Princess in the tower: at Schloss Durnstein
Once upon a time in a land of enchanting forests, sweeping hillsides and powerful rivers there was a castle. It lay in ruins for its time had come and gone. But below that castle was a second castle. Built on a rock, it lay waiting for many years for someone to really treasure it. It was then refurbished, furnished with rich materials and lovingly brought back to life, room by room. It was a family place, yet it welcomed people from near and far. Princes and princesses entered its gates, (King Juan Carlos of Bourbon-Parma, Prince Adam of Liechtenstein and the English Prince Edward to name just a few) and eminent visitors from many lands became part of its history.
A tower for the night
This castle is the five star Hotel Schloss Durnstein. And Tor (Tower) Three is ours for the night. In true Disney fashion we are welcomed to the castle by swallows flitting around our heads. Their nest is in the wall in reception. “There are new babies living there,” explains receptionist Andrea Poelz, who invites us to make ourselves at home and hands over a heavy golden key.
A comfortable room for the night is just what the doctor ordered. That’s the doctor whose husband tried to read a map while cycling, and crashed into Matthew, knocking him into a fence. Matthew took it all in good stead. Unlike Hannah who shortly afterwards found a slug in her pannier who had hitched a lift from the campsite the night before.
Durnstein is on a classic part of the Danube route from Passau to Vienna, a busy and popular stretch of the route for cyclists; it also marks the two week point in our journey. It’s a tourist hub for cruise ship passengers too; who come from nearby Vienna to see the place where the English King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned. It is exceptionally pretty too, built on narrow land between steep rocks and the Danube, with atmospheric alleyways, cute cobbled streets and ancient buildings. The town is part of the glorious Wachau Valley, a World Cultural Heritage site, packed with neat rows of vineyards and trees bursting with apricots.
I didn’t click that Schloss really does mean castle
A few days ago we fell behind in our schedule, mostly due to the fact that we forgot to look at the schedule. For a while we weren’t sure we could catch up on the time and we considered letting this hotel room go rather than slogging away for days. When I booked it, I was aware it was called Schloss Durnstein and that Schloss meant castle. But I figured perhaps it was just the hotel near the castle, and hadn’t actually clocked that it was the castle. Now, as we are shown to the tower, looking directly over the Danube, I become aware of what a jewel it is.
Tor Three is a deluxe family suite; a series of interconnected rooms. There’s even a little room just for our wardrobes, with its own view of the river. Familie Thiery, the owners of Schloss Durnstein, lived in the tower themselves for a while as they restored the former castle and made it into the five star Relais and Chateaux hotel it is today. And despite its’ grand furniture and rich ornaments, the suite still has a homely feel. There is a shelf of toys for the children; a bowl of fruit on the table, and the gilded toilet roll holder and loo brush suggest a sense of humour.
Grandeur and homeliness
This mix of grandeur and homeliness exists throughout the Schloss, ensuring its personality shines through. This is no bland, faceless five star hotel, but a quirky and characterful family run castle. The downstairs rooms remind me of an English stately home. The period seating in royal blue and red casts long shadows on the high ceilings. Lights are concealed behind tiny wrought iron doors, or high on candelabra stretching to the coving. There are fresh roses in elaborate vases. And almost every wall on every staircase has a different picture of the Wachau Valley or Durnstein over the years. There are 47 bedrooms in the hotel and it’s hard to imagine any of them looking the same.
The Schloss has been passed down through the generations; and each generation has made its mark. Raimund Thiery bought it in 1937. Rosemary and Hans Thiery converted it into a hotel and restored it over thirty years. It is now run by their children, but their parents are still on hand to greet guests and keep an eye on the place.
An education in the dining room
Dinner is an education for our boys. How to hold their silver cutlery, where to put their napkins, how not to spill their drinks, what to order on a menu loaded with Austrian cuisine. Hannah particularly likes the dinky cups of parsnip soup that the chef sends out along with the meal. But the real star of the show is the Danube, hustling and bustling by as we eat on the terrace. Rudi the pianist, who is always smiling, provides a more laid back accompaniment as the sun goes down.
Sweets upon our pillows
On our return the beds have been turned down, with Haribo sweets and chocolates attentively placed on the pillows, and soft toys arranged in a kind of mini zoo on the sheets. Delighted, the children go about consuming and rearranging them immediately. We then individually drift off to the sound of the Danube flowing outside and Rudi playing beneath us, sleeping peacefully in our castle, where Princes and Princesses have slept before us. I wonder if Prince Edward enjoyed the Haribos?