Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Austria's Wachau Valley: A Land of Magical Beauty

The spectacular Danube Valley, also known as Wachau, is among the most picturesque regions in Europe, with the irresistible allure of country roads, verdant hills, charming villages, lush vineyards, and medieval castles where rolling hills meet the flowing Danube River. A UNESCO world heritage site and region of natural beauty, the Wachau is one of Austria's most exciting and fascinating wine regions: the mild climate, influenced by the river valley, sunny wine slopes and the special geology mean that excellent wines are produced here, appreciated by wine connoisseurs the world over. Furthermore on the 33 kilometre long stretch of the Danube – from Melk to Krems – there is a wealth of historic buildings to be visited. The Wachau also boasts a high density of restaurants, inns and wineries, where one can explore the regions top quality cuisine and locals wines. Gently rolling hills, almost completely striped with vineyards, the medieval character of its villages and the picturesque banks of the Danube combine to a delightful whole.

The Hausstein Chapel at St Nikola on the Danube

Traditional and modern häuser dot the shore of the Danube along the Wachau Valley

Jochenstein Lock in the Wachau Valley as we pass into Bavaria, Germany

Changing the flag as we pass from Germany to Austria along the Danube

The Benedictine Abbey of Melk in lower Austria, sits on a rocky outcrop along the Danube; In his novel The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco named one of the protagonists "Adso of Melk" as a tribute to the abbey and its famous library.

12th-century Schönbühel Castle sits on the Danube's south bank between Melk and Willendorf

The 17th-century Schönbühel Parish Church 

The ruins of 13th-century Medieval Hinterhaus Castle above Spitz in Lower Austria 

The small village of Weissenkirchen

Saint Michael's is the oldest of all of the churches in Austria's Wachau Valley

Vineyards along the Wachau Valley

Cycling is enormously popular along the Danube, with many taking a week or two 
exploring all the small towns along the river

Nestled among Austria’s most famous vines is Dürnstein, known as the “Pearl of the Wachau,” is one of the country’s most beautiful small towns. Well known for its local wines and 15th-century Augustinian Monastery with its unique blue tower, Dürnstein's postcard-perfect village is more well known by the medieval castle of Burgruine Dürnstein,where Richard the Lionheart was once held prisoner by Duke Leopold V, Duke of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. Richard was released after a ransom of 150,000 Silver marks in freedom. Much of the castle has been reclaimed by time, but there is a fairly steep 30-minute hike up to the rocky ruins that provide breathtaking views of the surrounding Wachau Valley.

The medieval castle where Richard the Lionheart was once held captive by Leopold V, Duke of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade, sits above Dürnstein’s famous blue church spire 

Dürnstein has kept its historic character and is regarded as the most romantic place in the Wachau

The Apricot is particularly prevalent and prized in the Wachau area, so I had to buy a jar to take home from this fellow selling jam from the window of his house

One of the lovely small boutique hotels in Durnstein

The Mayor's House

A narrow cobblestone street with views of ancient terraced vineyards

The ruins of Kuenringer Castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in 1193

Exterior of Dürnstein Abbey, a 15th-century former Augustine monastery splendidly redone in the Baroque style in the 18th century, and the adjoining the parish church which contains works by Kremser Schmidt

The enclosed courtyard with roses and fountain

Sunclock on the terracotta roof of the Abbey

The highly stylized Baroque entrance

The beautifully inlaid wood confessionals

The sumptuous interior 

The iconic blue and white tower of the Abbey was designed to blend into the celestial colours of the blue sky and clouds 

View of the Abbey from the rooftop

The verdant vineyards of Durnstein

Famous for its delicious high quality dry white wines, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling  

Durnstein's Alter Klosterkeller with wine tastings from the Tegernseehof Winery

The Klosterkeller sign made of wheat shows that it sells beer also as well as wine

The winery's outdoor terrace overlooking the Danube and the Durnstein's terraced vineyards

The vaulted 13th-century cellars of Klosterkeller

Sign crafted from a barrel commemorating the 2009 vintage of Franz Hirtzberger's Durnsteiner Weintaufe

With wine glasses set out in the lovely cool cellar, the tasting was poised to begin

The first wine was a delicious light and dry 2013 Durnsteiner Gruner Veltliner 

A light and delicious wine, we became ardent fans of Austria's Gruner Veltliner

Introducing each wine was owner and winemaker Emmerich Knoll

The second tasting was a peppery, fruity and dry 2015 Gruner Veltliner 
made from the grapes of a single vineyard, so delicious that  we bought 2 bottles

A moist and crusty bun from Durnstein's top bakery, Baeckerei Schmidl

A velvety and mature 2013 Blauer Zweifelt was the final wine

Departing Durnstein aboard the MS Savor as the sun sets over the beautiful Wachau Valley

