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The spectacular baroque Melk Abbey, and a short cruise past the nudist beaches of the Wachau Valley back to Vienna … with Andrew L. Urban on board.

Melk Abbey Library

There are some 100,000 leather bound volumes of books in the Melk Abbey library, we were told by the lady attendant, although the public room has only about 9,000 on show, each new volume specially bound to conform to the ‘abbey style’. The books are arranged thematically on shelves from floor to very high ceiling, below and above the mezzanine balcony running the length and breadth of the large, airy room. Its dimensions are awe inspiring and it is decorated in the same gilt edged baroque style as the rest of this enormous historic abbey, cathedral and monument.

The vast Melk Abbey and its beautifully sculptured baroque garden sits on top of a hill overlooking a bend in the Danube at the western end of the Wachau Valley, famous these days for its vineyards. But for these monks, the choice of beverage is apricot liqueur and another made from local herbs, samples of which can be purchased at the gift shop. Ours was intended for home consumption but it never reached home … The local speciality of apricot dumplings is the food match.

Melk Abbey

This Abbey is one of the key reasons we took a Wachau cruise; a one hour train ride from Vienna’s Westbanhof, the Abbey and the wonderful little village at its feet is a great starting point, but you need to be fit to reach the Abbey from the village, up the path with the seemingly endless steps. From the terrace on the main floor, we could see the bends of the Danube where we would soon be cruising, draught lager in hand.

Other than its fabulous library, Melk Abbey contains a museum, a spectacular marble hall, a magnificent baroque church of course – and the stand-alone Abbey Restaurant in its own gardens, where on fine summer days guests can sit under large umbrellas – or inside the comfortable dining room with its sinful menu. Say, roast neck of pork with elderberry gravy, potato dumpling and elderberry-red cabbage strudel (€12.70), or pork loin strips in cider and cream sauce with root vegetables and potato dumpling (€11.40), and finish with the signature ‘Koloman’ Abbey cake of walnuts with elderberry jam and a layer of chocolate (€4.10). The cake is in honour of the Abbey’s patron Saint Koloman, who was hanged on en elderberry tree.

Apart from a couple of nudist beaches along the way (on the northern bank, where nudists happily waved to us), the primary attraction of these cruises is the UNESCO World Heritage listed landscape punctuated by historic castles (such as the striking Schönbühel Castle atop a cliff), secluded picture postcard villages, old churches, new vineyards and the seductive Danube itself, with speeding pleasure craft darting past our more stately river cruiser, the MS Prinz Eugen.

Schönbühel Castle

From Krems we took the train back to Vienna (this goes to Franz Josefs Banhof), but the Krems railway station is a long walk from the jetty, which we had not factored in. Consequently we had to run the last 150 metres to catch the 4.01pm train. We could have caught a later train but wanted to be back in Vienna for our evening program.

We took the 13:50 cruise from Melk, stopping at Spitz and Dürnstein on the way to Krems, arriving at 15:30. These short stops are simply to pick up and drop off passengers, but both villages look inviting. Maybe a road trip next time …

Refreshments onboard

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The DDSG Blue Danube cruise company offers several cruises daily both downstream (from Melk to Krems, 2hrs 40mins) and upstream in reverse (3hrs), Eu23.70 one way or Eu28 for a round trip.

Other Danube cruise options include day trips from Vienna centre to Dürnstein (Sundays).

Melk Abbey
March 29 to November 2: 9.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. (with or without guide)
November 3, 2014 to end of March 2015 (only with guide, 11am & 2pm)

Adults €10 / €12 with guide
Family €20 / €24 with guide (parents & children under 16)
Train / cruise / Melk Abbey package:
Austrian Rail (ÖBB) offers a package including return train fare from/to Vienna, cruise and Abbey admission, for €49 per adult

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