Driving & Cycling Tour The Danube Valley

  • Start Krems
  • Finish Krems
  • Length 150km; one day

From the Krems-Stein roundabout in Krems an der Donau take the B3 southwest towards Spitz. About 3km from Krems-Stein you approach the small settlement of Unterloiben, where on the right you can see the Franzosendenkmal (French Monument), erected in 1805 to celebrate the victory of Austrian and Russian troops here over Napoleon. Shortly afterwards the lovely town of Dürnstein, 6km from Krems, comes into view with its blue-towered Chorherrenstift backed by Kuenringerburg, the castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192.

The valley is punctuated by picturesque terraced vineyards as you enter the heart of the Wachau. In Weissenkirchen, 12km from Krems, you’ll find a pretty fortified parish church on the hilltop. The Wachau Museum here houses work by artists of the Danube school.

A couple of kilometres on, just after Wösendorf, you find the church of St Michael, in a hamlet with 13 houses. If the kids are along for this ride, now’s the time to ask them to count the terracotta hares on the roof of the church (seven, in case they’re not reading this!).

Some 17km from Krems, the pretty town of Spitz swings into view, surrounded by vineyards and lined with quiet, cobblestone streets. Some good trails lead across hills and to Heurigen (wine taverns) here (start from the church).

Turn right at Spitz onto the B217 (Ottenschläger Strasse). The terraced hill on your right is 1000-Eimer-Berg, so-named for its reputed ability to yield 1000 buckets of wine each season. On your left, high above the valley opening, is the castle ruin Burgruine Hinterhaus. Continue along the B217 to the mill wheel and turn right towards Burg Oberranna, 6km west of Spitz in Mühldorf. Surrounded by woods, this castle and hotel overlooking the valley is furnished with period pieces and has a refreshing old-world feel.

From here, backtrack down to the B3 and continue the circuit. The valley opens up and on the left, across the Danube, you glimpse the ruins of Burg Aggstein.

Willendorf, located 21km from Krems, is where the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf was discovered. It is today housed in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. Continuing along the B3, the majestic Stift Melk rises up across the river. There’s some decent swimming in the backwaters here if you’re game to dip into the Danube.

At Klein Pöchlarn, a sign indicates a turn-off on Artstettner Strasse (L7255): follow it for 5km to Artstetten, unusual for its many onion domes. From here, the minor road L7257 winds 6.5km through a sweeping green landscape to Maria Taferl high above the Danube Valley.

Head 6km down towards the B3. Turn left at the B3 towards Krems and follow the ramp veering off to the left and across the river at the Klein Pöchlarn bridge. Follow the road straight ahead to the B1 (Austria’s longest road) and turn left onto this towards Melk.

This first section along the south bank is uninteresting, but it soon improves. Unless the weather isn’t playing along, across the river you can make out Artstetten in the distance, and shortly Stift Melk will rise up ahead in a golden shimmering heap.

From Stift Melk, a 7km detour leads south to the splendid Renaissance castle of Schloss Schallaburg. To reach the castle from the abbey in Melk, follow the signs to the Bahnhof (train station) and Lindestrasse east, turn right into Hummelstrasse/Kirschengraben (L5340) and follow the signs to the castle.

Backtrack to the B33. Be careful to stay on the south side of the river. When you reach the corner of Abt-Karl-Strasse and Bahnhofstrasse, go right and right again at the river. Follow the B1 for 4km to Schloss Schönbühel, a 12th-century castle standing high on a rock some 5km northeast of Melk. Continue along this lovely stretch of the B33 in the direction of Krems. About 10km from Schloss Schönbühel the ruins of Burg Aggstein swing into view. This 12th-century hilltop castle was built by the Kuenringer family and now offers a grand vista of the Danube.

About 27km from Melk some pretty cliffs rise up above the road. From Mautern it’s a detour of about 6km to Stift Göttweig.