The beauty and lifestyle here seem inconceivable in this day and age - areas this pure and authentic tend to disappear. And locals here have chosen to embrace their heritage gastronomically, viticulturally and agriculturally.
Lower Austria unfurls as a series of villages nestled along terraced hills near the winding Danube. Follow the river from Vienna until you find yourself face to face with something stunningly modern, surrounded by a region as old as time: the Loisium hotel and wine center, in Langenlois. Enjoy the spa and the on-site vinotheque, take a stroll through the vineyards in the front and back, dive into the pool, and settle in, finally, for a lovely dinner under the stars at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant.
Make your way to Dürnstein, an ancient town perched on a steep hill overlooking the Danube. Hike to the top to get a stunning view of the Wachau - and inspect the ruins of the Kuenringerburg Fortress, where Richard the Lionhearted was reportedly imprisoned in the 12th century. Tramp back down the hill and head over to the nearby Loibnerhof for an idyllic lunch in the extensive green garden abutting the river.
Back to the grapes! The Winzer Krems at Sandgrube 13, in Krems, offers an entertaining and memorable tour - by the end, you’ll leave with a surprisingly complete grasp of wine making in the region, and probably a few prizewinning bottles, too. From there, you’re not far from the finest bio-dynamic meal you’re ever likely to encounter. Nikolaihof is both an astoundingly good restaurant and a legendary winery - home of the largest grape press in Europe - and it’s always too soon when you finally leave the peaceful courtyard where dinner is served.
Having driven alongside the Danube all this way, it’s time to get yourself on it. River cruises run regularly between Melk and Krems - contact the companies, DDSG and Brandner, for schedules. Once you’re aboard, you can enjoy your latest favorite Grüner as the vineyard responsible slowly eases by on the shore. Several options for both lunch and dinner await, including Holzapfel, Florianihof, Jamek and, yes, a longed-for return to Nikolaihof. When at last you peel yourself away from Lower Austria, your final order of business is to attune your nose to the fresh apricots that give the wine its fruitiness - and Austria some of its most beloved dishes.