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