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Interesting Village and Pleasent Hotel Located Halfway Between Munich and Vienna

Abbey of Kremsmünster

Abbey of Kremsmünster

We are always on the lookout for regions, cities, hotels and restaurants where our dollars have optimum purchasing power. Places with lower prices are usually not on the beaten tourist track; often because they simply aren't appealing to tourists or because they lack tourism infrastructure; but once in a while they just haven't been discovered.

A village that falls in that category is the thriving little town of Kremsmünster, on Austria's Romantikstrasse. (Like most "romantic" and "wine" roads, this one was probably dreamed up by marketing people. Nonetheless, as it avoids the Autobahn between Salzburg and Vienna, it winds through some of Austria's prettiest countryside, visiting such towns as St. Wolfgang, Bad Ischl, Gmunden, Steyr, Grein, Melk, Dürnstein, Krems and Klostenburg.) Just six kilometers off the Autobahn, Kremsmünster is about a third of the way to Vienna from Salzburg—or about half way between Munich and Vienna—and offers some surprisingly worthwhile sights, by far the most impressive being a massive Benedictine abbey.

Not only is the town a logical overnight stop on the way to Vienna, it works as a base from which to explore the region. Auto daytrips are convenient to Steyr, Linz, Salzburg, Austria's Lake District, the wine country of the beautiful Wachau Valley, and charming Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Rail service is mostly via Linz, with Salzburg about two-hours away and Vienna around two hours 45 minutes. Linz is only 40 minutes, but Munich, at three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half hours distant, is not in the daytrip category—at least by rail.

While not endowed with the quaint charm of a Rothenburg or a Gruyère, Kremsmünster has the reality of a living, breathing small European town, which lends a certain charm all its own. The center has a number of interesting buildings, a small network of winding lanes, and the usual shops for a city its size. All, however, take a back seat to the Benedictine monastery, hovering over the town like a great citadel.

The Abbey of Kremsmünster, founded in 777, is not some preserved relic, but hums with the commerce and activity of wine-making, a renowned grammar school, a restaurant, shops, a Baroque library of some 140,000 volumes and an art collection whose masterpiece is the Tassilo Chalice, an extraordinary example of goldsmithing from the 8th century.

The Monastery's 18th-century Observatory, or Mathematical Tower, which serves as a natural history museum and research center, stands eight stories high and is said to Europe's first "skyscraper." The Abbey's most intriguing space is a courtyard with five stone ponds divided by arcades and wrought iron screens. Antlers from royal hunting lodges line outer walls and the focal point of each shallow pool is a piece water-spouting sculpture. During a visit in early December, the ponds were thick with fat, ugly carp, brought there a few weeks before Christmas to be held and fed a diet that will rid them of the clay taste they acquire when feeding in the wild. In the traditional Austrian Christmas meal carp is served breaded and fried and in soup.

Locals like to refer to Kremsegg Castle as being "half way between Mozart and Strauss," in other words between the music cities of Salzburg and Vienna. Its chief attraction is Musica Kremsmünster, a museum noted for its enormous collection of brass musical instruments, including a trumpet used by Louis Armstrong. Other rooms are devoted to Franz Schubert, who often visited the Monastery. Displayed are autographed scores plus other memorabilia. The master's work can be heard in the Schubert Listing Room.

An excursion not to be missed in the weeks prior to Christmas is to the nearby pilgrimage hamlet of Christkindl where you'll find a lovely little church and a busy post office. It is here that Austrian children send their Christmas letters and all are answered by the Christkindl post office. You may wish to mail a card from here as the stamps and postmark are somewhat prized. There is also a wonderfully intricate, 'Rube Goldberg'-style, mechanical Nativity scene. Completed just before the war, it is the work of a single local hobbyist who took some 40 years to build it—in his living room.