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Český Krumlov: A Czech Republic Medieval Gem

Crowned by a spectacular castle above a bend on the River Vltava, Český Krumlov is like a pocket-sized Prague, nestled in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. A UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its uniquely preserved medieval core, the town is a maze of twisting alleys built around the extensive Cesky Krumlov castle, which was founded by the the Vítkovci family around 1253. Following architectural neglect during the communist era, the undeniable fairy-tale beauty of Český Krumlov is radiant again, with thoughtful restoration transforming the Renaissance and Baroque heritage buildings into a pearl of old world charm. The town's maze-like alleyways, richly decorated coats of arms of burghers houses, and wonderful floral gardens are harmoniously interwoven, and at the same time, it boasts medieval pubs, riverside ale-houses, galleries and charming boutique shops.

The Royal Gardens of Cesky Krumlov Castle

View from the gardens overlooking the Baroque tower of St Vitus Church

Spectacular view over the Medieval hamlet of Cesky Krumlov and the Castle,
a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The bend of the Vlatava River embraces the town

The 180-foot tall round tower of the Cesky Krumlov Castle was built to guard the medieval river crossing

The 3-storey stone bridge over the deep moat replaced the original wooden draw-bridge in 1647

The unusual interior 3rd courtyard of the castle blends a mix of styles from the 14th to the 18th-centuries

Archway into the upper Castle courtyard

The last of the five castle courtyards

Illuminated manuscript from the castle library

Detail of The Division of the Rose, a painting which shows the Wittigons, then the owners of the Český Krumlov chateau, dividing their property among their five sons

The striking round tower features a 162-step climb to the top

Our Tauck tour guide Bettina serving handmade gingerbread from Cesky Pernik, made from the quaint shop's original 16th-century recipe of high quality South Bohemian honey, flour and spices

The charming exterior of the old Bohemian gingerbread shop

Cesky Pernik also sells original hand pressed gingerbread and homemade digestive liquors

An artisan at the back of the shop decorates the gingerbread by hand

The ancient Budějovická Gate beside Cesky Pernik

The cobblestoned Medieval street leading from the Latrán District to the wooden Lazebnický Bridge

The wooden toy shop in Cesky Krumlov

Restaurant Svejk Latrán in the old town with original Gothic and Baroque detailing

The waterside restaurant of Krčma U dwau Maryí

 The menu of Krčma U dwau Maryí features traditional Czech fare

A welcome cold beer on a hot Czech afternoon 

Česnečka: Garlic Soup

Uzené maso s bramborovým knedlíkem a zelím - Smoked Meat with Potato Dumplings and Cabbage

Nakládaný hermelín s chlebem - Picked Camembert with Rye Bread

Rye Bread

Pstruh na víně a rozmarýnu s bramborem - Trout with wine, rosemary and potatoes

The exterior of the restaurant, which was built between two Medieval town walls in what was called roundabout moat along the curves of the Vltava River

Strolling through the winding cobblestone streets in search of Egon Schiele

The Egon Schiele Art Centrum (Gallery) in Cesky Krumlov

Located in a 16th-century Renaissance-style building that was a former Brewery, the Egon Schiele Art Centrum is a museum and gallery devoted to the Austrian painter Egon Schiele that was established in 1993 by an initiative of private individuals in Český Krumlov after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Born in Austria in 1890, Schiele drew and painted from an early age and became a protégé of Gustav Klimt, a relationship that was so close that he considered him a father figure. Schiele moved to his mother’s home town of Český Krumlov in 1910 but after living and working there for two years, decided to leave due to the animosity of some of the townsfolk angry about the nude portraits he did of their teenage daughters. His work is noted for its intensity, raw sexuality and the many self-portraits the artist produced, including naked self-portraits. The twisted body shapes and the expressive line that characterize Schiele's paintings and drawings mark the artist as an early exponent of Expressionism.

The entrance to the Museum which was originally a old brewery

Egon Shiele

Old photo of Český Krumlov when Schiele lived there in 1911

The Egon Schiele Exhibition on the top floor of the Museum

Schiele's sketchbook with a thumbnail sketch of the 49th Exhibition of the Vienna Secession poster

Egon Schiele poster for the 49th Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1918

Early photographs of Egon Schiele and his family

Egon with his two sisters

Shaw or the Irony (Shaw oder die Ironie), Poster for a Lecture by Egon Friedell published in 1912

Café near the Egon Schiele Museum

Zrmzlina Fruit Ice Cream stall on the main square in Český Krumlov

Made with iced cream and fresh berries, Zrmzlina is always a popular destination 

Walking back through town over the river on the wooden bridge

The three-storey covered Cloak Bridge of Cesky Krumlov Castle

The Cesky Krumlov heraldic coat of arms