Graz – The city of Graz has one of the finest preserved old centres in Europe, with architecture that reflects centuries of influences from Germany, the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Each era from Graz’s history is perfectly represented in a range of fascinating buildings and monuments, many of which are considered to be masterpieces. It is little wonder that Graz was designated as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site in 1999.

Graz is Austria’s second largest city after Vienna, with around 300,000 inhabitants. One of the city’s highlights is the medieval fortress of Schlossberg (473m/1,552ft,), which is accessed via either a cable car or a steep climb. This is where you will find the famous 1569 hillside clock tower (Uhrturm) peeking out from the trees. Graz was the former home of the Leopoldine line of the Habsburg family and until the seventeenth century, its grandeur was on a par with that of Vienna. There is living evidence of these heydays in Graz’s baroque palaces and town houses that line the city centre’s narrow streets. To find out more about Graz’s splendid history, it is worth visiting the Landesmuseum Joanneum – one of Austria’s best – and the opulent state rooms of Castle Eggenberg (Schloss Eggenberg) located just outside of town.

Hut to Hut, Inn to Inn Hiking & Trekking in Styria

Below are five recommended long-distance walks in Styria. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a flavour of what you might expect on a typical hike in the region.

More detailed information on these walks can be found on Styria Tourism’s walking & hiking website.

1) Gesäuse Mountain Hut Trail
This trek leads you through the Gesäuse, Austria’s newest National Park, and takes approximately 5 days. Your first 2 days are spent traversing the spectacular Haller Mauern mountain range an Mt. Hochturm (2,081m/6,827ft). After a stay at the Admonter Haus hut, you ascend to the charming village of Weißenbach on the Enns, before taking a short train journey to Großreifling. Your next hut is the Ennstaler Hütte at 1,543 metres/5,062 feet. For your final day, you will tackle the most impressive peak of the Gesäuse: the Tamischbachturm (2,035m/6,677ft).

2) Zirbitzkogel Circuit
A 2-day hike through the stunning, richly contrasting landscapes of the Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen Nature Reservoir (featuring Mt. Zirbitzkogel; 2,396m/7,861ft). Enjoy far-reaching panoramas that take in the Niedere and Hohe Tauern mountain ranges as well as the Julische, Karawanken and Steiner Alps. Another highlight is the number of lakes on this walk, with some incredible Ice Age relics which add further interest. The walk concludes among the deep pine groves and wide mountain pastures of the Seetaler Alps.

3) Dachstein Tauern Panorama Trail 100
Enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Mt. Dachstein area of Schladming, which passes along 116 kilometres/72 miles of the banks of the River Enns, with relatively modest altitudes ranging from 700 to 1,300 metres (2,297 feet to 4,265 feet). This circuit hike is characterised by a range of alpine landscapes, lush forests and gentle farmland. Allow at least 7 days for this trek to enjoy it at a leisurely pace, or break it up into several trips. Since no high altitudes are involved, it is possible to do this trail from May onwards.

4) Via Natura
This is a themed walking trail of 130km/81 mi where you can learn all about the flora and fauna of the Zirbitzkogel-Grebenzen Nature Reservoir, visiting every corner of this impressive natural park.

5) Schladminger Tauern Peak Trail
A classic “hut to hut” hike on a high-level trail through the Alps. This trek takes in a variety of mountain lakes and some of the region’s best-loved peaks, including Mt. Hochgolling (2,863m/9,393ft), Mt. Höchstein 2,543m/8,343ft) and Mt. Hohe Wildstelle (2,747m/9,012ft). There are several farmsteads and mountain huts along the route, many of which offer overnight accommodation. This trek can be broken down into sections, if you so wish, as you can descend into the valley from each hut and take a Hikers’ Bus back to your start point.

Grüner See (Green Lake) — Austria may be landlocked, but there are still some excellent dive sites – and the emerald green waters of this mountain lake in Tragoess, at the foot of the snow-capped Hochschwab mountains is a particularly fine example. This quite unique underwater wonder comprises a waterscape which looks like it should be on land, featuring trees, grass, benches and bridges….and that is because for half the year, it is indeed overground! During the freezing winters, the land is used as a country park and becomes a popular spot for hiking. However, when it starts to warm up in springtime, the ice and snow on the mountains begins to melt, running down into the basin below, the park filling with crystal-clear waters which rise to around 10 metres in early summer. The best month for diving is in June, when the water level is at its highest and it provides a great opportunity for diving enthusiasts to experience something truly different. The waters begin to recede from July onwards.

A range of animal life can be spotted in the lake, including various species of trout, small crabs, snails and a range of small fish. There’s not so much in the way of plants, because of the lake’s rocky bed.

