Frequently referred to as Austria's Tuscany, Styria is a southern Austrian region slap bang up against the Slovenian border. It is way off the beaten wine-track and has the most achingly beautiful countryside imaginable.
Styria makes a wide range of wines from numerous grape varieties, but for most there are 2 vinous reasons to come here - Sauvignon Blanc and Schilcher. For me, you can add Muskateller.
And Schilcher - a rosé made from the traditional indigenous Blauer Wildbacher grape, reputed to have been in cultivation in Celtic times, which has pronounced acidity and freshness.
The allure of this region is breathtaking. The beauty of the countryside, the lack of tourism, small local inns and the beautiful wines, conspire to offer a wine-tourism destination par excellence.
And you're not far from the Alpine resorts of Austria, for winter sports or summer hiking - another bonus!
There is a varied terroir in Styria with volcanic influences but most wineries' soils are characterized by marl, clay, lime, gravel and sand.
Styrians have always loved healthy lean meat and its characteristic, aromatic taste. Game from the Hochschwab normally comprises red deer and chamois. Chamois live on the mountain in both summer and winter and feed on the best and most aromatic Alpine herbs. Game therefore does not need strong seasoning. The dark game meat sets itself apart from other types of meat by its aromatic flavour and is primarily characterised by its low fat and high protein content.
The Gesäuse epicurean game region is in north-eastern Styria and includes the unspoilt and natural areas of the Styrian Eisenwurzen Nature Park and the Gesäuse National Park. The rich forest in the area between the Hochschwab and the Gesäuse and the valleys between the Enns and Salza rivers offer the game that live there a natural sanctuary. You can taste these conditions in the products from the Gesäuse epicurean game region. Above all, it is the Gesäuse innkeepers who will invite you to enjoy the fresh and healthy game in the form of exquisitely prepared dishes.
The traditional area for the cultivation of Styrian horseradish is in the south-eastern part of Styria. In this area, about a hundred operations produce this typically Styrian delicacy on around 300 hectares. The local climate, with its high humidity and high temperatures in the growing season, offers excellent growing conditions for Styrian Horseradish (Protected Geographical Indicator). In addition, the deep, heavy, loamy soil gives the horseradish its piquancy. In Styria, horseradish is known mainly in stick form. It is however, also available freshly grated. It is sometimes also mixed with other products (e.g. apple, to make Apfelkren sauce). Horseradish is enjoyed enjoyed freshly grated with a cold platter and also is used everywhere - starters, main courses, even side dishes, spreads and salads. In mid-November, during the Krenwochen (horseradish weeks) the piquant root, traditionally part of a cold platter eaten at Easter and the Brettljausn platter, is an accompaniment to cold smoked salmon fillet and a few drops of pumpkin seed oil, mixed in with beetroot salad and made into an excellent soup with a real kick. "Garden penicillin" has twice as much vitamin C as lemons, is an anti-inflammatory, aids digestion and is good for the bladder.
Murtal Styrian Cheese
The Murtal Styrian Cheese region comprises the ecoregion of Murau and the districts of Judenburg and Knittelfeld. Numerous farming operations with milking herds produce the high-quality raw material, milk. The Obersteierische Molkerei dairy has produced Styrian cheese for a good 50 years and in summer it is a delicacy in many mountain hut bars.
Murtal Styrian Cheese is a hard cooking cheese, from which mature, low-fat cottage cheese is made. Caraway, pepper, table salt, emulsifying salts and milk are added. It is due to this that Murtal Styrian Cheese obtains its typical hearty, spicy flavour, which it is often improved with butter. It is particularly good with a slice of toast from the wood-fired stove, fresh Alpine dairy butter and a glass of Alm oxen milk.
Pöllau Hirschbirne Pears
These come from an old Styrian variety of pear tree. Large numbers can now only be found in the Pöllau Valley. The trees, planted mostly in rows or in grazed orchards, are up to 200 years old.
For hundreds of years, the Hirschbirne pear has dominated the view of the Pöllau Valley, where it constitutes the basis of perry pear varieties. What is striking about the trees is their longevity, their ruggedness against frost, their rich harvest and the good transportability and shelf life of the fruit. Since time immemorial, Hirschbirne pears have been turned into perry, fine brandies and vitamin-rich Kletzen (dried pears). Some farmers produce a single variety Hirschbirne pear vinegar, which is characterised by its unique flavour.
