Travel Tips for Austrian Abbeys: Garden Glory Reloaded.

“Porta patet, sed magis cor! – The door is open, but even more so the heart.” Such is the welcome at the abbey of Geras in the Lower Austrian Waldviertel district; a saying that goes straight to my heart visiting the pretty abbey parks & gardens of Lower Austria. Doors and hearts are wide open indeed, “up here” in the north of Austria. Father Prior Michael Hüttl at the Altenburg Abbey carries his heart on his sleeve watching from his welcoming gestures, and I love thinking back of my meeting with dear Father Martin at the world-famous, Benedictine abbey Melk. Last year already, I was wooed by the charm of the Lower Austrian abbeys & monasteries. This year, I have returned. For many good reasons indeed.

 

All abbeys and parks exude a certain sense of peace, a welcoming friendliness and a real feeling of hospitality. Those who travel here benefit from fresh insights and new perspectives. Especially now, in the early summer, parks & gardens are a welcome addition to the magic of culture travel.

It is this magic, my dear readers, that I would like to share with you now. A kind of magic that speaks volumes and silences us at the same time. Magic that allows us to experience first hand, the beauty of contemporary art history as reflected by the historic park & garden estates of Lower Austria. Altogether, my friends and I have visited five different abbeys & parks, falling not only for the welcoming charm of the local Fathers, but even more so for their words of peace and tranquility. Here are five travel tips for making the most out of your upcoming visit of the abbey parks of Lower Austria.

 

Every abbey visit has the word “Welcome” written all over it. The Fathers of the abbeys Geras, Altenburg, Zwettl, Melk & Seitenstetten are all happy to offer us the most precious thing they have: Their time.

It is a true pleasure to listen to Kräuterpfarrer Father Benedikt Felsinger and his insightful words about the “plants by the wayside” shooting up in his herbal garden at Geras Abbey: “Don’t ask a plant what it can do for you. Listen to it first. We need plants as an intermediary between the light of the sun and the nutrients of the soil. They give us everything – if only we heed them.” Listening and smiling over his words, I pick and choose the same favourite plant as Father Benedikt Felsinger: The “Wegwarte”, growing mostly by the wayside as its German name suggests. It offers a welcome greeting to travellers and manages to survive even in the toughest conditions.

At Seitenstetten Abbey too, we are truly welcome, talking casually with Father Antonius, gardener Stefan as well as the former abbot Berthold Heigl during a walk in the park. We spend the night at the guest rooms of the abbey – a kind of parallel universe compared to our usual, everyday life.

Unterwegs mit Kräuterpfarrer Pater Benedikt Felsinger vor dem Gebäudekomplex des Stift Geras im niederösterreichischen Waldviertel ...

Walk the talk: Kräuterpfarrer Father Benedikt Felsinger takes us into his herbal garden, located right next to Geras Abbey in the northern, Lower Austrian Waldviertel district …

 

… vorbei an den Begegnungen des "Garten der Religionen" im Stiftspark von Altenburg ...

… past many more meetings at the “Garden of Religions” in Altenburg …

 

… oder dem gemütlich-heiteren Austausch mit der Besuchsleiterin des Stift Zwettl, Frau Eva Fallmann (hier links) ...

… or a casual chat with our local host at Zwettl Abbey, Eva Fallmann (on the left) …

 

… Handschlagqualität zählt auch im Kloster: Stiftsgärtner Stefan reicht Altabt

… as well as making worlds meet: Local abbey gardener Stefan during a meet & greet with the former abbot of Seitenstetten Abbey.

 

Vor allem aber ist mir diese "Begegnungsqualität" im Sinn: Das Wiedersehen mit Pater Martin, seines Zeichens zuständig für Kultur & Tourismus im Stift Melk und ein früher Mentor in meinem Werdegang als kulturtouristische Autorin & Hochschulabsolventin.

More than anything, I am delighted to think back of my meeting and conversation with dear Father Martin, himself an early supporter during the times of writing my thesis on culture tourism focused on the abbey of Melk.

 

Next up is the art of gardening and the many intricate details that make the abbey parks of Lower Austria so special. Check this out.

Especially now, during summertime, the abbey parks & gardens are beautiful beyond measure. Just about everything is in full bloom, filling the air with sweet scent and delightful aromas. I find myself inspired to write, sitting in the herbal garden of the abbey of Zwettl on an early summer morning, with nothing around me but light, fresh air and flowers. Perhaps this is because I am about to write and publish my first-ever book at the same time? After all, nature has always found a way in providing inspiration to us human beings.

