The Danube River: History, Culture and Wine
Europe's historical lifeline
Mentioned in innumerable songs and much traveled, no river in the world flows through as many countries on its way to the sea as the Danube. This mighty river covers an astounding 2,889 km (1795 miles) from its source in Germany to the Black Sea. The Danube flows through ten countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, and Ukraine), and, as Europe’s lifeline, unites a wide variety of people, religions, and cultures. The diverse, sometimes idyllic, sometimes nearly mystical landscapes that line its banks are shrouded in myth and legend.
The entire history of Central Europe was written on its banks, and the centuries-long exchange between people and cultures left traces that can still be experienced today. The Danube is lined with witnesses of the past: imposing monasteries and magnificent castles and palaces.
Over the course of history, a wealth of cultural treasures was left behind by the legendary rulers of Europe, from Marcus Aurelius and Frederick Barbarossa to the Habsburgs. Thanks to an international cooperation among tourism organizations and shipping companies, visitors can embark on an enchanting journey along this historic travel route with all its splendid buildings and artistic highlights on the “Road of Emperors and Kings”, which leads from medieval Regensburg via Passau and Vienna to Budapest, the Hungarian capital. Pristine river landscapes such as the picturesque Danube wetlands and spectacularly beautiful pastoral spots like the Wachau Valley, as well as countless opportunities to discover both ancient and modern towns, make this journey an unforgettable experience.
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Waltzing the Blue Danube
When travelling along the Danube, whether it is by bike, car or boat, make sure to check out the following attractions:
The European Capital of Culture in 2009 has an extraordinarily diverse scene. Watch artificial intelligence thinking, train self-driving cars, programme robots and process your own DNA in the interactive Ars Electronica Center. On the opposite bank of the Danube, masterpieces of the 19th and 20th centuries are on display in the striking glass-and-steel Lentos Museum of Art. A day filled with culture and art is best rounded off with a delicious “Linzer Torte”, the city's famous sweet dish!
Benedictine Abbey of Melk
Melk Abbey is located at the entrance to the World Cultural Heritage Region Wachau and has served as a spiritual and cultural hub of Austria for more than 900 years. Today, you can stroll through a modern abbey museum and learn about its history and present activities. The marble hall and the library are especially worth seeing, while the abbey church forms a true masterpiece of Baroque art.
The Ruin and Abbey Church of Dürnstein
Famous for the imprisonment of the English king Richard Lion Heart, the Ruin of Dürnstein is a popular attraction in the Wachau region. On your way up, you are rewarded with extraordinary views over the Danube and its vineyards. The Abbey Church of Dürnstein is well-known for its blue and white tower, the unique artwork showing the suffering of Jesus Christ, and the tabernacle at the altar with 44 images of Jesus' life.
Krems is a lively small town renowned for its architecture and dynamic art scene. Its central, artistic hub, the “Kunstmeile Krems”, includes the famous art gallery of the same name, Austria’s only museum for caricature and numerous restaurants and bars. Wine enthusiasts should head to the wine museum. There are also guided wine tours called “WEIN.SINN.”
Excursion Cruises on the Danube
The first Austrian shipping company (DDSG) was founded in 1829. By 1880, the DDSG was the world's largest river shipping company, with a fleet of more than 200 steamboat ships and about 1000 cargo tubs.
Nowadays, the company offers a great variety of one-day cruises along the Danube: from sightseeing and evening cruises, to themed cruises such as the Heurigen Cruise, which is dedicated to music and culinary delights. One particular highlight is the Wachau Valley cruise, which passes the historic town of Krems and stops at Dürnstein, with its famous Ruin and the Abbey Church. Have a glass of wine while enjoying the picturesque landscape and learning more about Austria’s largest Benedictine Abbey, Stift Melk. For those looking or a speedy adventure, the DDSG offers hydrofoil cruises from Vienna to Budapest, and vice versa.
For more information on DDSG river cruises, click here.
Discover the Culinary Delights
The Danube is not only known for its culture, landscape and beautiful nature, it is also famous for its culinary delights and therefore a top address for gourmets. Some traditional Austrian specialities you should try include:
Linz is not only well-known as a former European Capital of Culture (2009), it is also famous for its signature cake, the Linzer Torte. Considered to be the oldest known cake in the world, it was first mentioned by name as early as 1653. This cake, made of shortcrust and hazelnuts and filled with tasty red current jam, is best enjoyed with a cup of Austrian coffee.
Making a good “Most”, the Austrian equivalent to cidre, is takes just as many skills as making good wine. In the Mostviertel region in Lower Austria, pears are picked, washed, and pressed by hand. After several weeks in fermentation barrels, this precious fruit wine is then bottled. Gourmets appreciate the pear “Most” for its tangy taste and fruit aroma.
The mild climate and fertile soil of the Wachau Valley not only produce outstanding white wines; they are also perfect for fruit-growing. When the apricots are ripe, the Lower Austrian region turns into a dumpling paradise. Apricot dumplings are traditionally made with either potato dough, cream puff pastry or curd-cheese dough, which is wrapped around the fruits. After cooking, the dumplings are rolled in browned bread crumbs and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
In July, the Wachau valley glows in deep orange hues: it is time for the apricot harvest. Besides the dumplings, the apricots are also used to produce apricot schnapps. Easily recognisable by its intensive aroma of ripe fruit, it is often described as an "especially fine drink" by those in the know.
Fish from the Danube
The Danube is famous for its delicious freshwater fish, including carp, rainbow trout, pike, and sturgeon. So, why not have a tasty fish with a glass of Austrian wine? Along the Danube you will find numerous restaurants offering exactly that.
Vienna is the world’s only metropolis with its own wine-growing industry, boasting some 700 hectares of vineyards. The most popular whites are "Gemischter Satz", “Riesling” and “Weissburgunder”, while a favourite red is “Zweigelt.” The best place to enjoy the wines is at one of the traditional taverns called “Heurige.”