While I am fairly well-travelled, I wasn’t entirely sure on what to expect from my trip to Austria last week. Sure, my geographical knowledge could pin it on a map – sandwiched between its Central European neighbours of Germany, Switzerland and Italy – but, apart from the alpine side of activities, it had slipped under the radar as a would-be destination. An invite from the Austria National Tourism Office quickly changed that though; on the itinerary were the three cities of Graz, Salzburg and Innsbruck and a timeframe of a week in which to visit them. No snow. No skis.
The flight from London to Vienna was a short one; we had little over an hour cruising at 32,000 feet before descending across the Austrian alps into the capital. While we weren’t staying in Vienna, the view from above was welcoming; a neatly-designed city nestled on the edge of a river. No time to dwell though; immediately after landing we were boarding our trans-alpine train to Graz.
Graz was the first real destination on our itinerary, but I would like to give a special mention to the OEBB and what was an excellent three hours on board their train service. We travelled First Class, which did help, but the entire train was clean, quiet and punctual. On-board the superfast wi-fi and catering was just right, and outside the train the city skyline quickly turned to crystal blue alpine skies. The three-hour journey ranked up there as one of the best I have ever taken. Jaw-dropping ravines skirted the railway line and in the distance the snow-capped peaks of Semmering guided our route to Graz. The whole journey flew by; helped by the fact that we could be plugged in to our emails and workflow throughout.
Graz itself was a very sleepy town on first impressions. Being a Bank Holiday Monday, most of it’s 250,000 residents had temporarily vacated to mountain retreats and shop owners had exercised their traditional right to restrict trading hours. After checking in to the Shoreditch-esque Wiesler Hotel, we made our way up the Schlossberg; a mound of earth overlooking the city of Graz below. The sunset-drenched views did not disappoint. Neither did the obligatory Hugo cocktails we had in the Schlossberg Restaurant that occupies the prime real estate at the top of the hill.
Snaking our way through the myriad of side streets in the Old Town, we had just enough time for a freshen up before heading back out for dinner. Under the recommendation of Su, from Graz Tourism, we were to sample the local delicacies at the Eckstein Restaurant. A five minute walk from the Wiesler hotel, it occupies one of the central courtyards in the old part of the city; great for people watching.
The food in Graz was absolutely incredible. Having touched on some Austrian specialties on a trip to South Tyrol in January, I made a beeline for the Fritattensuppe, a beef broth with pancakes. Throw in a whopping 200g of perfectly prepared steak tartare and this “starter” was a little more filling than initially anticipated. We sensibly decided to downsize our mains and share the most delicious bowl of ricotta ravioli in a truffle sauce. Washing it down with some Austrian Pinot Noir, there was just enough space left for a Schokolade with raspberry. Needless to say, we slept well that night, especially when serenaded by the moving water of the nearby River Mur.
The next day, we explored more of the architecture of the Old Town which was right on our doorstep. There were so many incredible walls and doorways to explore, but we soon found ourselves craving rooftop views and Hugo cocktails. With clock at a more respectable 11am, and following suit with many of the locals, we headed to the rooftop terrace of the Kastner & Öhler department store. It was great to sip cocktails while staring up at the ever-imposing Schlossberg and rubbing shoulders with a handful of the 250,000 or so locals.
After spending an hour lapping up the sun, we then headed for a walk around the city walls, uncovering an absolute gem in Saint Catherine’s Church and Mausoleum; a monolith of a building that is discreetly nestled on the edge of the city. Lunch soon beckoned as morning became the afternoon, as did a second lunch at the incredibly cool Das Gramm; a very cool healthy café on the banks of the River Mur.
Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Graz. We had been in the city for less than 24 hours, but it had certainly left a good impression on us. It was time to head to a slightly busier climate; the city of Salzburg which would be reached by a four hour train ride with the OEBB. Snacks in hand, and speeding through the Alps under the shadow of the setting sun, the Sound of Music started to enter our heads…