Many of these traditions feel incredibly familiar to a Swiss like me :)
As early as the eighteenth century, travellers had begun to note the rural peculiarities of clothing, traditions and ways of life. The time of Archduke Johann can definitely be seen as high point in the appreciation of indigenous clothing. His commission sent painters, such as Johann Lederwasch, Matthäus Loder, Karl Ruß and Thomas Ender throughout the country in order to produce a true picture of how people lived in Styria's rural regions. When people talk of the Archduke and an exemplary clothing tradition, they usually mean the grey-green frock coat that was turned from a piece of hunting clothing to a symbol of attachment to the homeland.
The Almabtrieb is the end of the mountain pasture grazing period and, at the same time, the beginning of the winter period in which the cattle are stabled. The grazing cattle are festively decorated with crowns, branches, ribbons and mirrors and are driven home from the mountain pastures. The large bells that are hung around the animals' necks are particularly fascinating. If there has been a death in the family or amongst the animals, the cattle are either not decorated or decorated with a black ribbon.
The Almabtriebe take place throughout Styria in September.
Apple Blossom Festival
When the apple trees bloom in April, a trip to Styrian Apple Country in the area near Weiz is a particular highlight. The large spring festival with its hikes and the Apple Walk in the area around the orchard village of Puch enthuse the young and young-at-heart as much as the traditional morning pint. The moored balloon launch is always popular.
The Puch landlords magic up exquisite apple specialities and the street vendors offer culinary delights.
Of course, no festival is half as much fun without a prize draw, face painting for children and horse-drawn carriage rides.
Aufsteiern is the festival for everyone who thinks, lives, reads, sings and dances Styrian-style, or simply loves what is typically Styrian. For an entire day, Graz Old Town becomes a stage, in a word, a village square, on which numerous participants invite you to wander through the huge variety of green and white folk culture. All the regions offer typical specialities.
The festival takes place every year in September in the centre of Graz.
FIS Nordic Combined Skiing World Cup in Ramsau
In winter, the world's Nordic combined skiing elite traditionally come to Ramsau am Dachstein. It is a matter of inches and tenths of a second when the professionals battle for victory. Each pushes their limits and gives their best. And you can be right there, excitedly looking out for the best time. This event is always one of the highlights of the winter calendar in Ramsau. It is also an exciting change if you want to indulge in cross-country skiing fun on three levels.
Junker Presentation / Styrian Wine
The young Styrian Junker wine is traditionally first served on the Wednesday before St. Martin's Day (11 November). The evening begins with the celebration of the fantastic Junker premières.
Vineyards and wine taverns put on local events around the theme of Styrian Junker wine. Be careful - young wine served before "Presentation Wednesday" cannot be Junker.
Narcissi Flower Festival
The first Narzissenfest was put on for visitors to Ausseerland in 1960. It is now one of the most popular events in Europe and normally takes place in the last weekend in May. The high point of this festival of traditional costume and traditional culture is the big parade with various oversized figures made from narcissi. The car parade always takes place in Bad Aussee, while the boat parade is either on the Altausseer or the Grundlsee lakes.
Yodelling is one of the oldest forms of communication there is - and probably the loudest that can be achieved with the voice alone. Names such as the "Almschrei" ("cry of the Alpine pastures") or "Viehruf" ("cattle call") suggest its function as a means of communication in mountain areas, from farm to farm, from lodge to lodge and across the valleys. The continuous switching between a chest and head vocal register and the constantly recurring "I", sounding particularly high and penetrating enables the yodeller to overcome large distances. He attracts the listeners' attention, and the listeners then respond. Cattle too, react to such a call, at least with a shake of the head, and this sets the bell hung around the animal's neck ringing as a signal to the herdsman or dairyman.
What really grabs your attention is when the yodel is sung in several voices. The singers stand around in a circle, and one man or woman strikes up the theme, loud and clear. Then the other voices come in, going with, or singing a counterpoint to the main themes, in syllables and tones that rise up against one another as majestically as the mountain chains of the Alps and with melodic flourishes akin to mountain ascents and valley descents. For the closing notes, the sound generally ascends once more, into the sheer joy of the yodelling and expressing the elation of the Alpine pastures. Many yodellers swear by this. It is powerful singing with great depth. Yodelling sets the body into a vibrating oscillation and the whole person is transported into a meditatively-relaxed harmony. Notes are simply an approximate anchoring-point in this - what's important is being ready to listen to one another in this singing and calling, and to open up to this intermingling with the full force of one's breath. Anyone who has the confidence to be earthily loud and restrainedly quiet can yodel.