03 Aug Discovering Durnstein: A Guide to Lower Austria

Eva S. shares her travel memories of one of the oldest medieval places in Europe, Durnstein Austria.

Having lived abroad for the past three years, my family and I have had the privilege to actually be tourists in our own country, Austria – a country with a great history, famous for its music, excellent cuisine and amazing natural beauty.

So why don’t you join us on a boat trip on the river Danube that is going to take us to one of the oldest medieval places in Europe – Dürnstein, a small town that was first mentioned historically in 1192. In order to get there I made reservations on one of our Blue Danube River ships, brunch and a lovely view included. The following weekend we took the subway, seeing amazing buildings on our way to the river, such as the last church that was built for an Austrian emperor.

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The boat ride took three hours, and gave us the chance to relax and do nothing except enjoy the scenery, taking some pictures, having lunch and chatting with tourists, some coming from far away places such as Saudi Arabia or New Zealand. I still wonder how they might have found out about this trip, when I, as an original Austrian, was going to Dürnstein for the first time in my life.

For those who are interested in engineering the trip is a special treat, since one gets a lecture on how the ship can be going upstream even when it seems impossible.

Now my kids know how a sluice works! After some time we got a bit restless, realising that our pace of life was indeed very different from that of the old days. When the kids were about to get cranky there it was – Dürnstein!

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The narrow roads, old church buildings and the fortress gave us the feeling of travelling back in time. And the fortress on top of the hill was of course a mystery we had, yet, to unveil. To climb up the hill is not as easy as some might think, the path being very steep and rough. Quite a few of the tourists didn’t make it, in fact on our way down many of them asked us, if what we had found up there was worth the torture. Especially, some ladies with high heels were desperate, and we felt like true Austrians again, born in the mountains, tough and not as vain.

The area is also an insider tip for rock climbers, with its many bizarre rocks and stones. However, keep in mind that only professional or semi-professional climbers should try to conquer the crest.

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The history of the fortress is interesting even for kids, since most of them know the story of Robin Hood. It was in 1193 that King Richard, I of England was held captive by the Duke of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. 65,000 pounds of silver were paid as ransom enabling King Richard to go back home and Duke Leopold to build another city close to Vienna, named Wiener Neustadt, which is up to today the second largest city of the region.

We were also impressed by the fact that the Swedish had actually conquered this town in 1645, but were fortunately driven back by Austrian knights. If you are not totally ignorant what geography is concerned, you must really wonder how the Swedish had made it all the way down to Austria and why they would have wanted to do that in the first place. Seems that our ancestors were in much better shape than us, despite of the lack of gyms or organic food. Even for those who are not interested in history the climb pays off, since one gets a different  perspective of the river and the town below.

If we had known the place was that nice and the food that good, we would have booked a room in one of the little guest houses and stayed overnight. Since we hadn’t, we took the bus back to Vienna – tired but happy!

Top 5 Fact File

  • Capital: Vienna
  • Government: Federal Government
  • President: Heinz Fischer
  • Population: 474 million (2013)
  • Currency:Euro
  • Official Language: German
  • Languages spoken: Hungraria, Czech, Slovak, Romani

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