Blick auf die Natur im "Garten der Religionen" mit dem dahinter liegenden Stift Altenburg ...

View over the “Garden of Relgions” with the tower of Altenburg Abbey …

 

… welches sich unweit des ebenso im nördlichen Waldviertel gelegenen Stift Zwettl mit seiner beeindruckenden Brunnenhofgestaltung befindet.

… located not far from Zwettl Abbey, equally situated in the northern Waldviertel district and home to a fascinating, historic garden cloister.

 

Im Stiftspark von Melk schließlich tritt die Gartenkunst in den Vordergrund: "Wilde Tiere" der historischen Wandmalereien erwecken die Botanik für Besucher zum Leben ...

At the abbey park of Melk, “wild animals” are what catches the eye: These have been painted from the ceilings of the nearby garden pavilion …

 

… und wer von Euch hat nicht Lust, an solch einer liebreizenden Rose zu schnuppern - gesehen und gefühlt im Kräutergarten von Geras?

… and who among you would not be tempted by this full rose blossom, welcoming visitors like us on their way through the herbal garden of Geras Abbey?

 

Die Lavendelfelder im Stift Altenburg lassen gleichzeitig vom Charme der viel weiter südlich gelegenen Provence träumen ...

Lavender fields are what make me daydream about being in southern France while visiting Altenburg Abbey …

 

… und frische Walderdbeeren pflücken sich am besten in einem der fünf verschiedenen Gärten inmitten des Stiftspark von Stift Seitenstetten.

… and Seitenstetten Abbey provides us with the freshest greeting of all: Small strawberries from the garden.

 

Einer meiner liebsten Momente: Das kräftige und gleichzeitig ruhige Morgenlicht mit Blick auf das hoch oben gelegene Storchennest des Stift Zwettl nahe der gleichnamigen Stadt.

One of my favourite moments during the garden trip: Sitting in the abbey garden of Zwettl, with a view over the local stork nest on top of one of its building towers.

 

If you are wondering whether abbeys & monasteries manage the transition from past to present, here are some answers for you: iPhones, augmented reality & modern art exhibitions have long become a reality here.

The walls of each of the abbeys we visit might appear thick and impenetrable, but the spirit of modernity has managed to travel through them. This is largely due to the Fathers of Geras, Altenburg, Zwettl, Seitenstetten & Zwettl abbeys being truly open-minded. To give you an example: During our visit of Zwettl Abbey, the youngest in the community of Fathers passes us in shorts and “company phone” – he can be seen with the local workers and needs to communicate and / or be reached. The Fathers Antonius and David, of Seitenstetten Abbey, are both much younger than me and love to have their photos taken: Hospitality is the motto at this abbey which regularly welcomes visitors for monastic retreats. Both the abbeys of Melk & Altenburg have woven modern ways of visitor interpretation into their guided tours and facilities. Have a look here with me.

Kräuterpfarrer Pater Benedikt Felsinger lädt uns im Stift Geras spontan zu einer kurzen Buchvorstellung seiner eigens verfassten Werke ein - inklusive darauffolgender Sektverkostung.!

Kräuterpfarrer Father Benedikt Felsinger invites us for a short book presentation, followed by a small sparkling wine tasting!

 

Die historischen Fundamentsmauern des Stift Altenburg laden ein, sich in den Dialog Geschichte - Gegenwart zu begeben ...

Dialogue between past & present is written all over the modern exhibition located in some of the most historic rooms of the abbey of Altenburg …

 

… ebenso die moderne Form der Besuchervermittlung im Stift Zwettl, welche per leicht zu bedienenden iPods geschieht ...

… and here at the abbey of Zwettl, iPods have long served as a convenient tool for visitor information services …

 

Lieblingsauftritt: Das charmante Duo junger Fratres im Stift SEitenstetten.

I love meeting the warm hospitality of the two young Fathers at Seitenstetten Abbey.

 

Zu guter Letzt widmet sich der Multimedia-Rundgang durch die Stiftsräume des Benediktinerstift Melk ...

Last but not least, the abbey of Melk provides a fresh, modern way of presenting its information to visitors helped by multimedia and interesting guided tour commentary.

 

But the magic does not stop here. The abbeys themselves are really rich in treasures and stories. We have found and unearthed some of them during our visit.

Real treasures are to be found in the monasteries of old: Libraries with ancient books of incountable value. Gold- & silverware of the finest craft. Frescoes & wall paintings that are alive with the joy and colours used by their creators. A look around the abbeys, parks & gardens of Lower Austria tells us this …

… dass das Gute oft so nahe liegt: Der Marmorsaal im Stift Geras ziert ein Deckenfresko des berühmten Malers Paul Troger.

