AT THE END (I hope) of what has been a brutal winter, it is pleasant to indulge in planning your summer vacation.
If your thoughts are turning to Austria, then to the end of this month you could whet your appetite further here at home in London by visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the Austrian Biedermeier Exhibition. A short but memorable period of 19th century Austria has been assembled at the V & A.
If your tastes are less sophisticated but your palate is keen on wine, then you may have a foretaste of what could be in store for you if you visit Austria. Recently two pleasant Austrian white wines have found their way on to the shelves of a number of wine merchants — Klosterneuburger and Gumpoldskirchner, The Austrian vineyards are not as widely known as those of Burgundy or Bordeaux, or the Rhineland, but many vineyards are producing not only excellent wines but offer great venues for holidays.
The short stretch of the Danube near Vienna, known as the Wachau, not only boasts magnificent scenery and castles—including Durnstein where Richard the Lion Heart was found by Blondell—but is also the home of some of the finest European Baroque monasteries such a Melk and Stift Gottweig.
The sides of the mountains flanking the Danube are terraced with vineyards first planted by the Romans. The Austrian province of Burgenland, which lies south-east of Vienna and borders on Hungary, is one of the parts least known by tourists; yet it is the garden of Austria, for its fertile soil not only nurtures some excellent wines but most of the agricultural products of the country.
Burgenland lacks the majestic mountains of other Austrian provinces, but just because it is different, it deserves closer inspection. The Church in Austria, by way of some of the religious orders, has had a special interest in many of the good vineyards, and for all I know still has.
Just outside Vienna, overlooking the city, are the Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg. Nestling on the city side at the foot of these two small mountains are Grinzing and Nussdorf, where such musicians as Beethoven and Schubert lived and where the local vineyards still invite you to their hostelries to enjoy their recent vintages.
On the other side of the two mountains, away from the city, is the Augustinian monastery Klosterneuburg, whence comes the very good and reasonably priced white wine which I mentioned earlier and which is now readily obtainable in London.
I don't know whether the good friars of the Augustinian Order are responsible for marketing the wine, but they certainly operated an excellent restaurant when I was last there.
The abbey was founded by the Margave Leopold III early in the 12th century; he himself was later canonised and is now the patron saint of Lower Austria. At the beginning of the 17th century the interior, which was Romanesque in style, was adapted to Baroque. Writers and film producers cannot resist speculating whether the Hapsburg Crown Prince Rudolf was assassinated or committed suicide. His body was found at the hunting lodge at Mayerling, just to the south-west of Vienna.
Visitors are usually disappointed because there is little to be seen at Mayerling and the hunting lodge is in fact a large country house which is now a convent.
However, the journey through the Vienna woods to Mayerling more than makes up for any disappointment, especially if you go on afterwards, just a few kilometers away, to Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross), where the Cistercian monks make a very palatable liqueur not unlike the better-known Chartreuse of their Carthusian confreres. It is also in two varieties—green and yellow.
Heiligenkreuz is a 12th century monastery and is one of the best preserved medieval monasteries in Austria. The Romanesque church was consecrated in 1187. You can suitably conclude a visit to Heiligenkreuz with an excellent lunch or dinner at the restaurant pro ided by the monks for
Very sensibly there is in Austria a close link between good food, wine, and the Church. In Vienna some of the best places to eat and drink are the "cellars" of various monasteries such as the Augustinian and Dominican kellers or the Schottenkeller, which though literally translated as the "Scottish Cellar" is part of the Irish Benedictine Foundation!