BEST PLACES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Scouting Report: Dürnstein, Austria

Eleven people lucky enough to travel for a living reveal their favorite recent discoveries—places they happened upon and still can't stop thinking about. Here are their stories.

The charming Austrian town of Dürnstein, skirted by the Danube River and backed by steep mountains complete with a crumbling castle fortress (Gregor Semrad/courtesy Durnstein Hotel)

THE TRAVELER Michael Guerriero, author of the guidebook Party Across America: 101 of the Greatest Festivals, Sporting Events, and Celebrations in the U.S. (partyacrossamericabook.com), which is currently being turned into a pilot for the Food Network.

THE PLACE In less than a year, Guerriero crossed the country seven times over to research Party Across America. His inspiration? The summer road trips he took with buddies when he was a 20-something ski bum. "Someone would say, 'Hey, I heard St Patty's Day in Savannah is a blast,' and we'd plan a road trip around it," Guerriero explains. Party Across America has been so popular that he's about to start research on a second edition—and is considering a European version. ("But I don't know if my liver can take Party Across Europe," he confesses.)

Guerriero's most memorable discovery occurred far from any festival—and the U.S.—during a vacation with his wife, Jenn, in Austria. A friend had urged them to venture beyond Vienna into the countryside, so they booked a night in the village of Melk, famous for its 18th-century abbey. When they arrived at Hotel Restaurant Zur Post, they borrowed a couple of bikes from the hotel. "We didn't know what we'd see," says Guerriero. The two found themselves cycling alongside the Danube River on a paved path connecting a series of tiny medieval villages. "Every three miles or so, we'd enter a village that looked like it had barely changed since the 1500s—each one had more old-world charm than the next."

Dürnstein trumped them all. Backed by striking mountains, the town's winding cobblestoned streets and homes with steep, red-tiled roofs and window flower boxes look plucked out of a fairy tale. Sections of the fortified walls remain intact, and the baroque church's blue-and-white clock tower is inverted in time (when it's 3 p.m., the clock reads 9).

A crumbling castle fortress rewards those who make the 30-minute hike up to it from Dürnstein with marvelous views of the Wachau valley. Its terraced vineyards yield crisp, dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. In early April, the landscape erupts in pale-pink blossoms, and prized apricot fruits turn up in strudels, pork dishes, and Marillenknödeltraditional apricot dumplings rolled in butter-toasted bread crumbs.

After lunch at a little outdoor café, Guerriero and his wife loaded up on chocolate, cheese, and croissants at the lavish Hotel Schloss Dürnstein. Then, reluctantly, they admitted it was time to turn around if they were going to make it back to Melk before nightfall. "We could have spent weeks cycling along the Danube and staying at B&Bs in different villages," says Guerriero. "We just kept wanting to find out what the next one looked like."

THE DETAILS Train trips from Vienna to Melk range from 60 to 90 minutes, raileurope.com, from $26; Hotel Restaurant Zur Post, Linzer Strasse 1, 011-43/2752-52-345, post-melk.at, from $45 per person; Hotel Schloss Dürnstein, 011-43/2711-212, schloss.at, open Apr. 1–Nov. 3.

Your turn! Have you discovered a place like these while traveling? Share your stories by posting a comment at the bottom of page 1: Binn, Switzerland.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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