Austria Day 6: Hallstatt, Obertraun, and Gosau See

As I said, we unfortunately only had one full day in the Wachau region, and this morning we got up to depart for Hallstatt and Obertraun. The drive was about 3 hours or so, but there were some periods of road construction so it took a little longer than anticipated. We stopped outside of Hallstatt at a café for some coffee and tea. They had this amazing looking fruit tart that was rolled up like a taco. We didn’t get one, but it surely looked delicious and had some more interesting fruits like blackberries and red currants in it.

We arrived at Haus Hepi, which isn’t in Hallstatt, but rather in the neighbouring town of Obertraun to the east of Lake Hallstatt. I originally thought that we would be disappointed by not being in the centre of Hallstatt, but it turned out that Obertraun was a much nicer alternative. It was outside of the hustle and bustle of the touristy area, but close enough that it was only a quick drive (just slightly too far to be a comfortable walk).

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Haus Hepi bed and breakfast
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Haus Hepi bed and breakfast

Our room was on the second floor (which was the top floor of the house), and had a great country cottage feel about it. The room was slightly small, but provided more than enough space for the two of us to move around comfortably (even with our luggage). There was even a desk, a wardrobe, and a television in the room, which all added to the comfort.

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Haus Hepi - guest room on top floor
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Haus Hepi – guest room on top floor

Another reason that I thought we might be disappointed with staying in Obertraun instead of in the centre of Hallstatt was that we wouldn’t have a direct view of the lake. Again, though, I was pleasantly surprised and realised that I don’t mind at all that it’s not on the lake. The view of the mountains to the south ended up being nicer than I could have possibly imagined!

Hallstatt / Obertraun - Haus Hepi - stunning view from our balcony
Hallstatt / Obertraun – Haus Hepi – stunning view from our balcony

Larry (the owner of the house) mentioned that “cash is king” here, so we stopped by the local bank to get some more Euros from the ATM. We also went to the little supermarket to get a few things like beverages and snacks for the room. We then headed out to Lake Gosausee just to take some photos and such before nightfall. I spent some time setting up my camera for HDR photo sets, and hopefully one day I’ll have the time to process them.

Instead of eating at the restaurant right there on Lake Gosausee (which we were told had great views, but mediocre food), we drove over to Rathlucken Hütte. The road to the restaurant was incredibly steep and winding. Several times along the way I thought that we were going to be hit by oncoming cars. The food there was essentially pub food, but it was all nicely prepared. Our waiter, who I would imagine was the owner, was kind enough to translate every single dish for us. Seeing as the menu was only available in German, we were certainly grateful for his generosity! Deb had the wiener schnitzel with roasted potatoes, and I had essentially the same thing but instead of meat, mine was pumpkin. It came with a tartar sauce that ended up being the first tartar that I’ve ever enjoyed. Overall, a nice meal that was something different than either of us is used to (we very seldom eat at pub-style restaurants when home).

Back in our lovely cottage room at Haus Hepi, we enjoyed some wines for the evening and watched this pop music channel on the TV (it was one of the only channels in English). Deb had her 2017 Schloss Gobelsburg Riesling Ried Heiligenstein (single vineyard), which she said has been her favourite of the trip thus far. I had my 2015 Schloss Gobelsburg Pinot Noir, and it had lovely fruit notes with a great minimalistic mouthfeel. I can’t wait to try the 2013 vintage of the same wine tomorrow night! One of my main reasons for wanting to visit Schloss Gobelsburg and try their Pinot Noir was a comment from Karen MacNeil in her venerable tome The Wine Bible (2015) where she claimed:

“before I first tasted this wine, I would have said that Austrian and German pinot noir had a long way to go before they’d be put in the same company with Burgundy. This wine opened my eyes. It’s as delicate, layered, precise, and filigreed as pinot noir can be, with long ribbons of spiciness and earthiness and a core of rich raspberry/cranberry fruit. The silky/creamy texture is sublime (for Burgundy lovers, it will seem like a page out of the Chambolle-Musigny playbook).” (p. 608)

MacNeil, K. (2015). The Wine Bible (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Workman Publishing Co., Inc.

Austria Day 5: Durnstein and the stunning Domane Wachau

Today we got up for what is, sadly, our only full day in the Wachau valley. It was a relatively leisurely morning around the flat, but then we were off to the neighbouring town of Dürnstein for a tour of the town’s church (Stift Dürnstein). We parked the car in a public car park next to town and walked to the church. As we were going through town, we came across a team of people filming for an advertisement for a new bag. It happened to be a sling camera bag, and it was definitely a neat idea for those photographers who don’t want to carry a lot of lenses (AKA, not the obsessive-compulsive “must have everything with me” type like me). Anyway, we arrived in the courtyard of the church and were greeted by our tour guide. He took us through the whole church, explaining the immense amount of symbolism and the many theological references along the way. Some of the amazing themes were the numbers 3, 4, and 7 throughout (such as representations of the four seasons, the four elements, and the seven signs of revelation). As the church was renovated based on monies that a priest earned from selling wine and cereals, those themes were also manifested throughout.