… that sometimes, all it takes is a change in perspective: Looking up at the famous frescoes created by Paul Troger at the abbey of Geras.

 

Knapp eine halbe Stunde weiter staune ich nicht schlecht ob der Vielfalt an Wandmalereien in diesem Teil des Stiftes ...

Only half an hour from Geras, we marvel at the rich wall paintings in this historic part of Altenburg Abbey.

 

Die Stiftskirche von Stift Zwettl schließlich ziert dieses wunderhübsche Goldadler-Symbol, kräftig leuchtend im Licht der untergehenden Sonne ...

The abbey church in Zwettl is crowned by this pure gold eagle sculpture, alive in the light of the setting sun …

 

… gespiegelt vom Glanz der ewig schönen und mittlerweile weltberühmten Stiftsbibliothek von Melk.

…mirrored by the splendour of one of the finest monastery libraries worldwide: The library of Melk Abbey.

 

Mein absoluter Lieblingstipp unter all den Schätzen der von unser bereisten Stifte in Niederösterreich ist jedoch die Bibliothek des Stift Seitenstetten: Wunderschön glänzen hier die endlos scheinenden Reihen mehrerer Hundert Jahre alter Bücher, allesamt gebunden in weißes Schweinsleder.

My favourite might even be this one, though much lesser known: The library at the abbey of Seitenstetten, complete with books that are many centuries old, bound in white leather.

 

Last but not least, here are my top travel tips from each of the places we visited. What makes each of the abbeys and parks unique? What should you keep in mind for your upcoming visit?

The intricate stone masonry on a window of the Gothic cloister at Altenburg Abbey is almost 1000 years old. At the abbey of Zwettl, flower pots from the abbey garden are given out to visitors as a free give-away. The spiral staircase linking the monastery abbey with the famous abbey church in Melk is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. It really is. And then … “Well, what you can see here in terms of historic, liturgical vestments and their delicate decorations … might well be several million Euros worth”, Father Antonius at the abbey of Seitenstetten tells us with a wink.

Travelling the Lower Austrian abbeys & monasteries, you simply end up being rich. Rich in impressions, but also rich in new thoughts and perspectives. I can only recommend you to visit the gardens and abbeys for a “piece of heaven on Earth”. My dear travel friends Monika & Petar Fuchs have been equally moved to share and write about “their journey to the self”. Everyone receives something because …

... Kleinode stehen sprichwörtlich am Wegesrand,

… sometimes, all it takes is a fresh look, as Kräuterpfarrer Father Benedikt Felsinger explains about his favourite plant, the “Wegwarte”, at the herbal garden of Geras Abbey.

 

Lieblingsplatz im Stift Altenburg: Das schöne Fenster aus dem ehemaligen, historischen Kreuzgang des Stiftes hat es mir angetan.

My favourit spot at Altenburg Abbey: The roughly 1000 year-old Gothic cloister window.

 

Nicht nur Fenster, auch Türen stehen weit geöffnet im Klösterreich von Niederösterreich: Auf dem Weg zu unseren Gästezimmern im Stift Zwettl

Doors, too, are open for us visitors: Managing our way to our room for the night at Zwettl Abbey.

 

Und Schätze gibt es da, welche uns Frater Antonius aus dem Stift Seitenstetten bereitwillig präsentiert ...

And treasures, lots of treasures, are only waiting to be revealed …

 

... manchmal gilt es einfach, den Blickwinkel zu verändern: Die wunderschöne Wendeltreppe im Stift Melk am Übergang von Stiftsbibilothek zu Stiftskirche.

… such as this spiral staircase, my favourite example of combining art with something practical.

 

Auch der Himmel, wie hier über Stift Altenburg, lädt stets zur Betrachtung und Bewunderung ein.

The sky, too, beckons us to sit, reflect and watch.

 

Und schließlich locken immer wieder die schönen Klostergärten mitsamt ihrer Pflanzenvielfalt, aus deren reichhaltigen Fundus beispielsweise das Stift Zwettl gerne an seine Besucher weitergibt.

And finally, the abbey of Zwettl happily provides you with one of their plants from the abbey park: A rich souvenir of a time full of wonders indeed.

 

Hinweis: Wir wurden von den Klöstern & Stiften in Niederösterreich eingeladen, Gärten & Geschichte des „Klösterreich“ zu erkunden. Alle Meinungen sind meine eigenen.

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