NOTE: These travel pictures are from travels prior to us becoming nomadic in 2018. Like most of the world, we are staying put right now until the threat from COVID19 is either over or preventable via a vaccine.
We had two reasons to visit Dürnstein: seeing the castle in which Richard Lionheart had been imprisoned and held for ransom, and making a provisioning stop for our Viking river boat. Dürnstein is famous for its Grüner Veltliner grapes and its apricots, so … while we toured the town and castle, our sommelier debarked to collect cases of Grüner Veltliner wine, and our pastry chef chose a bushel of apricots which were transformed into flaky delicious warm strudel served with fresh whipped cream as one of the evening’s dessert choices. (Aside: apricot gelato was featured in the cafés in Dürnstein, and yes, I definitely did have some.)
The blue Baroque tower of Dürnstein Abbey greets visitors who arrive by river.
The town has a very mediaeval feel to it, situated as it is on a steep slope, with old stone archways, and narrow cobbled roads.
Dürnstein (dry stone) Castle is now only ruins, having been destroyed in the 1600’s, but it is famous as the place in which Leopold V, the Duke of Austria, held King Richard I of England captive in 1192 AD, after Richard disrespected the Austrian flag during the Third Crusade. The town’s population is less than 1000, but the castle’s legend draws in thousands of tourists each year. Although the facts of King Richard’s ransom are actually quite different, the romantic legend around his release has it that Richard’s troubadour Blondel travelled through the Holy Roman Empire from castle to castle singing Lionheart’s favourite song in order to find him. Finally, when Blondel sang his song in Dürnstein, Richard answered by singing the second verse from his hilltop prison, leading to his being freed. Naturally, the town has a Lionheart Hotel (1630 AD) and a Blondel beer garden.
Apparently now there is an interpretive pathway with stories and painted characters on the way up to the castle, but in 2013 it was simply a climb up the natural rock stairs to a landing about 3/4 of the way up that had a panoramic view of the town and river, and then on to the castle itself. I’m embarrassed to say that we only made it to the landing within our allotted stopover time; it was a hot 30C day, and I prioritized cool creamy gelato and a slow pace over reaching the ruins. No regrets – the apricot gelato was worth it.