From Vienna I moved on to Graz, the second largest city in Austria, and the capital of the federal state of Styria. The train journey from Vienna to Graz was as beautiful as I’d hoped it would be. We went through lush green valleys, with views of mountain pastures and picturesque villages.
Arriving in Graz in the evening as a lone traveller, I found the tram system easy to use and quickly found my hotel. The Amedia is modern and friendly, and just the place for a business or leisure trip. For me high speed wifi is always an added bonus. The longer I stayed in Austria the more friendly I found the local people. I always seek advice on places to eat and was directed to a Chinese restaurant just a five minute walk away and I was not disappointed. It is worth pointing out that food & drink is much cheaper in Austria than in Switzerland or even in Germany. There is a good buzz around Graz, so walking round the streets by myself in the dark I felt perfectly safe.
The following morning I moved to the Hotel Erzherzog Johann, which is just the place for anyone wanting to give themselves a real treat. With its central location, the hotel has an old world charm, friendly courteous staff, and a welcoming atmosphere. I recommend the Wanda Sacher Masoch suite with its fairytale four poster bed. It provides a touch of luxury and quite a contrast to the usual streamlined modern hotel room. The winter garden in the hotel is a relaxing place to sit and enjoy a coffee or glass of wine.
Just around the corner is the Sporgasse, a winding street which has a history dating back to Roman times. Buildings from the baroque period now provide a modern shopping mecca, with a fine range of boutiques cheek by jowl with coffee shops. One place that should not be missed is the Styrian Heimatwerk, a shop dedicated to raising awareness of local culture, stocking examples of the very best in local crafts, including colourful traditional costumes. There is nothing tacky or touristy there, the shop stocks products of the finest quality.
The Schlossberg is probably the most noticeable tourist attraction in Graz . With its distinctive clock tower, this hill topped by a castle affords great views of the city. There is even a lift for those not able to make the climb. But here’s another tip – one excellent way to have a bird’s eye view of Graz is go up to the roof terrace of the K&O store.
And of course, as you would expect, I made a point of finding an excellent coffee shop. Café Fotter is tucked away on a quiet street at Attemgasse 6. It was a perfect autumn day as I strolled there through the park with chestnuts dropping off the trees. Dating back to 1936, Café Fotter has a charming garden at the back. Sitting there in the sunshine, sampling a piece of delicious Apfelstrudel, it was hard to believe I was so close to a city centre – a hidden gem.
There are very pleasant walks down by the river Mur, which winds its way through the city. The smell of roasted chestnuts was irresistible for me and I sat and ate them on the Murinsel (literally Mur Island) in the middle of the river. It is not so much an island as a floating platform built back in 2003 when Graz was the European capital of culture. I found it very relaxing to sit there with the fast flowing river rushing by on either side of me. As I walked back over the bridge I was intrigued to see lots of padlocks attached to the chain link fence. On closer inspection I saw many were adorned by initials or messages. I was told these were “love locks”, placed there by romantic couples.
Whenever I travel, I love to find farmers markets, and just behind the Opera House in Graz is one where you can sample local produce every day on Kaiser-Josef-Platz. Apart from wonderful bread, vegetables and flowers, this is the place to buy a local delicacy called Volkskultur Steiermark GmbH Kürbiskernöl. This is pumpkin seed oil, a bottle of which made it safely back to Northern Ireland in my checked luggage to help me savour my memories of Graz. An amazing city I know I will re-visit.
LIZ WEIR is a professional storyteller who works with all age groups promoting the traditional art for which Ireland is world famous. A children’s librarian by training, she now travels the world telling stories to adults and children, organising workshops on storytelling, and speaking at courses for parents, teachers and librarians. Her wealth of stories is drawn from both the oral and written traditions.
Find out more about Liz’s work at: www.lizweir.net
Tags: Cities, Cuisine, Hidden Treasures