Hear the distinct whirring of a wind-powered bird-scaring contraption? Good – that's a traditional Klapotetz and you're in the right place. Located two-and-a-half hours from Vienna toward the Slovenian border, you'll encounter Austria's southernmost wine region. The 44-mile (70 km) South Styrian Wine Road is often likened to Tuscany. Unlike Tuscany, you'll find no crowds – just charming villages, assorted vineyards and cozy little wine taverns, or Buschenschanken. Work up an appetite on some of the marked trails providing breathtaking views of the region. And of course listen for the sounds of the Klapotetz, a wooden contraption synonymous with the region's long viticultural history.
For lunch, stop at one of the many Buschenschanken for a typical Brettljausn (cold meat platter) and enjoy a glass or two of the local wine.
In the town of Vogau, just 10 minutes from the South Styrian Wine Road, lies Genussregal, a museum brimming with local culinary specialties – all available for tasting. Expand your palate with some dark green Styrian pumpkinseed oil, a delicate air-cured Vulcano ham or the region's exquisite fruit vinegars and distillates. A broad array of chutneys, sauces and local cheeses await, as do handmade local Zotter chocolate
with savory-sweet fillings, and the crisp, fruity wines of Styria.
An easy 40-minute drive will take you to Styria’s capital, Graz
, Austria’s second-largest city and a wonderful medieval gem. Check into the popular Hotel Weitzer, where modernity and tradition merge – at a surprisingly affordable price.
After relaxing from the day’s adventures, enjoy a delicious dinner at the hotel’s own Der Steirer, an acclaimed restaurant featuring local cuisine and famous for its Styrian Tapas. An adjacent wine shop features its own local culinary specialties. Be sure to reserve a table.
Explore the Old Town of Graz, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site whose roots date back to the Roman ages. Graz is divided by the river Mur and easily walkable throughout. Walk (or take the elevator) up the Schlossberg
, a small mountain in the very center, thick with trees. There you'll find remnants of former fortifications, narrow alleyways, medieval facades – and extraordinary modern architecture, a modern twist on a living museum. Though most of the original castle was destroyed by Napoleon's troops, a clock tower and bell tower remain, the townspeople having paid a ransom for them to be spared.
Back in the Old Town, stop at the original medieval Armory
, the only one of its kind left in the world – with enough weapons to equip an army of 5,000! Alternatively, visit the Kunsthaus Graz
, a contemporary art museum whose wonderfully bizarre design revived an entire neighborhood and earned a fond nickname: the friendly alien.
That afternoon, start a 35-mile (55 km) journey east, through the landscape’s rolling hills to the Genusshotel Riegersburg
. This unique hotel is built into a vineyard slope on the Styrian Castle Route. Though the building itself enjoys a kind of natural camouflage, the views out – from the gourmet bistro, the delightful spa and spacious rooms – inspire exploration of the mighty Riegersburg Castle, nearby, and the surrounding orchards of rare fruits.
The wild and romantic region just beyond the hotel's doors is home to a number of innovative culinary artisans, such as the Gölles Schnapps and Vinegar Distillery and the Vulcano Ham Production. The hotel offers several packages for touring the region, known for its numerous inactive volcanoes, castles and a unique agricultural heritage. Visit a mill where dark green, intensely nutty Styrian pumpkin seed oil is pressed. Explore Klöch, the wine village famed for its rose-scented Traminer wines as well as its homey Buschenschanken, offering regional wines and delicacies in a cozy atmosphere.
Unwind at the hotel’s spa, or treat yourself to a massage. For dinner, indulge in the local delicacies that have made a name for the hotel's kitchen – all while taking in the stunning view of the surrounding hills and the majestic Riegersburg Castle in the near distance.
Just a short drive brings you to the mighty 900-year-old castle itself, perched atop a dormant volcano. Hike up, or take the elevator; at the top is a vivid portrait of what life was like in a medieval fortress known for being virtually impregnable. Watch a show featuring birds of prey, visit the Witch Museum and admire the castle’s display of medieval arms.
Not far from Riegersburg Castle lies the Zotter chocolate factory
, where the family Zotter makes organic, fair-trade chocolates by hand. It's a unique world of culinary experimentation, unconventional design and high principles. Master inventor Josef Zotter comes up with one new flavor combination after another at this whimsical chocolate paradise. Witness the production of chocolate from cocoa bean to finished product, then choose your favorite at the factory store. Be sure to book your tour in advance.
Drive back to Graz for dinner at Aiola Upstairs, for arguably the best outdoor dining experience in town. Atop the Schlossberg mountain and at the heart of the city’s former fortifications, you'll enjoy a beautiful view of the city’s famous medieval rooftops, while dining on Styria’s culinary highlights.