Tuesday 21 June 2016

Down the Danube: Melk and the Wachau Valley

Austria, 13th – 16th June 2016

Recently the weather in Austria has been very variable between hot and sunny, and thunderstorms and rain on the same day. We’d been lucky the day we visited Graz with only a light shower for a short period, then later during the drive to Stainz it poured it down, with full-speed windscreen wipers required and our speed was down to 50 km/h on the main road. We thankfully had nicer weather in the morning with a bright sunny day materialising so after a bit of planning where to go that day we went for a look around Stainz. It’s a pleasant little town with some cafés and shops that we wandered around for a while then investigated at a large building that turned out to house a museum, and the nearby church.

We made a friend at the farm: this fellow was
a puppy and full of all the associated energy
We got on the road heading north past Graz making use of our vignette to travel on the A- and S-roads until we had to turn off to cut cross-country along a more scenic road winding our way uphill. After about three hours driving getting in some podcasts and audiobook we arrived at a stellplatz on a rural farm near Mitterbach (GPS: 47.83189 15.30623, €6) on a grassy area looking out across the valley. We needed facilities as we were out of water and our grey tank was getting full but it turned out they didn’t have a drainage point so we had to hope we’d last another day, but there was a tap for water. It was an odd cobbled-together setup attached to a post with what should be the outlet of the tap used as the inlet so there wasn’t a way of connecting a hosepipe to it, and it was mounted so the water came out horizontal! This meant using our Coke bottle funnel to fill our large water bottles and doing six runs to the van to get a decent amount in our tank.

The next morning we got our way to the next place we had marked on our map to visit; Melk, a town on the River Danube in the Wachau Valley. Not seeing any free opportunities we parked in a pay and display next to the river where within a couple of minutes’ walk we were in the old town centre. We walked though it and up to the abbey to check it out, finding you can walk around the courtyards to see the building externally without tickets. It was too late in the day for us to fit in going into the abbey with the info saying to allow at least two hours so we continued looking around the town for a bit longer. We found a cash machine that allowed you to select how many of each size of note you want, rather than getting it all in 50’s which can be awkward to spend when most of our cash transactions are generally small amounts, so we stocked up on 10’s.

Recorded flood levels: the downside of
living next to the Danube!
Melk town, viewed from the abbey
Still needing to empty our grey water and now with an almost full loo too we were in need of a service point, so for the night we headed along the Danube to Aggsbach Markt to a stellplatz next to a snack bar on the side of the river called Susi’s Donaustüberl (GPS: 48.29790 15.40535, €10.20 for 2 people inc serv. pt., Electric +€1). It was a warm evening so as soon as we got parked in the last front row spot overlooking the Danube I got the chairs out and relaxed with a beer, joined shortly after by Jo with a glass of wine.
Motorhome parking at Susi's Donaustüberl
An old building in Aggsbach Markt
After rain in the night which continued into the morning, a check of the forecast showed it should clear up from around lunchtime. When the rain stopped we went for a walk around the town which didn’t consist of a lot. We decided we’d visit Melk Abbey so after some lunch headed back there to the free car park for the abbey that we found while looking around the day before. Located on a rock overlooking the River Danube, Melk Abbey is a UNESCO listed Baroque building that Benadictine monks still live or work in. A large part of the building is occupied by a school where some of them teach. Built in the early 1700’s, it replaced the original abbey built on the site in 1089.

A rare occasion for us, we got our tickets at €13 a piece, opting for the guided tour (only twice daily in English) as it was only €2 more, and had a short wait sitting in the sun until our time slot. It was well worthwhile having the guide, our lady knew her stuff and was enthusiastic, and it added to the experience. The tour took us through the museum about the 900-year history of the abbey and the times in history that it has gone through, then the “marble hall” which is a large room used as a dining space that appears to have walls lined with marble but is actually decorated stucco as part of the Baroque style of making things look grander. Our guide pointed out how the ceiling used a trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) with the artwork painted on it making the flat ceiling appear curved. It was certainly effective; I couldn’t tell where it met the walls. We walked around a balcony linking the two wings of the abbey into the library which is the only place you aren’t allowed to photograph. It is filled floor to ceiling with books containing over 100000 of them across eight rooms, with just two rooms being accessible to the public. The guide then left us to visit the impressive church ourselves. Afterwards Jo and I went back around to the beginning to take more time looking at and photographing things in the museum which we didn’t have time for when passing through with the guide. After getting on for two hours in there we spent a while looking around the gardens too.

The Marble Hall
One of two spiral staircases
The church
Typical Baroque statue: The outside is plated in gold so as
to look impressive, but at the back in the mirror you can
see the hollow wooden interior.
Joseph II, emperor after the Baroque period, had much
more austere ideas: this coffin was designed to drop the
body out of the bottom with a pulley for coffin reuse.

Empress Maria Theresa, Empress and ruler during the reconstruction
of the abbey, and her husband Emperor Francis I
The pavilion and the part of the gardens

For the night we drove out to a remote free spot from Park4Night where on the way up there we spotted a deer in the trees at the side of the road watching us, so we stopped but unfortunately it moved before we got a chance to get a photo. The parking spot (GPS: 48.33434 15.33988) was near a ski lift and aerial mast outside Oberdorf at the top of a hill with good views out overlooking surrounding valleys and hills into the distance. We found some unsecured WiFi so utilised it in the evening.

In the morning we made our way back down the hills to the side of the Danube into the town of Spitz. We parked here for a look around, walking through the town past the church, the few shops and to the vineyards on the side of the neighbouring hillside. Next we moved along the river to Dürnstein which is a quaint small town with a number of gift and tat shops, many selling apricot liqueur which we resisted due to its €22 price tag. After a Lidl stop at Krems we hit the main roads towards Vienna to a small free stellplatz at the railway station in Kritzendorf (GPS: 48.33534 16.29927, Free inc serv. pt.) which is only about half an hour from the centre of the capital. There are lots of trains passing during the day but much less so at night so they didn’t disturb us. We did some research of where to go and what to see in Vienna in preparation for the next day. The railway line from here runs in to the city for only €2 we read online so considered doing this, but ultimately decided to move to the main Vienna stellplatz in the morning for the peace of mind of having the security whilst doing our sightseeing.

So the next post will be Vienna.

- Matt



  1. Fantastic information and pictures as always, looking forward to your thoughts on Vienna .

    1. Thank you, we've just got the Vienna blog up tonight