Posts Tagged ‘Styria’

So why am I focused on Graz, a city which was Europe’s Cultural Capital in 2003? Because it is relatively unknown and is a great “off-the-beaten-track” destination for people who love food, wine, music and other cultural experiences. I recently came back from an Austrian Destination Summit (developed by the Austrian Tourism Board) and had the opportunity to visit this very unique city in southern Austria. Graz is only about 2.5 hours from Vienna (car or train). Whichever way you enter the city, do not let your initial impressions lead to disappointment. Your patience will be paid off once you reach the historic center and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Graz Old Town

The historic center is not only comprised of many different architectural styles, it is packed with wonderful sensory experiences such as farmers markets, bakeries, boutiques and museums. Our group got to know Graz via a 3-hour walking food and wine tour:

  • Der Steirer: Appetizers at this charming wine bar and market highlighted Goose Pate and Smoked Salmon.
  • Aiola Restaurant: The Entree included lightly fried Perch and a creative Cucumber & Beet Salad, all within a stylized modern setting.
  • Schlossberg: Dessert was made of light Almond Pastry, Chestnuts, Caramel and Raspberry. The view over Graz was the icing on the cake.

The day ended with window shopping through the old town and a Styrian Wine Pairing Dinner at Restaurant Landhauskeller. This was a particularly interesting experience considering the historic setting, old Styrian recipes and a wine sommelier who explained each of the wines we were pairing with our dishes.

Our final stop the next morning was to visit the unique and world-renowned Landeszeughaus Graz (Armoury Museum).

Here are some visual highlights from our day+ in Graz:

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Final Note: If you are a foodie who is looking for a new cultural experience, let me know so I can introduce you to Graz’s exclusive hit event – The Long Table – which takes place in the summer and highlights their culinary offerings in an al fresco, white table cloth setting right in the center of old town.

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I recently returned from the 2010 Austrian Summit – the first annual (hopefully) event hosted by the Austrian Tourist Board. I’ve always been a fan of Austria, so whether or not I would attend this 6-day industry event was a no-brainer. There were about 45 Virtuoso/Signature/Platinum AMEX travel advisors from the U.S., Australia and Canada. Our objective was to get to know Austria’s various provinces and, more specifically, revel in her cultural, musical, and culinary delights. This translated into an opportunity to hear from each of the local Austrian Tourist Board members, meeting key Austrian suppliers, and enjoying activities we could recommend to our clients. All of this information provided me with invaluable contacts and loads of ideas for future itinerary planning. The first three days were devoted to Imperial Vienna; here were some highlights:

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  • Architecture: Walking around Vienna we were introduced to an array of styles including Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernism. While Vienna in many ways has always reminded me of Paris, you can’t help but sense the overwhelming Imperial tones in this city. I also love how they beautifully junxtaposed the historic buildings with modern elements.
  • Coffee Houses: There are many to choose from, but I spent time in Demel this trip. Established in 1933, I love the elegant small rooms, great coffee, and light desserts (really … not too sugary either).
  • Christmas Market: The markets were just being set up, but fortunately we were able to enjoy the large market in front of the Rathaus.
  • Giant Ferris Wheel: No visit to Vienna would be complete without visiting the Giant Ferris Wheel. One of the options available is to have a romantic or group gathering (8 – 10 people) with champagne and appetizers in one of the historic old cars while it goes through its 30 minute turn.
  • Vienna Philharmonic: It was magical to be able to observe the Vienna Philharmonic practicing at the Musikverein Concert Hall.
  • Elmayer Dance School: Ball season is huge in Vienna. We learned how to do the waltz at Elmayer Dance School, and even learned a few things about etiquette, such as how to kiss a ladies hand. This may sound old-school, but it is still a serious business in Vienna!  The majority of the balls are in the December – March timeframe and certain tickets must be purchased far ahead of time.
  • Spanish Riding School: The gorgeous and elegant white Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School were incredibly friendly. I loved being able to walk around the stables and snuggle up to them (or them to me) and then go into the stadium and watch them go through their morning exercise. You can also buy tickets to  attend 80+ minute performances. I’ve been wanting to see them for years, but they were always out-of-town performing or romping around the Austrian hills on vacation (so plan ahead!).
  • Museums: There is an endless array of museums to visit in Vienna, but two I throughly enjoyed were the Leopold Museum (Gustav Klimt paintings and Art Nouveau decorative arts were my favorites) and the Liechtenstien Museum (lovely intimate setting with Baroque focus).
  • Dinner at Schonbrunn Palace: Our elegant dinner at the baroque World Cultural Heritage Site – Schonbrunn Palace – was preceded by a private “Imperial” tour. We were then wisked off to The Gloriette Cafe which is housed in a structure set behind the palace and overlooking the expansive gardens. In the background live classical music was being played, which included a quartet of women playing electrical violins/cellos/violas while singing opera or contemporary music. This whole setting transported us all back to the age of the Habsburgs.
  • MoZuluArt: This was the most memorable part of our visit to Vienna. Mozart infused with Zulu music. Who would have thought? Check them out:

The group then separated into West (Salzburg, Innsbruck and Tirol) and East (Graz in Styria and Burgenland) caravans and went off for a three-day adventure. Since I have already extensively visited the West, I chose to go East. Boy was I glad I made that choice! The food, wine, musical and cultural experiences were very unique. Stay tuned for more information on “GRAZ AUSTRIA: EUROPE’S 2003 CULTURAL CAPITAL” and “BURGENLAND: UNDISCOVERED CULINARY AND CULTURAL EXPERIENCES”.

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