Sitting on the Danube River in Lower Austria, Dürnstein is one of the most-visited villages in the Wachau Valley wine-growing region and is accessible from both Vienna and Salzburg. It’s a charming mix of medieval and Baroque architecture, with labyrinthine cobbled lanes and pastel-hued houses with red-tiled roofs. Full of traditional Austrian restaurants and stores selling local vintages, it’s the perfect lunchtime stopover on driving, cycling or walking tours through the valley. Often packed out by day – especially in summer – by night most visitors have left and the village reverts to its tranquil, romantic best.
Dürnstein Abbey perches right on the edge of the Danube, its stately blue Baroque tower is a local landmark. Although first mentioned as a nunnery in 1289, by the 16th century it had become an Augustine monastery and 200 years after that it was given its present Baroque facelift.
The ruins of Kuenringer Castle (also known as Burgruine Dürnstein), in which English King Richard the Lionheart was famously imprisoned on his way back from the Crusades in 1192, stand on a jagged promontory overlooking the town. According to legend, Richard’s minstrel Jean Blondel rescued him from captivity and it is Blondel’s name you will seen on several of Dürnstein’s bars and hotels. It’s a breathless 30-minute scramble up to the castle but rewarding for some of the best views along the Wachau Valley.
There are over 20 vineyards within stamping distance of Durnstein so the little town makes the perfect starting point for a day’s trip through the vines or to an estate to tour the cellars; you can also get to sample some of the Wachau’s crisp dry whites at the rustic little heurigen (wine bars) scattered around the region, although they are not open all year around.