“I’ve been to Graz so many times that I could probably write a book.” My sparking thoughts at the end of last year during my trip to see the Graz Christmas markets. My travel blog now includes dozens of articles about the city of Graz, as well as the surrounding area in the travel destination of Styria!
The Erlebnisregion Graz (Graz Region) was recently founded with the aim of promoting destinations that will take you “from city to country in 10 minutes”. Led by the principles of sustainability, the idea is to reach attractive family businesses in a short time, and mainly, by using public transport.
Thal: Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, the famous Parish Church of St. James as well as the new Waldcafé Thalersee.
I start exploring Graz Region in what is probably the most famous town outside the immediate city area of Graz: Thal. Famous because there are two unique attractions here, nowhere else to be seen in the world.
First of all, I meet Peter Urdl in the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum. Peter is Arnold’s friend from primary school, and a lifelong companion of the world star Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is him who gives me an incomparable perspective on “the man behind the myth”. The museum, mainly designed by him and Arnold himself, offers curious, interesting, often also surprising insights.
Only a few minutes away from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, Thal has you visit a church like you have never seen it before. Ernst Fuchs took on “the most beautiful commission of my life”, as he is quoted, and designed the Parish Church of St. James in a variety of colours and shapes nowhere else to be seen in the whole wide world. That’s saying something, having visited quite a few holy places myself during all of my European and world travels.
Check this out.
To round off your stay in Thal, you can visit the newly opened Waldcafé Thalersee. We enjoy delicious ice cream, check out the “Boat of Promise” (here, at his home lake, Arnold Schwarzenegger is said to have asked for the hand of his Maria Shriver) and watch the summer go by from the nearby jetty.
Visiting Haindl Mill in Kalsdorf near Graz.
The Haindl Mill in Kalsdorf near Graz calls itself “an art mill and an oil press all in one“.
Twice a year, the “Long Night of the Mill” takes place; and throughout the year, the family-run business led by Johanna Haindl offers a variety of bread baking courses. “We have a lot of return visitors from our workshops”, says Daniela Haindl with a wink. She has been working in her parents’ business for several years, and helped to create the beautiful design of the brochures and the website www.haindlmuehle.eu (check it out).
Daniela Haindl and Stefan Schweinzerl take us on a tour of the company: From the warm oil press, where the “black gold”, the Styrian pumpkin seed oil, is extracted, to the historic mill, operated entirely on hydroelectric power. It’s worth knowing that guided tours are offered regularly during the summer months.
Hillebrand Vegetable Farm: Ambassadors of the “Grazer Krauthäuptel” lettuce!
As soon as I enter the “first gourmet vegetable farm in Austria“, I realise that a farm can also be an experience! If, in addition to running a farm, you add elements such as a top gourmet farm shop, a whole variety of different farm tours as well as a top notch cooking school, there is certainly much to be gained.
Markus Hillebrand is a farmer who knows how to do that. For years, he has been gaining interest in and around Graz for his flagship product, the typical Grazer Krauthäuptel lettuce. Partly with guerrilla marketing-like methods, such as a parade of the Graz Krauthäuptel farmers with umpteen heads of lettuce on the main square in Graz. He does not accept that “lettuce is really just lettuce”, no: The Grazer Krauthäuptel lettuce has to be crunchy, fresh, tender and, of course, the perfect seasonal product. Mmmh!
“Guter.Regionaler.Genuss” (Great.Local.Taste) is the guiding principle of the family business. On 30 hectares, they produce high-quality vegetables in the sunny Graz Field southeast of the main city area. “We are partly responsible for the title of the Genusshauptstadt Graz (Capital of Delights). We supply what the top chefs of Graz need to create their excellent courses”, Markus Hillebrand proudly adds.
His wife Sandra takes me around her cooking school, which is directly connected to the farm business. Chefs can rent it, and there are also lots of courses offered by her and her team. She makes me want to stay and start cooking right away …!
Land Art par excellence: The Austrian Sculpture Park.
Not far from the Hillebrand Farm, we visit a combination of land art and nature park that is unique all over Austria: the Austrian Sculpture Park near Premstätten. Renowned artists, such as Erwin Wurm, Michael Schuster or Yoko Ono, have contributed to the 80 or so sculptures scattered around the park. Of course, they are not scattered as if by chance, but follow a clear concept.
For a visit to the sculpture park, I recommend you plan at least one hour, perhaps even two. It’s better if you can book a guided tour. Our guide Gabi brings the sculptures, their stories and artists to life much better than a mere stroll through the park can do.
Spend the night near Graz Part I: Hotel Liebmann, Lassnitzhöhe.
Last but not least, I would like to give you two tips for overnight stays based on my experience of travelling in the Graz Region.
Bernadette and Stefan Liebmann welcome me to their hotel at the climatic health resort Lassnitzhöhe, some fifteen minutes’s drive from the city centre of Graz. Stefan and I get straight to the point: It’s gin o’clock, and I follow Stefan to his personally curated bar full of gin varieties! His favourite: A personal brew called Yin Gin, which tastes delicious. Him and I talk for hours about whatever comes to mind: Travels, our “life with kids” (he has three, I have two – endless topics of conversation guaranteed!), and their recent eco-label hotel award.
I also take a walk along the “sebastian RELOADED” adventure trail. It talks about the famous spa doctor Sebastian Kneipp in amusing little stops. Lassnitzhöhe near Graz, there’s certainly much to offer and enjoy here!
Spend the night near Graz Part II: Hi5Hotel Seiersberg, Austria’s first carbon-neutral accommodation business!
My second accommodation tip for your next visit to Graz is also special. Verena Plassnegger, the hotel manager of the recently built Hi5Hotel Seiersberg, tells me many fascinating stories about her emission-free hotel building. So how did they do it?
The building, she says, is completely self-sufficient. It doesn’t need any heating or air conditioning. In response to my many questions, I get a quick tour with the local house technician, who patiently answers all of my questions about the intriguing building standards. At the heart of the construction, driving the carbon-neutrality, is probably the canteen kitchen, recycling, re-using and redistributing energy thanks to cooking many meals for kindergartens and local nursing homes.
By the way, local food options include great vegetarian and vegan choices, too. Gluten-free diets are also offered. The breakfast buffet in the morning really leaves nothing to be desired.
Check out all further travel photos from my days exploring the Graz Region here:
Disclaimer: I have been invited by the Graz Region on this trip to visit Graz. All opinions are my own.