Richard the Lionheart made a big mistake when he ridiculed the Austrian flag during the Third Crusade in 1192 and thought he could get away with it.
On his way home, disguised as a peasant, he was recognised and imprisoned in Kuenringer Castle in the quaint Baroque village of Durnstein, on the banks of the Danube.
But he was lucky, the town in the heart of the picturesque Wachau Valley, sits on what is regarded the most beautiful stretch of the Danube.
A one hour drive from Vienna, it is the only part of the Danube countryside recognised in 2000 by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.
The valley is one of those places that simply stops you in your tracks. This is the land of castle-studded hills, ancient terraced vineyards, medieval villages and patchworks of immaculately kept orchards.
It is picture-perfect countryside and in spring, it becomes a sea of perfumed blossom.
The area is a favourite section of the Danube for cyclists and hikers alike with beautiful restaurants serving fresh local produce and wines enticing many to stop along the way.
The Wachau stretches 33km from the imposing Benedictine Monastery of Melk along the Danube Valley to the dominating Monastery of Gottweig.
Wine growing has a long tradition in this area that is known primarily for white wines including Riesling and Grüner Veltliner which have won countless national and international awards.
Winemaking has a long history, first it was the Celts who planted vines, followed by the Romans who laid the foundations for the wine terraces and the culture.
Since the 11th century, stone walls have been protecting terraces from slipping away.
During the Middle Ages, vineyards were mainly owned by monasteries that built stately gathering centres which can still be seen today. The vineyards were also leased to locals and in 1784, Emperor Joseph II passed a decree allowing vineyard owners to serve wine on their own premises.
No visit to the village is complete without a wine tasting at the nearby Freie Weingartner Wachau; home to a co-operative of 700 members.
The impressive modern retail showroom of the Vinea Wachau does a great job of showcasing local wine. Members have imposed rigorous rules to achieve premium quality.
You can tour the cellars and finish in the beautiful Kellerschloessl, a unique Baroque building dating back to 1715 located on the edge of the single vineyard Kellerberg which has been the trademark of the organisation since its inception.
The wines are regarded throughout the world as Austrian signatures and serve as an orientation aid for connoisseurs as only dry whites can be classified in three weight classes, steinfeder, the light and fresh summer and aperitif wines, the more complex federspiel wines and the multifaceted smarragd.
Follow this with a visit to local heurigers or wine tavern for sampling last year’s vintage and enjoy wonderful Austrian hospitality.
The town centrepiece is Durnstein Abbey with its striking Wedgewood blue steeple that is a well-known landmark.
Walk the cobblestone streets full of charming shops and windowsill garden boxes spilling over with colourful flowers to soak up the atmosphere of this picturesque town.
You will find Austrian keepsakes, wine-tasting and lots of homemade products featuring the region’s amazing apricots ranging from jams, jellies, marmalade, syrups and even apricot moisturisers.
Standing on the banks of the Danube is the beautiful historic Hotel Schloss Durnstein, a castle dating back to 1630 that was the property of the family von Stahemberg for hundreds of years. The history books record it as the place Emperor Leopold I received news of the victory over the Turks near Vienna in 1683.
The terrace offers the most stunning views of the Danube and has often been described as the most romantic place to dine riverside when the moonlight hits the water.
Combine a visit to Durnstein with a short river cruise that leaves from the town and enjoy local wines while passing the picturesque hillside vineyards.
The Danube takes on a whole new look from the water and Durnstein’s blue steeple looks even more impressive.
For some of the best views of this beautiful area leave time to climb to Durnstein’s castle ruins where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned.
The ruins are one of the Wachau Valley’s most popular tourist destinations.
Views are constantly changing with every step you take along the pathway fringed by mighty rock walls and colourful flowers.
Just make sure you leave plenty of time to explore this beautiful part of the Danube, taste the amazing wines and produce and soak up the history.
As for Richard the Lionheart, he was supposedly freed by his wandering minstrel Blondel and even though the story may not be historically accurate, it certainly adds to the romance of Durnstein.
Published under license from Well Travelled