The description below is from Wikipedia but was so very good I couldn’t resist copying it. We travelled this valley on the Danube river in the late fall of 2013. It was cool as you might guess, but it was more or less jacket weather and the number of tourist was much less so the crowds were very light. This made our trip much more enjoyable.
From 1700 onwards (considered under the modern period) many renovation works were undertaken. These included the Melk Abbey rebuilt in 1702, the refurbishing of the Canons’ Abbey in Dürnstein between 1715 and 1733 and major reconstruction works of Göttweig Abbey that began in 1719. However, in the late 18th and 19th centuries, there was a decline in its importance as a result of closure of monasteries under the secular rule of the Bavarians. However, many events changed the situation with all local communities between Krems and Melk coming together to ensure economic development of the Wachau, since 1904, duly integrating historical legacy with modernity. Tourism and vineyards development protected by Government Laws are now the byword for the “Golden Wachau,” as it is now nicknamed. In the modern period though, the 18th-century buildings are now integrated with the town layout, and they are used for promotion of trade and crafts. The 15th and 16th centuries’ ambiance is witnessed in the “towns’ taverns or inns, stations for changing draught horses, boat operators’ and toll houses, mills, smithies, or salt storehouses”. The valley and the towns, still preserve a number of castles of vintage value. The Wachau was inscribed as “Wachau Cultural Landscape” in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in December 2000 under category (ii) for its riverine landscape and under category (iv) for the medieval landscape that depicts architectural monuments, human settlements, and the agricultural use of its land. Even prior to the UNESCO recognition, on September 5, 1994, the Wachau area was officially brought under the ambit of the “Natura 2000”, a network of European sites of the European Union, to ensure that development in the designated areas follow all rules and regulations. The designated area has 5000 historic monuments, though most of them are privately owned. However, the Federal Office of Historic Monuments (they also maintain a complete list of all historic monuments in Austria) and the Landeskonservatorat für Niederösterreich are responsible for the conservation of the historic cultural landscape of the Wachau.
The Danube valley in Austria between the cities of Melk and Krems in southern Austria is called the Wachau. This stretch of the valley includes the hills and the adjacent Dunkelsteiner Wald (Dunkelsteiner Forest) and the southern Waldviertel. The Danube river flows north-northeast from Melk to Dürnstein through a meander from which it flows southeast, then east past the city of Krems. In the Wachau, the town of Spitz lies on the Danube’s western bank and the city of Melk on its eastern bank. Other important towns in the valley are Dürnstein, Weißenkirchen in der Wachau and Emmersdorf an der Donau, which have a galaxy of old homestead buildings dating from the mid-6th century. The railway line built in 1909 between Krems and Emmersdorf is a topographical marvel. Other settlements of note in the Wachau valley include Aggsbach, Bachamsdorf, Bergern im Dunkelsteinerwald, Furth bei Göttweig, Joching, Maria Laach am Jauerling, Mautern an der Donau, Mühldorf, Oberamsdorf, Oberloiben, Rossatz-Arnsdorf, Ruhrsdorf, Schwallenbach, Schönbühel-Aggsbach, Unterloiben and Willendorf. The Danube River has a good network consisting of an inland navigation system. The Wachau valley historic sights can be visited by steamer boats; the best season to visit is between May and September. Autobahn services are also available from Vienna to visit all the important places in the Wachau. The well-developed road network between Melk and Krems follows the contour of the valley. However, there are no bridges across the Danube River in this region, and ferries are the only way to cross the river.