“We are a gourmet hotel (‘Genusshotel’ in German), and our guests are here to enjoy regional cuisine and experience our local products. Once they visit our producers, such as the Gölles vinegar factory, the Zotter World of Chocolate or the Vulcano ham factory, they complete their existing enthusiasm by visiting and getting to know the people who stand behind the products they love.” Ulrike Feiertag, of Genusshotel Riegersburg in Eastern Styria’s Volcano Country (“Vulkanland”), takes her time when she speaks to us in a firm voice and with shining eyes. This is what everyone does around here. Time is relative in those preppy hills, whose geological origins are real volcanoes (the Riegersburg medieval castle, which can be seen from afar, stands on such a huge rock outcrop) and whose people possess creativity, commitment and vision. They trust in something, they show courage, they break new grounds and thus inspire visitors like us who are here for the first time. This is the kind of enthusiasm I want to share with you today. What my lovely travel friends Monika & Petar Fuchs, of TravelWorldOnline, and Katja Wegener, of Wellspa Portal, have to say in terms of their very own enthusiasm is what you can read here and here.
Off we go, then, publishing those gourmet travel tips for you. First of all, I recommend you head to Gölles “noble spirits & fine vinegar” factory. At 10.00 a.m. Naturally. The way real gourmet travellers do it – all day long!
😉 . As we walk across the factory of the Gölles family, we are met by the fresh morning air filled with the sweet scent of flowers and fruit. Our “tasting” experience thus has already begun, and it takes only a few minutes before Herta Gölles leads us from her “inner sanctum”, the warehouse of great vinegars and brandies, to the very tasting of those treasures. This tasting experience is the largest part of your visit here, and does of course not serve to get you drunk quickly, but to learn precisely about telling great vinegar & finest brandies from their cheap counterparts. To this end, our generation is already enjoying the laurels of many years of hard work of those who have been able to raise themselves to the highest standards. Such as the Gölles manufactory for fine brandy & vinegar specialities. Less automatically becomes more around here. Quality, not quantity, is what is important. When spending money, I find I like to treat myself to something really special, and appreciate its worth. For example, the finest apple balsamic vinegar of Gölles, which has set a milestone in the overall business development and created something of a unique balsamic vinegar worldwide. To experience this, you really need to travel to Eastern Styria. Or continue to be inspired here.
More gourmet travel tips then: Zotter World of Chocolate. Josef Zotter has designed and launched more than 600 chocolate varieties thanks to his creative genius and team. The most exotic ones – mountain cheese, fish or grasshoppers (!) – is what we have come to taste today.
“Chocolate Shockers“, is what is written on the gallery above the Chocolate Theatre. Right at the entrance to the Zotter World of Chocolate, assistant manager Werner Luef welcomes us as natural as ever (all people here in Eastern Styria’s Volcano district display the same warmth, we find). We have now arrived in what is the “heart of the chocolate fountain”: A tour of the Zotter Chocolate Factory with seemingly endless tasting opportunities. “Beware that you do not start with too much nibbling right from the beginning,” Werner gives us a cheerful wink. “Otherwise, you can taste no more towards the end of the tour, for example our famous Running Chocolate display!” He laughs and takes us right through to the “chocolate shockers”. During this blind tasting, we “enjoy” such shocking creations as chocolate filled with ground maggots, grasshoppers, sauerkraut or worms. Stunned, I have to admit that the fine layer of ground maggots in the chocolate even taste slightly nutty and … good ! Aaaaah . 🙂
Zotter would not be Zotter, if it was never meant to be a little crazy. At the beginning of the tour, we see a film that introduces and talks about the great chocolate visionary Josef Zotter himself, who besides being unusual was also bankrupt at the end of the 90s and rose back from the ahes in the most adventurous of ways, travelling to meet “his cocoa farmers” all over the world. He openly speaks of having chosen the location in Eastern Styria’s Volcano district as one of the most logical steps in the restructuring his business: Good and cheap to snap back out of the rented cowshed (!) of his parents! Today, crowds of adventures and chocolate lovers from all over the world flock here to visit the Zotter World of Chocolate. There really is something special to be seen here. Take your time to enjoy this tasting with me!
The last two gourmet travel tips lead us to the Vulcano ham factory & the “Cheese Artist” fromagerie in Riegersburg: More must-see and do’s for you!
Well, dear readers. We are far from having finished around here! What you are able to experience in the Eastern Styrian Volcano district really is amazing. Where else, after all, are you able to find such world-class companies that have already made a name for themselves well beyond the borders of their country, in such a small and concentrated space? One of them is the so-called Fromagerie Riegersburg led by young Bernhard Gruber, who calls himself “The Cheese Artist“. So what is a cheese artist? I can still hear us speak out loud in wonder. Even local Margot is left for words, thus we are best to visit and ask Bernhard himself. He creates artisan cheese using local mountain cheese from different farmers in a way most innovative and unparalleled, leaving our taste buds explode with its delicate tasting. Being a natural cheese lover, this visit actually served to provoke another shift in my perception of cheese. Wow! I really have never tasted such creative cheese variety before. Now, we really know what is meant by “cheese artist”!
The Vulcano ham factory today is my last tip from a series of gourmet travel tips in Eastern Styria, and should I be forced to say which of all the experiences presented has impressed me the most, I then would be inclined to say: “The story of the Vulcana pig, the conversation with Erwin Wendler and his team, the masterful discussion about meat, animal husbandry, world economics and our very own eating behaviour.” Everything is connected and has its repercussions, as we are once more made aware of here. How the pigs are treated here is influenced by our behavior and our purchasing decisions for buying meat in large supermarkets or sourcing it as precious rarities. No one arrives here by accident: Those who are willing to put up with the discussion about meat on their tables are best advised to visit the Vulcano ham manufactory once in their lifetimes. Sustainability in thought and action is what you will find here! My tip: Your visit will already be worthwhile just by looking at the fun & creative Vulcana film at the beginning of your tour. A certain MUST-see experience in the entire Volcano district country!
Fancy even more “virtual & visual” impressions of the Styrian Volcano district, the wine district of Southern Styria or the Schilcherland wine district in Western Styria? My Flickr Photo Gallery takes you with me on a journey … :
Disclaimer: We have been invited by Genusshotel Riegersburg and our partners in the Vulcano district on this trip to Styria. All opinions are my own.