Stift Dürnstein's inner courtyard
Stift Dürnstein’s inner courtyard

One other interesting element of the church was the innovative architectural components of the main altar. Our guide explained to us that the main piece in the centre of the altar was not only three-dimensional, but that it actually could be rotated within its setting. I found that to be a truly remarkable accomplishment given the age of the church and materials used in the altar.

Stift Dürnstein - Our guide at the altar with a 3D sphere
Stift Dürnstein – Our guide at the altar with a 3D sphere

The terrace of the church was extremely beautiful and overlooked the Danube. We spent some time out there just soaking up some of the warm sunlight, but then headed upstairs to the organ room. It was much smaller than most church organs, but very lovely to see up close partly due to the age of it. The cabinet of the organ was quite rustic and that rusticity further contributed to its sense of time and place (and thus, its beauty). Before we finished our tour, our guide mentioned that he had to go take care of his final harvest today. We chatted about his vineyards and winemaking, and he even invited us to come with him to pick! Unfortunately we didn’t have time in our schedule, but it would have been an absolutely outstanding experience, I’m sure! The gesture alone was enough.

Stift Dürnstein's balcony overlooking the Danube
Stift Dürnstein’s balcony overlooking the Danube

After our tour, we just looked around the town, and stopped in for a coffee and tea at Bäckerei Schmidl. There were some fantastic looking breads and pastries there, so I asked how late they were open. Since they were open until 18:00, I thought that we might go back after our next activity to pick up some snacks for the evening. Further down the main road, we found one of those typical souvenir shops, but this one had something funny that I wanted to purchase. It was a sign that had a silhouette of a kangaroo on it, and it said “No kangaroos in Austria”. I thought it was too funny and clever to leave there without it. 🙂

Dürnstein - Bäckerei Schmidl café
Dürnstein – Bäckerei Schmidl café

We then made our way to Domäne Wachau for our tour, and our guide introduced herself as Lena. She is primarily in charge of exports but her expertise in so many facets of the vineyards and winery made her an impeccable tour guide! She showed us some of the newer experiments of the winery (such as the orange wines, and using granite and marble for fermentation / holding tanks). Her focus on the history of the estate was greatly appreciated given the many centuries of production there.

Domäne Wachau - Barrel from 791
Domäne Wachau – Barrel from 791!

She even took notice to the wines that I talked about the most, and brought those in as additional samples for our tasting. As she was originally from Germany, we talked about how great German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) can be. I knew that I loved Domäne Wachau’s white wine offerings (especially the single-vineyard Kellerberg Riesling), but I found out that their Pinot Noir was absolutely magnificent! It was ethereal and elegant like some of the village-level wines from Chambolle-Musigny yet still had its own distinct (slightly underripe and tangy) character that gave it a true sense of place. We bought several bottles for the remainder of our trip (including some back-vintage 1995 Kellerberg Rieslings as special bottles), and I even purchased two bottles of Pinot Noir to take home with me (since it isn’t available in the United States). Hey, Lena is responsible for exports though, so maybe I can convince her to start distributing it to the US. 🙂 What an absolutely amazing winery experience; possibly one of the best I’ve had in years!

Domäne Wachau - Zach & Lena enjoying the phenomenal Pinot Noir
Domäne Wachau – Zach & Lena enjoying the phenomenal Pinot Noir

At the very end of our tour, Lena told us that the Wachau valley and surrounding areas are known for four things: 1) Wine; 2) Apricots; 3) Granite; 4) Marble. So, it makes sense that they are experimenting with granite and marble as vessels for fermentation and ageing. After our tour, we just walked the area’s vineyards and through neighbouring town of Dürnstein taking photos. Deb was kind enough and patient enough to let me just take my time getting some nice shots.

Domäne Wachau - Beautiful eastern vineyards
Domäne Wachau – Beautiful eastern vineyards

Before leaving town, we stopped back into the bakery for some snacks. We ended up with three rolls and these beautifully simple sugar cookies. We then left for dinner at Zum Kaiser von Österrich. The restaurant was very small (only about 6 or so tables), but came very highly rated. Boy was it ever worthy of those high praises! The owners are a husband and wife team, with him in the kitchen and her serving as the hostess and waitress.

