By any standard, this is a baroque-era masterpiece. Part palace, part monastery, part opera set, Melk is a magnificent vision thanks greatly to the upward-reaching twin towers capped with baroque helmets and cradling a 208-foot-high dome, and a roof bristling with baroque statuary. Symmetry here beyond the towers and dome would be misplaced, and much of the abbey's charm is due to the way the early architects were forced to fit the building to the rocky outcrop that forms its base. Erected on the site of an ancient Roman fort, used by Napoléon as his Upper Austrian redoubt, exploited as the setting for part of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, and still a working monastery, the Benedictine abbey has a history that extends back to its establishment in 1089. The glorious building you see today is architect Jakob Prandtauer's reconstruction, completed in 1736, in which some earlier elements are incorporated. A tour of the building includes the main public rooms: a magnificent library,
with more than 100,000 books, nearly 2,000 manuscripts, and a superb ceiling fresco by the master Paul Troger; the Marmorsaal, whose windows on both sides enhance the ceiling frescoes; and the glorious Stiftskirche (abbey church) of Saints Peter and Paul, an exquisite example of the baroque style. The Stiftsrestaurant (closed Jan.–mid-Mar.) offers standard fare, but the abbey's excellent wines elevate a simple meal to a lofty experience—particularly on a sunny day on the terrace. There is also a café in the garden pavilion. From April through October, you're free to wander on your own, but from November through March, visitors must book a tour ahead of time in order to see the abbey.