Episode 362 – Melk Abbey, Strudel & Trachten

It was grey and misty today in Melk, but nonetheless we enjoyed our tour of the Imperial guest wing and church of magnificent Melk Abbey (photos only allowed of the exterior). The new fact we learned today was that the magnificent “palace abbeys” along the Danube were products of the contra-reformation in the early to mid 1700’s; a conscious design choice of the staunchly Catholic Hapsburgs intended to demonstrate to the burgeoning Protestant population that Catholic was the only true (glorious, wealthy) religion.

The abbey is so large that it absolutely looms over the Danube.

Entering from the garden staircase affords a wonderful view of the symmetrical Baroque landscaping.

Top: an overview map showing the full extent of Melk Abbey. Second: twin bastions left over from the prior Romanesque style abbey which was rebuilt in the Baroque style. Third: entry gate to the first courtyard. Bottom: external wall gates.

The entry gate archway frescoed ceiling, and the Hapsburg double eagle insignia. Both these items are outdoors, so photographable.

Top: the first courtyard. Second & third: the second courtyard. Imperial apartments to the left, monk’s apartments central, and school to the right.

The abbey is still home to 24 Benedictine monks, many of whom spend time travelling to other dioceses, and a school for 900 male and female students aged 10 to 18.

Our last stop for photos: the hallway and staircase leading to the Imperial wing.

Inside, the guest wing built to host the Hapsburgs is now a museum of history, art, and ecclesiastical treasures, with ceilings adorned by frescoes and trompe l’oeil effects. The “marble” imperial dining room is especially impressive when you realize that most of the marble is really scagliola, an Italian technique for colouring and veining stucco to look like polished stone.

We had the opportunity to tour one of the 14 library rooms, which in total hold more than 100,000 Baroque and older leather-bound gilt-edged books. The shelves are arranged with general knowledge on the lower shelves, science on the second level, and religious texts at the top, demonstrating the hierarchy of importance. (In secular libraries of the time, science was highest.)

Exterior of the Benedictine church.

The gorgeous Baroque church is unique in part for its colours; earth tones in the frescoes instead of blues. There is an incredible amount of gold leaf throughout, which must be especially beautifully glimmering in candlelight during special services. I’d love someday to be in Melk to see that, and listen to a choir perform in the church’s famous acoustics.

It was still drizzling when we left the abbey, but we chose nonetheless to walk into town and enjoy cake and coffee at Café Corrado. Their delicately crumbed apricot cake, and creamy tender topfstrudel (cheese strudel made with a sweet fresh cheese similar to fresh ricotta) were absolutely delicious.

Scenes from downtown Melk, including a perspective of the way in which the abbey dominates the town.

I always say I’m not going to shop, but…. I’ve long yearned to buy an authentic dirndl. They can be very expensive, but a “trachten” (traditional regional costume) store in Melk was changing over to become an Italian clothing boutique, and clearing their traditional costumes. Ted did nothing to discourage me, so…

Top: trying it on in the store pre-jewelry (which is also traditional design).
I walked back to the ship wearing the ensemble, along with my running shoes and Viking jacket – NOT a look I’ll be repeating! Bottom: Ted’s version of what I am meant to do while wearing a dirndl.

Our afternoon on the ship was spent sailing the gorgeous Wachau Valley, a wine-growing region for 2 of my favourite wines: Grüner Veltliner (white) and Blauer Zweigelt (light red).

Castles, churches, vineyards. Typical Wachau Valley landscape.

As we sailed, the pastry chef demonstrated (and offered samples of) the Austrian version of apple strudel, and our friend Karin made one too!

Roll, stretch, brush with butter, fill, roll, and brush with more butter!

Although our second stop of the day was in Krems, where a couple of optional wine-related excursions were offered, it was cold and rainy, so Ted and I decided to stay on board and enjoy Ilya’s piano playing and a terrific Austrian-themed dinner of Winzersalat (green salad with goat cheese and walnuts), Krustenbraten (crispy roast pork with beer sauce) and Linzer torte.

At 9 p.m., with all those who’d been on excursions back on the ship, we were treated to a waltz demonstration and class by two professional Viennese dancers. They performed a stately minuet and a spirited Austrian ländler and showed us how those 2 dances morphed into the Viennese waltz, before teaching basic waltz steps to interested passengers.

It was a lovely end to our day, and a perfect precursor to our next two days in Vienna.


  1. Rose, I’m pretty sure Ted did no balking at you getting your dirndl because he knew you looked darn too’n cute in it (in addition to being pretty proud of walking side by side with his bride — ru nning shoes and all)! It really looks like it was made for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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