My “band of merry media” and I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn today for nothing. We’re back on board Insight Vacations‘ (Insight) luxury coach, 25 guest travel writers and photographers stretched out in business-class legroom seats, motoring away from the Czech Republic and towards Austria, the third leg on this Bohemian Rhapsody journey through Central and Eastern Europe, for a marathon day that involves an imprisoned king, a winery and a world-class city famous for its music, namesake sausage and psychoanalysis.
Rolling through the magnificent Wachau Valley — a 20-mile gorge that carves its way through the state of Lower Austria right alongside the waltzing Danube River and is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site for its architectural and agricultural (read wine) history — Karoly, our expert skipper, brings the sleek motor coach to a full stop along the Danube’s bank on the outskirts of Dürnstein, a postcard-perfect town where the warrior in our title enters stage right.
As explained to us by Neira, our chatty tour director-slash-storyteller, and chronicled in just about every history book and online reference source known to man, Dürnstein’s Kuenringer Castle is where Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I of England), while making his way home following the end of the third and final Crusade, was imprisoned for a while by Leopold V of Austria and held for ransom.
You know how the story ends, right? With actor Errol Flynn and/or Kevin Costner, as Robin Hood, gathering up the loot with the aid of his “band of merry men,” paying off the ransom note and setting Richard free to rule once again. Personally, I liked TV’s Richard Greene (The Adventures of Robin Hood) the best.
But, I digress. We view the castle ruins from afar — via telephoto lenses — as we make our way on foot into the town.
Dürnstein, nestled in the heart of the valley, is filled with numerous photo ops along the cobble.
The combination of breathtaking scenery, traditional architecture, terraced vineyards and its mild year-round climate will make you want to linger for a while. And we do, inside Altes Presshaus, one of the cozy taverns that dot the historic center.
It’s lunchtime for this hungry and thirsty “band of merry media.”
I’ll have the goulash soup and a Zwettler Original lager, bitte.
Wine has been cultivated around the valley for centuries. The primary rock soil, an exceptional climate and hillsides that overlook the Danube combine to create excellent harvests that attract connoisseurs and epicureans in search of high-quality grape.
The preservation of this unique cultural landscape is a top priority for Domäne Wachau, one of the preeminent wine producers of Austria, and the second stop on this three-legged jaunt.
We’re here for another Insight “signature” moment: a tour of the region’s early 18th century Baroque landmark, Cellar Castle, followed by a wine tasting of some of Domäne Wachau’s award-winning labels.
She leads us into the chateau to admire the furnishings, followed by a very steep climb down a series of centuries-old staircases into the bowels of the cavernous cellar where the winery’s superlative vintages lay quiet in oak barrels and barriques.
Back above ground, Eva marches us over to Domane Wachau’s new and impressive Vinothek Shop where all of the estate’s products are on display and for sale. We stop long enough to take a look around, but follow close behind her as she leads us into a large presentation room, seats us at several long tables and begins the tasting session.
We swirl, smell and sip four different and delightful white wines: three Gruner Vetliner and one Riesling. Wunderbar!
After an exchange of Dankeschön–Bitteschön (Thank you-You’re welcome), we’re back on the motor coach weaving our way out of the Wacha Valley as quickly as we can, gunning it for Wien (Vienna) as a critical 6:00 p.m. appointment fast approaches.
Off the bus, I grab my suitcase, pick up my room key at the Hilton Vienna Plaza, take the elevator to the third floor, pull out my business-casual outfit (sports coat, long-sleeve shirt, sweater vest and slacks), hang it up in the bathroom, jack the shower up to Mercury and steam my threads until everything is wrinkle free.
Quicker than you can say
(German for “Danube steamship company captain”), I’m dressed to the nines — okay, 7.5 — and back on the Insight carriage with my “band of merry media” in less than 30 minutes. Whew!
Oh, just another Insight “signature” moment (the second one today) inside the elegant, early 18th century Palais Auersperg (Auersperg Palace) — where a very young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once composed and performed for Emperor Franz Josef — for a private concert of music and dance by the world-famous Weiner Residenzorchester (Vienna Residence Orchestra).
The 12-piece orchestra, accompanied by two wonderfully-gifted opera singers (one soprano, one baritone) and a ballet couple, entertain us with flawless selections by Mozart and Johann Strauss in two acts, as flutes of champagne are poured during a short intermission.
The highlight of the night is quite a surprise when the violin soloist-slash-conductor plucks me out of the audience, hands me a triangle and makes me a temporary member of the orchestra during one of the Strauss selections. A rousing round of applause swells my head. I now hope to be addressed as il maestro by my fellow travel mates for the remainder of the trip.
For complete information on Insights’ premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Bohemian Rhapsody and 100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you bright and early tomorrow morning when we jumpstart the day inside the Habsbergs’ Viennese summer “cottage,” and then call it a night on a Danube River dinner cruise as it passes by Budapest. Auf wiedersehen!
©The Palladian Traveler