Although Wachau Valley on the banks of the Danube River is a mere 70 kilometres from Vienna, Krems, one of the small cities given rise by the valley, is a place relatively untouched by the new world, enchanting with its ancient charm, the medieval and Renaissance architecture. While there are, of course, signs of well-trodden tourist routes in Krems, it is by no means a major tour bus destination.
Both visitors and Austrians love Wachau Valley as the perfect location for recreation, featuring an excellent infrastructure of bikeways, easily available rental bikes and, to top it all, a fabulous 'white wine bicycle tour' through vineyards and small old town quarters.
Measuring 40 kilometres in length, the prehistorically populated Wachau Valley stretches from the town of Melk to Krems in the east. While salt trade has significantly contributed to the affluence of the Wachau, the valley has long since been famous as an influential wine-making region scattered with scenically attractive vineyard terraces.
At 400, Krems still emanates sophistication from each fold of its traditional costume, proudly displaying its age on the façade of each well-preserved building. The same goes for the people of Krems who, with their impeccable dressing style and poise, are the embodiment of a genuine Viennese elegance, whatever their age.
In the tangle of houses and churches, each building is populated, on every step there is a bakery, little pub or a guest house. Despite the moderate size of the city, art galleries with attractive shop windows and active social life - gatherings, creative workshops and wine tastings on Friday or Saturday nights - are a frequent sight in Krems.
The Grasl & Solomon restaurant (3 Franz-Zeller-Platz) at the Museum of Art is one of the few examples of contemporary architecture in Krems. The restaurant is housed in a glass pavilion that proudly exposes the vivid colours of the decor and lighting effects. The restaurant is co-owned by a local winemaker and the delicious food is always accompanied by a perfectly matched wine.
Another restaurant deserving a special mention is the excellent Mörwald Kloster Und (6 Undstrasse) praised by Relais & Châteaux in its lists of the world's best gourmet restaurants and hotels housed in historically significant buildings. A point of intersection between the sacred and the secular worlds, Mörwald Kloster Und inhabits the halls of an ancient monastery with an idyllic courtyard. The restaurant boasts superb service and an excellent menu featuring both a range of gourmet starters and more substantial main courses.
Gästehaus Einzinger (82 Steiner Landstraße, rates from EUR 38) is a guest house dating back to 1556 when it served as a trade building with impressive two-leaved gate and ground-floor warehouses. The doors in the top-floor arcade used to lead to a string of little shops; today they open to guest-house rooms (named 'Drugstore', 'Sewing Shop' etc. as a tribute to the past); the building also features apartments. The place is brimming with life even when there are no guests staying at the guesthouse: the owner's family, complete with a cat and a loud host of canaries.
Long ago, the affluent people of Krems, aware of the significance of good education, laid the foundation of the city's network of good schools and universities. Today Krems, home to the Danube University and a number of other educational institutions of various levels, is an important hub of Austrian education. Naturally, schools play an important role in the social life of the city, transforming Krems into a genuine student city.
The actual city of Krems covers a tiny area of land; outside the outskirts of the town buildings give way to vast terraced vineyards. It is said that, providing the classroom or auditorium overlooks the hillside, the more daydream-prone among the students tend to spend at least part of the lecture looking out of the windows to the vineyards.
Krems is also a wonderful destination for the keen museum-goer; it is home to Wine Museum - Weinstadtmuseum (14 Körnermarkt) housed in a 13th-century Dominican monastery, Motoring Museum exhibiting vintage two-wheel vehicles dating from the early 1900s (1 Ziegelofengasse), as well as the Caricature Museum - Karikaturmuseum Krems ( 3a Steiner Landstraße) - featuring a permanent exhibition dedicated to the famous Austrian satirist Manfred Deix, as well as temporary themed exhibitions, for instance, Playboy Cartoons, the recent retrospective of the Austrian illustrator and caricaturist Erich Sokol. The Caricature Museum offers an insight into the distinctive Austrian sense of humour largely focusing on potato-noses and similar stuff.
As befits a truly contemporary city, Krems boasts its own 'art mile' or Kunstmeile (www.kunstmeile-krems.at), stretching in a promenade along the river bank; Kunstmeile is lined with gourmet restaurants, concert halls, galleries, art spaces and other venues which are an integral part of the world of culture.
Like everywhere else, the new wine season in the Wachau opens in late September with tastings of the freshly fermented Sturm, both red and white. From the week before Michaelmas until December, goose - either simply braised or roasted goose or cooked in a more complex fashion - dominates the menus of most Krems eateries. By this time, proper young wine (Jungwein), similar to the French Beaujolais, has already become available. The excellent Grüner Weltliner comes highly recommended.
During the Krems Christmas Fair (WeihnachtsMarkt) the most popular treats include roasted chestnuts, crêpes baked and served by street vendors, the traditional Krems apricot punch made from the local apricot liqueur (for instance, Marillen Liqueur from the Bailoni distillery (www.bailoni.at), as well as red or white Glühwein (mulled wine); the latter is available only in the white wine region and is simply delicious.
Keywords: Wachau Valley, Krems, Austria