EVERY year around 4 million international travellers descend on Vienna to savour the sightseeing icons.
But Austria’s smaller cities like Salzburg, Innsbruck, Linz and Graz have just as much for tourists to do with this last destination – the country’s second-largest settlement – wowing those folks that take the time to escape the big smoke.
Graz is only 150km south from Vienna, with the train journey on the OBB Railjet taking well under three hours, and was not only named the European Capital of Culture in 2003 but backed up in 2008 to be nominated a City of Culinary Delights.
Oh, and BTW, the city lists Arnold Schwarzenegger as its favourite son and most famous resident.
But while you probably won’t get any time to socialise with The Terminator during your stay in Graz here are a few ways to pack out an itinerary in this delightful destination.
Start exploring by ascending the Schlossberg – the tree-covered hill at the centre of the city – then visit the Uhrturm clock tower and ride the funicular to the southern ridge before descending to wander the Styrian Armoury which is said to be the world’s most extensive ordnance collection with 32,000 historical objects.
Stroll the Altstadt von Graz old town which is sprinkled with pristine medieval and renaissance buildings, wander the West Bank which is home to the city’s artsy neighbourhoods like Lend and Gries, and pop into the Herz-Jesu-Kirche which is Graz’s largest church.
The residents of Graz – who love boasting about the fact their city is one of Europe’s culinary capitals – rise early to shop for fresh provisions at the Kaiser Josef Market from Monday to Saturday with the stalls of this historic farmers’ fair sprawling from the shadows of the city’s majestic opera house.
There’s everything from fresh-baked bread and locally-grown veggies to the pumpkin-seed oil that’s a specialty of the region with huts set near the back of the market preparing breakfast snacks for those that get a little peckish while pouring over the gourmet goodies.
Graz’s culinary culture means Austria’s second-largest city is packed with notable places to eat and locals list aiola upstairs high on the Schlossberg summit as a favourite place for breakfast, Der Steirer as the spot to go for a local tapas-style lunch, and Hofbackerei Edegger-Tax as the best bakery in town.
At dinner time they recommend heading to Landhauskeller which is an eatery inside an historic Renaissance courtyard that prepares Austrian favourites like tafelspitz or lingering at Restaurant Eckstein in Mehlplatz – described as one of the city’s most charming town squares – for another take on local flavours.