Dürnstein is one of the Highlight Stops on a Danube River Cruise:
One of the highlight stops on any Danube River Cruise is the charming village of Dürnstein. As our river boat approaches the village, our tour director announces on the intercom, with some urgency, that it is time to get onto the sundeck … and not to forget our cameras. Already, from a distance, we can see the Wedgewood-like Baroque church tower presenting itself, and as we draw closer there are lots of oohs and aahs – what a Kodak moment!
Situated in the heart of the magnificent Wachau Valley, Dürnstein sits on a river bend, below a rocky promontory, on the banks of the mighty Danube River. This village offers visitors breathtaking scenery, acres of terraced vineyards, traditional architecture and places of historic interest, but its star attraction is the Wedgewood-like Baroque church tower. It’s no wonder that every river cruise company uses the same picture of Dürnstein in their travel brochure.
Richard the Lion-Heart
Dürnstein was the seat of the powerful medieval Kuenring dynasty and is the perfect place to spin tales of long ago. The most common tale that is still told today is the imprisonment, in the 12th-century, of Richard the Lion-Heart, King of England. The famous King Richard is said to have ridiculed the Austrian flag on the Third Crusade and as a result insulted Duke Leopold Von Babenberg.
In 1191 Richard the Lion-Heart tried sneaking through the Wachau Valley disguised as a peasant. At Acre, in Palestine, he raised the English banner and appropriated all the booty. Despite his disguise he was recognised and captured. Richard the Lion Heart was incarcerated in Kuenringerburg from 1192 to 1193.
The Romantic Legend
As the legend goes, Blondel, King Richard’s faithful minstrel, was wondering along the river banks singing popular English ballads when at Dürnstein he heard the King joining in the chorus. Thus it was that Blondel was able to track down his King, whose freedom was secured upon the payment of a huge ransom. Yes, it cost England 23,000 kilos of silver to secure Richard the Lion-Heart’s release. We’ll leave it to the historians to sort out what the true account is but a romantic legend is always good for tourism.
Today, Dürnstein is famous for its vineyards. With its mild climate, grapes and apricots flourish here. Dürnstein’s Stiftskirche is one of the finest baroque towers in all of Austria. Within the interior, Faith, Hope and Charity watch over the carved pulpit. Kuenringer Castle ruins, in which Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner, sits on the hilltop overlooking Dürnstein.
Strolling through the village, we walk on many cobbled streets like Hauptstrasse. Colourful wrought-iron signs and floral displays decorate the streets which are lined with picturesque 16th-century houses. Blondel is still remembered in town by the Hotel Blondel.
In the past this fortified city on the Danube was occupied by ruthless robber barons, pious crusaders, merry abbots, proud ship captains and wealthy traders. They would be making their way through the picturesque streets, milling around the small square with their stocks, or entering the monastery wine cellars. Today Dürnstein village is much more serene, there are many little tourist shops, and the robber barons, crusaders and abbots have been replaced by less fearsome tourists and holidaymakers.