A Warrior, Wine And
Residents of Wien
Story and photos by Tom Weber
"band of merry media" and I didn't get up at the crack of
dawn today for nothing. We're back on board Insight Vacations' (Insight)
luxury coach, 25 guest travel writers and photographers stretched out
in business-class legroom seats, motoring away from the Czech Republic
and towards Austria, the third leg on this Bohemian Rhapsody
journey through Central and Eastern Europe, for a marathon day that
involves an imprisoned king, a winery and a world-class city famous
for its music, namesake sausage and psychoanalysis.
Rolling through the magnificent Wachau
Valley a 20-mile gorge that carves its way through the state
of Lower Austria right alongside the waltzing Danube River and is recognized
by UNESCO as a World Heritage site for its architectural and agricultural
(read wine) history Karoly, our expert skipper, brings the sleek
motor coach to a full stop along Big Blue's bank on the outskirts of
Dürnstein, a postcard-perfect town where the warrior in our title
enters stage right.
As explained to us by Neira, our chatty
tour director-slash-storyteller, and chronicled in just about every
history book and online reference source known to man, Dürnstein's
Kuenringer Castle is where Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I of
England), while making his way home following the end of the third and
final Crusade, was imprisoned for a while by Leopold V of Austria and
held for ransom.
You know how the story ends, right? With
actor Errol Flynn and/or Kevin Costner, as Robin Hood, gathering up
the loot with the aid of his "band of merry men," paying off
the ransom note and setting Richard free to rule once again. Personally,
I liked TV's Richard Greene in The Adventures of Robin Hood the
But, I digress. We view the castle ruins
from afar via telephoto lenses as we make our way on foot
into the town.
Dürnstein, nestled in the heart of
the valley, is filled with numerous photo ops along the cobble.
The combination of breathtaking scenery,
traditional architecture, terraced vineyards and its mild year-round
climate will make you want to linger for a while. And we do, inside
Altes Presshaus, one of the cozy taverns that dot the historic center.
It's lunchtime for this hungry and thirsty
"band of merry media."
I'll have the goulash soup and a Zwettler
Original lager, bitte.
Bellies now satisfied and whistles damp,
we put Dürnstein in the rearview mirror and head for the heartbeat
of the Wachau Valley, all of those vineyards.
Wine has been cultivated around the valley
for centuries. The primary rock soil, an exceptional climate and hillsides
that overlook the Danube combine to create excellent harvests that attract
connoisseurs and epicureans in search of high-quality grape.
The preservation of this unique cultural
landscape is a top priority for Domäne Wachau, one of the preeminent
wine producers of Austria, and the second stop on this three-legged
We're here for another Insight "signature"
moment: a tour of the region's early 18th century Baroque landmark,
Cellar Castle, followed by a wine tasting of some of Domäne Wachau's
We couldn't be in more capable hands than
with Eva, manager of the on-premises wine shop and a former chef with
wine and cheese sommelier certifications.
She leads us into the chateau to admire
the furnishings, followed by a very steep climb down a series of centuries-old
staircases into the bowels of the cavernous cellar where the winery's
superlative vintages lay quiet in oak barrels and barriques.
Back above ground, Eva marches us over
to Domane Wachau's new and impressive Vinothek Shop where all of the
estate's products are on display and for sale. We stop long enough to
take a look around, but follow close behind her as she leads us into
a large presentation room, seats us at several long tables and begins
the tasting session.
We swirl, smell and sip four different
and delightful white wines: three Gruner Vetliner and one Riesling.
After an exchange of Dankeschön-Bitteschön
(Thank you-You're welcome), we're back on the motor coach weaving our
way out of the Wacha Valley as quickly as we can, gunning it for Wien
(Vienna) as a critical 6:00 p.m. appointment fast approaches.
Off the bus, I grab my suitcase, pick up
my room key at the Hilton Vienna Plaza, take the elevator to the third
floor, pull out my business-casual outfit (sports coat, long-sleeve
shirt, sweater vest and slacks), hang it up in the bathroom, jack the
shower up to Mercury and steam my threads until everything is wrinkle
Quicker than you can say Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftcapitän
(German for "Danube steamship company captain"), I'm dressed
to the nines okay, 7.5 and back on the Insight carriage
with my "band of merry media" in less than 30 minutes. Whew!
Oh, just another Insight "signature"
moment (the second one today) inside the elegant, early 18th century
Palais Auersperg (Auersperg Palace) where a very young Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart once composed and performed for Emperor Franz Josef
for a private concert of music and dance by the world-famous Weiner
Residenzorchester (Vienna Residence Orchestra).
The 12-piece orchestra, accompanied by
two wonderfully-gifted opera singers (one soprano, one baritone) and
a ballet couple, entertain us with flawless selections by Mozart and
Johann Strauss in two acts, as flutes of champagne are poured during
a short intermission.
The highlight of the night is quite a surprise
when the violin soloist-slash-conductor plucks me out of the audience,
hands me a triangle and makes me a temporary member of the orchestra
during one of the Strauss selections. A rousing round of applause swells
my head. I now hope to be addressed as il maestro by my fellow
travel mates for the remainder of the trip.
For complete information on Insights' premium
and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Bohemian Rhapsody and
100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you bright and early tomorrow morning
when we jumpstart the day inside the Habsbergs' Viennese summer "cottage,"
and then call it a night on a Danube River dinner cruise as it passes
by Budapest. Auf wiedersehen!
Rhapsody: Český Krumlov; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Prague's Watering Hole; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Prague's Old Town Square; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Jewish Quarter; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Crossing the Charles Bridge; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Storming the Prague Castle; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Na Zdraví! (A Brewery and A Wine Cellar);