A couple of weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of making a road trip through Austria following what they call the Romantikstraße, Romantic Road or Romantic Trail in English. Interestingly, ours was a singles trip initially planned for three friends but sadly in the end we were only two because at the last minute Roberto had to cancel. I shared this great adventure only with Agatha and it was great (as expected). I suppose that in the eyes of any innkeeper or bartender we were a happy couple celebrating something.
Having said that, I didn’t notice any special romantic atmosphere beyond the surrounding beautiful landscapes, fantastic lakes and awesome mountains. Some might say that my sense of romanticism is broken, and it may be possible, but for me Nature is not romantic by itself. Luckily the shops, restaurants and villages in general didn’t focus on selling this concept to the visitors. In fact it was very unlikely to find a sign about the Romantikstraße off the main roads of the route. But enough talking about the commercial name of the route.
Let me summarize our experience, mainly anecdotes and tips. Prices, timetables and other General tourist information are easy to find and that info sometimes expires soon. I’ll love to read it in the future and it could be useful for anyone planning a similar trip. You can also read Agatha’s review in her blog (in Spanish). She prepared the route perfectly in advance and we mainly followed her plan, we only needed a couple of improvised detours.
- The area covered by the Romantikstraße is totally amazing. Everything is beautiful, looks shiny, deserves a zillion pictures or to sit for a while to admire the landscape. Especially the latter
- It’s not a cheap trip, but it’s not as expensive as Switzerland
- We spent 4,5 days there and it was enough but the trip deserves at least a couple days more
- Hallstatt is very beautiful, but it’s not (as they claim) the most beautiful village in the world. Covarrubias is (of course)
Preparing the Romantikstraße
If you are not as lucky as I was and you need to prepare the trip in advance, my first recommendation is to visit the official website of the Romantikstraße. There you’ll find a lot of info about the route and the main attractions. You can also request a brochure of the route in several languages for free, we did it and it was useful during the trip.
About the accommodation, depending on the dates of the trip it may be essential to book everything in advance. Some villages are very small and have few options to choose from. We booked in advance only the first night and a couple of nights we needed a considerable detour from the route, and it was low season.
After wasting more than 1 hour in the airport waiting the queue of the car rental company our first destination was the Schallaburg Castle, a >900 years old castle very well preserved located on top of a hill surrounded by forest. In addition to the privileged situation, the castle offers a very well arranged garden. This first stop reminded me of my bicycle trip through La Loire à Vélo.
The castle also hosts temporal exibitions and a very nice restaurant in the courtyard called Schloss. Apart from the regional specialities, the restaurant changes it’s menu and decoration to match the running exibitions. During our visit the main exhibition was about Islam and we could acclimitize to the country with a regional craft beer and some falafel.
The first funny anecdote of the trip arrived soon. From the parking to the castle we saw two different roads, both very steep. Ignoring a medium-sized sign in german we followed the nearest of them, because in OSMAnd I could see that it was more direct to the gardens and the castle. After visiting the garden, the courtyard of the castle, the restaurant and most of the open rooms (and some closed ones), we noticed that we had paid nothing to be there. We went back to the parking lot using the other way and confirmed that we’d skipped the ticket office. I leave to your imagination if we warned them of our mistake and paid the entrance.
Before leaving, we found our first cache of the trip, less than 5 meters from our car :-)
Our next visit was to Melk and his famous Melk Abbey. Umberto Eco named Adso de Melk as a tribute to this abbey, and we were curious about it and the fact that the Austrians talk about this place as one of the most important monasteries in Europe. The place did not dissapoint us at all.
We did a quick tour through the main elements of this baroque Abbey. The exhibition, the Marble Hall and the church are quite beautiful but what really impressed us was the Library, with about 100.000 volumes (1.888 manuscripts, 750 incunabula, a unique 13th century copy of The Song of the Nibelungs, …). In one room of the Library the fresco portrays an allegory of Scientia (Science), just like churches in Spain, right?
The Abbey was also wisely located, on top of a hill and clearly standing out from the town of Melk. The visit is worth it just for the views from the balcony connecting the Marble Hall and the Library with Melk, the Danube river and forests everywhere.
The visit to the Abbey includes a nice English landscape garden with an interesting baroque pavilion and a small park full of works of art and fabulous hidden corners.
Don’t forget to find this awesome cache in the surrounding area. One of my all time favorites.
Our last stop for the first day was Steyr, where (as they say) Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo meet each other in harmony. Steyr is in the confluence of the rivers Enns and Steyr, and therefore features more than 100 bridges. I confess that I expected to hear the comment The Venice of Austria but it didn’t happen. The old town is nice, all around the huge Stadtplatz (market square) that was, saldy, partially ocuppied with parked cars and even some tents for private events. Disgusting for the visitors and I’d bet that also for the locals.
Our main goal in this city was to follow the Nachtwächtern Tour, a walking tour through the old town guided by a historian disguised as medieval watchman. Unluckily the tour was only in german, and we struggled to get the guide to understand that we wanted to follow him without understanding anything at all. The guide took pity on us, letting us follow him paying only half the price. As expected we didn’t understand anything, but we crossed the same streets and alleys, we looked where they looked, we analyzed in detail whatever they commented in detail, and we laughed when they laughed (maybe even some joke about Spanish tourists, who knows).
The Night Watchman Tour is also the only way for a tourist to climb the 228 steps of the Stadtpfarrkirche Steyr tower, a roman catholic Church dedicated to Saint Aegidius (I toast him!) and Saint Koloman. Even at night, the views are wonderful.
We had a delicious dinner with local specialities at Mader and returned to our guest house (Gasthof Bauer). I recommend both places but especially the second one, the guest house ocuppied several low buildings and houses in a small island near the old town, the rooms were almost small apartments and the attention we received was exquisite.
This is the first part of my chronicle about our trip through the Romantikstraße, you can read the rest here:
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (2 of 5)
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (3 of 5)
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (4 of 5)
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (5 of 5)
Stay tuned for next episodes!