Sunday was set aside for a full-day outing: we met with our friends Luis and Isabella (who had already visited us in Toronto in 2005), and drove about an hour into the area of South West Styria, which is a very well-known winegrowing region. We went hiking in a picturesque area of rolling hills that is often referred to as the “Austrian Tuscany”. After all this exercise we enjoyed a scrumptious late lunch in a local winegrower’s restaurant, and in the evening I went for a quick bike ride through town.
South-west Styria is a well-known wine-growing region
The weather did not cooperate the next day and it was drizzling or raining the entire day. This gave me a chance to visit my friend Andrea whose daughter Nina had spent several weeks at our place in Toronto last year. I had not seen Andrea, the older sister of one of my schoolmates, for at least 23 years and the reunion was fabulous. A little round of tennis with my friends Luis and Isabella capped off a low-key day.
The baroque Weizbergkirche
A brilliant blue sky and beaming sunshine woke me up on Tuesday and I embarked on my first photo tour of my home town. I checked out the imposing baroque pilgrimage church called Weizbergkirche in my home town, and visited Schloss Thannhausen, a Renaissance castle that is still used for concerts and special events. I then drove through the Weizklamm mountain gorge that features vertically dropping limestone cliffs, a river and a main road that is patched against the rocks. The road is so narrow in some areas that one side of traffic has to wait for the other side to pass, there simply isn’t enough room for two vehicles to get by side by side.
Quaint country beauty in St. Kathrein
The road took me up into the mountains to a village called St. Kathrein, a picturesque little place with gorgeous mountain views, lots of local bed and breakfasts, hiking trails and a nearby ski area. In the afternoon I connected with Andrea and her family again and together we embarked on a special excursion: a visit to the Katerloch, a well-known limestone cave that features the greatest variety of stalactites and stalagmites in all of Austria.
Limestone formations in the Katerloch
Fritz, our guide, took us on a two-hour walking tour and with his dynamic and entertaining speaking style he explained all the features of the cave, including the various rock formations as well as several big caverns with names such as the Hall of Fantasy, the Enchanted Kingdom and the Lake Paradise which features an underground lake 135 m below the cave’s entrance. He also told us about the former owners and explorers of the cave, a deeply religious married couple that discovered and made accessible extensive new sections of the cave in the early to mid 1950s. These two individuals definitely believed that willpower and conviction can move mountains.
Rural scene near my home town
Another gorgeous summer day followed which I decided to start off with a hike through the wildest section of the Raabklamm, Austria’s longest gorge and a designated European nature conservation area. My friends Andrea and Herbert set the pace which was enhanced by our Nordic walking poles. I stopped for a couple of Austrian culinary treats at a local restaurant before I continued my excursion to Graz, the capital of Styria and Austria’s second largest city.
Andrea and I went hiking in the Raabklamm
Graz is a really underrated destination, the majority of North Americans has never even heard of it. When people think of traveling to Austria, the destinations Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck instantly come to mind. Surprisingly Graz is still mostly flying under the radar as far as North American travelers are concerned.
Ancient trade symbols in Graz