting lodge, is today a monastery of the Order of Carmel. Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Empress Elisabeth, known as “Sissi”, and heir to the Austro-Hungarian crown, bought the castle in 1886 and turns it into hunting pavilion when he was found dead with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, on January 30, 1889. The mystery still remains today and the exact causes of their death are not very clear. Some speak of a double suicide, others mention a conspiracy to remove the crown prince whose mentality and ideas could upset the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Since then, the place has become a museum and sort of a tourist attraction in Austria. Although the photos are allowed, the amount of tourists and the small rooms are making picture shooting almost impossible… But that does not stop me from admiring the various rooms of the pavilion, including the statue of the Virgin in the chapel of the Virgin church, represented with the face of Empress Elisabeth and a dagger in the heart. Masses are still celebrated today in memory of Crown Prince Rudolf.

After visiting the pavilion, we take the road towards Heiligenkreuz and its Cistercian abbey founded in 1133. Since its creation, the divine office and the monastic life there were never once interrupted, making of it the second living Cistercian community in the world after the one of Rein, also in Austria. The abbey, which retains the tradition of Gregorian chant, received the visit of Pope Benedict XVI on September 9, 2007, during his trip to Austria. When we arrive, we start without wasting time our visit of the abbey church, followed by a tour of the medieval cloister which houses the remains of the last Babenberger.

There is much less people here than in Mayerling and this can be seen in the pictures above, right? Anyway, it is nice to walk around the simply decorated cloister without being jostled every three seconds by someone. Special mention for the stained glass windows, beautiful and all different from one wall to the other!

Before our return to Vienna, we travel a dozen kilometers to enjoy a relaxing boat trip on the largest underground lake in Europe, Hinterbrühl. It is a violent catastrophe that allowed the creation of one of the most impressive natural sites in the world. In 1912, after an explosion in the gypsum mine, over 20 million liters of water poured furiously dan corridors and underground galleries of the mine. This water breakthrough at the origin of the formation of the huge underground lake which is now the largest in Europe. Years after the disaster, the disused mine remained closed until an international team of speleologists discovered in the 30s this unique underground show, now open to the public all year long.

Pictures from the official website Seegrotte.at

After a visit of the galleries and a mini-cruise quite refreshing on the underground lake of the cave, our way back to the surface and its summer climate is quite painful. However, the time to join our air-conditioned bus and we’re back to a relatively normal temperature to enjoy our return to Vienna. The visit of the cave was interesting and helps to get an idea about the living conditions of minors at the time and the mini-cruise in the darkness was pleasant, even if we actually didn’t see much!