National Park Gesäuse
Austria’s newest National Park is to be found in the rugged Ennstal Alps. Its name derives from a section of gorge where the river Enns cascades down between Mt. Himbeerstein (1,222m/4,009ft) and Mt. Haindlmauer (1,435m/4,708ft), right by the park’s entrance. The rugged peaks and rock formations here are largely composed of limestone and dolomite and the valley’s cliffs look almost vertical, with some fascinating shapes, a result of the rock’s ability to weather easily. The highest mountain is Mt. Hochtor (2,369m/7,772ft). But the wonders do not cease above the ground. Some 600 metres/1,969 feet below lie more than 150 caves, meaning there is plenty to keep intrepid walkers interested in this stunning national park.

The park provides a diverse range of habitats for its flora and fauna. You quickly move from woodland plains down in the valley floors to the mountainous forests of spruce, fir and beech trees above, over to vast expanses of alpine grassland, punctuated by scree slopes and crevices and rocky gorges which extend right down to the valley floors. Agriculture is largely prohibited in the Gesäuse, so the plant life remains resplendent. Some of the most prevalent and attractive species include a rich variety of almost 50 orchids.

Birdwatchers will delight in spotting some of the 110 different species which inhabit the national park, including the eagle owl (Bubo bubo), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), white-backed woodpecker (Picoides leucotos) and peregrine falcon (Falco pergrinus), to name just a few.

Within the conservation zone, where traditional farming is permitted, a number of alpine pastures simply add another dimension to this diverse landscape.

History & Culture

A Brief History of Steiermark (Styria)
Styria’s history spans both the region known today as Styria in Austria and the Slovenian region of Štajerska, which was settled by Germans and Slavs from the Dark Ages to the present day. During the 19th century, the area became very popular with mountaineers and was dubbed “Green March” as around three quarters of the entire region is coated in greenery, whether it be forest, orchard, meadow, grassland or vineyard. Styria has also long been an important centre for mining of minerals, soft coal and iron, something which has been in practice since the Roman era. Good wines also come out of Styria and the best-known production area is the Slovenske gorice/Windisch Büheln (“Slovenian Hills”) which stretches between Slovenia and Austria.

Styria touches the borders of Lower Austria, Upper Austria, the Salzburg region, Burgenland – and Slovenia. Prior to World War I, the province was 68% German-speaking, 32% Slovenian. Post-war, in 1918, around a third of the area – the southern, Slovenian-speaking part south of the river Mur – was officially incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The remainder of the land became the Austrian federal state of Styria, while the Slovenian-speaking area (Lower Styria) formed the informal region of Štajerska in Slovenia, which has since been divided into the provinces of Podravska, Savinjska and the major part of Slovenian Carinthia. Graz has always remained the capital – both of the duchy and of the country of Austria and this is where the province’s administration resides.

Styria has an interesting early history. Originally settled by the Celts, the Romans invaded and the land was divided into Pannonia in the east and Noricum in the west. Over the following years, various Germanic tribes settled or passed through the region until control was eventually taken by the Slavs in around 600 BC.

Styria was under the control of Charlemagne for many years, as part of Carinthia, which led to an influx of Bavarian and other Germanic people, who remained faithful to Rome.

Bishop Vergilius of Salzburg (745-784), succeeded in establishing a church hierarchy and thus became dubbed the “Apostle of Carantania.” In 811, Charlemagne declared that the River Drau was to be the border between the Dioceses of Salzburg and Aquileia.

Late in the 10th century, the Duchy of Carinthia created The March of Styria, as a defence against the Magyars. It fell under the rule of a dynasty called the Ottokars, who originated from Steyr in Upper Austria, which is how the land became known as “Steiermark”. In 1180, Styria separated from the Duchy of Carinthia and became a Grand Duchy in is own right. It was officially declared Austrian in 1192.

Once the family line of Ottokar became extinct, it was the Babenberg family who took control in the mid 13th century, followed by the Habsburgs, who ruled until the mid 17th century. These were tumultuous times, and following a series of Ottoman invasions in the 16th and 17th centuries, the land was desecrated. Villages, cities, churches and monasteries were destroyed and the population was wiped out through killings and slavery.

Post World War I, the Treaty of Saint Germain divided Styria. Lower Styria and the cities of Celie and Maribor became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and the remainder of the province stayed Austrian as the State of Syria. Perhaps surprisingly, this was accepted peacefully, in spite of the change in territory and a Germanic minority still present in Slovenia.

Lower Styria was returned to Germany between 1942 and 1945 and after World War II, the lower third of the area was ceded to Yugoslavia. Today, it accounts for around one third of Slovenia’s territory.