One of the joys of travel is the unexpected delights that await the intrepid traveller. When planning our bucket list cruise on the Danube River from Passau to Budapest and back, we decided on a whim to spend an extra few days at the end of the cruise in Passau, where we were to embark and disembark, without having any idea of what we would find there.
We had a brief taste of Passau on the day we arrived from Prague by car transfer to board the river cruise boat, just enough to whet our appetite for the longer stay at the end of the cruise.
Reading the pamphlet we had picked up at the tourist office, we were intrigued by the description of the town –
“The City on Three Rivers : Passau’s unique location at the confluence of the three rivers Danube, Inn and Ilz, has made the town a one of a kind cultural and artistic centre. Passau is located near the Austrian and Czech borders. The interplay of the sights and the baroque historical centre with its narrow and winding little streets and alleyways creates a distinctive ambience making the city extraordinarily beautiful”
After our magical cruise along the Danube, we arrived back in Passau in the morning, where we disembarked and a short taxi ride later we were settled into a comfortable room in our hotel in the old part of town, its entrance located in a narrow street between similar old buildings, while on the other side it overlooked the Inn River.
A while later we took a walk along the promenade and the narrow streets to the town centre with its picturesque square known as Residenzplatz, passing some historic looking buildings on the way.
Another narrow lane led to the Domplatz and the entrance to the impressive looking cathedral which dominates Passau, located as it is at the Old Town’s highest point. The exterior is fairly plain by cathedral standards and didn’t prepare us at all for the moment when we stepped inside.
The interior literally took our breath away and we both gasped audibly as we stepped inside – the highly decorated, beautifully proportioned domed ceilings and elaborate supporting columns had us craning our necks to take it all in.
While many cathedrals we have seen on our travels were arguably more gilded and colourful, St Stephen’s was stunning without being “over the top” and rates as one of the most impressive we have seen. The enormous and intricate organ is apparently the largest of any cathedral in the world and a wonder in itself, with an amazing 17,774 pipes!
The baroque architecture dates from 1693 when the current building was completed under the direction of top Italian architects and artists. We were truly lifted by our visit to this magnificent building which celebrates the best of human endeavours.
A café on the square lured us inside for a cappuccino and a slice – a substantial one at that – of apfelkuchen, one of the local favourites and we had to concur as it melted into and excited our taste buds. Suitably refreshed, we ambled on doing window/actual shopping and found several interesting shops, some touristy but not irritatingly so and we were glad to be able to stock up on some fresh fruit at a small grocery shop.
Passau is one of those places where you look forward to each new corner, expecting another surprise and are seldom disappointed, be it an interesting shop, an alley with character, a quirky sight or a local doing what locals do. Having rivers on both sides of the town means there is almost always water in the background, adding to the charm of the place.
Lunch was goulash soup and a wheat beer in a cosy restaurant, which set us up nicely for an afternoon snooze when we got back to our hotel – this touring is hard work! We managed to gather enough strength later on to find a restaurant for dinner, ending up in an Italian restaurant Il Monastero where the waiter was rather bizarrely dressed as a monk and the drinks lady as a nun, but the pasta and wine was delightful!
The next day we continued our exploration of Passau, our sights now set on the Veste Oberhaus, which sits prominently on the top of the hill on the opposite side of the river to the town. We had read that it dated from 1219, when it was built as a fortress by the then Bishop of Passau in order to control commerce across the rivers and served that role for a number of centuries. It currently houses a fine Museum of the area.
A convenient shuttle bus, which runs every half hour from the Town Hall square, dropped us off literally at the front door of the Oberhaus, but if you are energetic (and let’s admit it, younger than these two pensioners!) there is a stairway with 200 steps that will take you from the riverside up to the Oberhaus.
Tickets to the museum were just 4 Euro each – about the price of a coffee – and we spent a good hour or two viewing the fascinating exhibits, which set out the full history of the town spanning many centuries, from prehistoric inhabitants, through Roman times to Catholic church domination and all the turbulence of the battles for religious dominance. Very well presented and well worthwhile, even for those of us who tend to become quickly jaded by too much history.
The restaurant was further up the hill and after a steep climb we found a table outside with a wonderful 180° view of Passau below and the three rivers that come together at its easternmost point.
Fish soup on the menu (OK not actually on the menu but printed there), caught our eye and turned out to be delicious, followed by “Bananen Split” my personal favourite.
We made it to the shuttle just in time for the return trip down the hill and across the river, well satisfied with the outing. The rest of the afternoon was relaxing – I took a short walk to check out the park at the point of the “peninsula” formed by the Danube and Inn rivers coming together.
Dinner was at the nearby, rather splendid, Wagners restaurant where we enjoyed Erdbeer Spargelsalat ( asparagus and strawberry salad) starter followed by a classic Cordon Bleu, one of the best we have tasted.
A fitting end to a short stay that exceeded all our expectations!