The Wachau - Kaiser von Österreich restaurant - Bread starter
The Wachau – Kaiser von Österreich restaurant – Bread starter

Our meal started with a tray of complimentary breads, meats, and some extremely fresh garden vegetables. One of the breads had olives baked into it, and they provided both some saltiness but also some wonderful fruity aromas and tastes as well. We then received a small plate of beetroot, horseradish, and a grilled fish bite as compliments of the chef. Two dishes that we didn’t anticipate and they were an excellent start to the meal. Then came our appetiser of sautéed Porcini mushrooms and roasted potatoes. As with the other dishes that we had, they were perfectly prepared. Nothing, however, could brace me for the absolutely astonishing mains that we had. We each ordered the roasted chicken, which came on a bed of noodles, Porcini mushrooms and broccoli (all local and fresh)! Though we had nice desserts (a cheese tart with walnut ice cream and elderberry sauce as well as a pear omelette with rum foam), I can barely remember them because I was still blown away by the mains. I can’t commend the food highly enough because it may well be one of the best meals that I’ve ever had!

The Wachau - Kaiser von Österreich restaurant - chicken with noodles, mushrooms, and broccoli
The Wachau – Kaiser von Österreich restaurant – chicken with noodles, mushrooms, and broccoli

After such a satisfying meal, would it even be possible to have wines that could compare? Well, back in our room we indulged in two wines from Schloss Gobelsburg: the current vintages of their Merlot and Renner Grüner Veltliner. Both were very nice… but yes, I’m still thinking about that amazing dining experience! 🙂

Austria Day 4: The Wachau and the beauty of Schloss Gobelsburg

Though it seems like we just arrived in Vienna, it’s already time for us to move on to our next destination. After checking out of our flat, though, we made our way south to see one last Viennese landmark before departing the city—the Central Cemetery. Why oh why would we want to walk around a cemetery when on holiday? Well besides the tranquil nature of these eternal resting grounds, Vienna’s Central Cemetery has the graves of many Classical-area composers, including Beethoven and one of my personal favourites: Johann Strauss.

Vienna - Central Cemetery - Beethoven's grave
Vienna – Central Cemetery – Beethoven’s grave
Vienna - Central Cemetery - Johann Strauss's grave
Vienna – Central Cemetery – Johann Strauss’s grave

After looking at the famous graves and strolling around the beautiful grounds, we left Vienna for our next stop in The Wachau. We arrived at Winzerhof Petz (which is located in between the towns of Krems and Dürnstein), checked in, quickly dropped off our luggage, and immediately left for our winery tour at Schloss Gobelsburg.

Kamptal DAC - Schloss Gobelsburg - Entrance
Kamptal DAC – Schloss Gobelsburg – Entrance

To call it a tour is a bit disingenuous; it was a wine experience! Upon our arrival, we were greeted by an older gentleman wearing a very nice sport coat. He introduced himself as Peter and asked for our names. He then took us through the standard rooms (sorting / pressing, fermentation, ageing cellars, et cetera). What made it an experience, though, was Peter’s outstanding teachings! He taught us about the soil types in the area (even bringing out examples of the stones) , events throughout history that shaped the wine culture of the land, and so many relevant stories from throughout his life.

Kamptal DAC - Schloss Gobelsburg - Our amazing guide, Peter
Kamptal DAC – Schloss Gobelsburg – Our amazing guide, Peter

During our tasting (which was essentially every wine they make), we heard about factors influencing the subtle distinctions in terroir of each wine, and more about the history of the truly remarkable estate. For instance, one fact that I didn’t know is that there is a difference in the barrels used in Bordeaux (called barriques and having a capacity of 225L) and those used in Burgundy (called pièces and having a capacity of 228L). Though the capacities differ slightly, the subtly different shape is the fascinating part! The peace has a “hump” in the middle stave section between the hoops. That’s just one example of the many things that Peter taught me during our extremely short 3 hours together. It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget! At the very end of this wonderfully educational winery visit, I realised that Peter is the father of Eva Moosbrugger (the proprietor of the estate with her husband, Michael).

Kamptal DAC - Schloss Gobelsburg - Peter & Deb at our wine tasting
Kamptal DAC – Schloss Gobelsburg – Peter & Deb at our wine tasting

After Schloss Gobelsburg, we drove to a small town closer to Dürnstein called Unterloiben for our dinner reservations at Wachauerstube Loiben. It was set up in a traditional-style house, and felt very much like being in someone’s home for a meal. We started with an off-the-menu special of grilled mushrooms with a nice salad of greens. For our mains, I had remembered seeing photos of some of the various dishes offered there, and thought that the Paprika Huhn (AKA “Chicken Paprikash”) looked amazing. Deb and I both ordered it, and boy was it ever good! The thing that was the best about all the food was that it tasted so fresh and clean—a testament to the “farm to table” style of dining. We finished with a dessert of an apple tart which came with this beautiful mint pesto, cream, and freshly made vanilla ice cream. Overall a great meal!

The Wachau - Wachauerstube Loiben's Paprika Huhn
The Wachau – Wachauerstube Loiben’s Paprika Huhn

After dinner, we came back to the room and indulged in the lovely wines that we had purchased the previous day from Weingut Heinrich. I enjoyed my Pinot Noir, and Deb’s Welschriesling was quite nice as well (once you got past the heavily reductive nose). 🙂