Even though Austria’s famous Wachau Valley is less than an hour outside of Vienna, it really does feel like a world away. Rolling hills dotted with an improbable number of wineries with the mighty Danube cutting through the middle, this remarkable area is one of Europe’s most beautiful getaways. It’s not just a pretty face though, there’s a lot to see and do here, especially if you’re interested in food and wine. The Wachau Valley is one of the most famous wine regions in the world and along with great wine regions comes amazing food to match. I discovered the foodie side to the Wachau while exploring it one long weekend, an effort to go slow and savor the flavors of the country, instead of racing through to see and do as much as possible. Ultimately, that’s the perfect way to experience the best of the Wachau, going slow and enjoying the experience along the way.
Getting Active in the Wachau
Recognized by UNESCO for its architectural and agricultural legacy, the Wachau Valley isn’t very large – only about 25-miles in length. But in those 25 miles are packed enough experiences to satisfy just about any traveler.
The Wachau draws hikers and bikers from around the world to experience the hundreds of miles of trails that meander around the valley. Bikers can find their dream route cycling alongside the Danube as it twists and turns through scores of small towns and picturesque communities. Hikers though are in for a special treat with the Wachau World Heritage Trail. The entire trail is 180 kilometers and formally links the best trails through the Wachau Valley and wine country. The trail meanders through the 13 communities of the valley and is divided into 14 legs, making it easy to do as little or as much of it as you like. It can be hiked in both directions and the entire trail is exceptionally well marked making it nearly impossible to get lost. This trail though was designed with visitors in mind and it offers the best views of the valley but better yet, it also offers immersive experiences along the way.
Eating and Drinking Your Way Through the Valley
Wine is big business in the Wachau, and the region reminds me of so many others around the world from Sonoma to the Margaret River. Life here is all about the grape, and every spare inch of hillside has a vine on it. With great wines also comes great food, and Wachau is known as an epicurean center not only of Lower Austria, but an important one in the entire country.
Decades ago, the Jamek family winery began serving light meals but the quality was so good, it eventually expanded into a full restaurant. Open for lunch almost every day, Friday’s are the only night when dinners are served and the reservations for this coveted meal go quick. Set amongst the vineyards of the winery itself, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect as the sun slowly began to set on a warm, summer’s evening in Austria. The winery is actually an important one in the Wachau. Jamek started producing fine wines in the early 20th century, but following WWII it was the Jamek family who led the valley back from the brink and established it as one of the best white wine growing regions in the world. Naturally, these fine wines accompany every course at the restaurant, taking diners on a journey through their most famous vintages.
The menu itself is rooted in classic Austrian cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on local, country dishes. Since I was in Austria, I opted to go as traditional as possible starting with a twist on the classic Gröstl. This mix of potatoes, onion and bacon is served with egg and while not necessarily light, it was definitely delicious. Moving on to a wild boar schnitzel that was one of the best I’ve ever tried, I finished with a dessert I had never seen before: deep-fried elderflowers. Long considered a home remedy to give people more pep in their step, the flowers are battered, deep-friend and served with a berry compote. I’m not sure I loved them per se, but was happy to have had a chance to try this unusual dessert. The region is also famous for its apricots, so be sure to look out for desserts featuring this favorite crop served in dozens of different ways.
Wine though is naturally what draws most people to the Wachau, and the options are nearly overwhelming. The region produces such amazing wines thanks to its riverside location and the unique micro-climate that enables vintners to produce some of the best Rieslings and Grüne Veltliners in the world. I learned about these wines while in the small town of Spitz and home to the Lagler family winery.
Overlooking the rolling vineyards of Spitz, the Lagler’s have a small terrace where visitors come to enjoy snacks and of course the wines for which the family is so well-known. While they haven’t been producing wines for as long as their neighbors, they’ve definitely made up for lost time with a commitment to producing wines in the old, traditional ways. Rieslings, Neuburger and Grüne Veltliners are just a few of the varietals you’ll discover in their collection.
Lagler is just one of many quiet places throughout the valley where visitors can stop for a while, enjoy a glass of wine and admire the stunning landscapes surrounding them. Whether it’s a reward at the end of a long hike or bike ride or just an afternoon treat, it’s a big part of enjoying the best that the Wachau Valley has to offer.
The Wachau Valley prides itself on enjoying the natural escapes found throughout the region just as much as it does its food and wine offerings. All three are meant to be enjoyed together and only then can you start to appreciate why so many visitors flock to this little slice of heaven every year. The Wachau Valley is the total package, and spending a week or so here, walking different sections and eating far more than you should seems to me to be a perfect way to slow down and enjoy Austria for the beautiful country that it is.
This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with the Austrian National Tourist Office and other sponsors. LandLopers maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.
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