Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, is a lovely destination to visit all year round. In addition to its charming UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town, Graz is also a UNESCO City of Design, Austria’s Culinary Capital and a fabulous shopping destination. The city is surrounded by rolling hills blanketed by a patchwork of forests, farmland, vineyards and villages. This provides even more opportunities for active and culturally-infused day trips. I’ve been to Graz several times but my most recent trip, which took place in autumn, was my favourite. The fall foliage was gorgeous and numerous festivals added a vibrant splash of colour and light, as well as delicious treats. I explored the city and the surrounding countryside and quickly decided that autumn is perhaps the best time of the year to visit Graz.
The first thing I did was head out for a walk around the compact old town. The temperature was a balmy 20 degrees Celsius but the trees were already starting to sport hues of orange and yellow. One of my favourite things to do in Graz is to climb up Castle Hill for lovely views across the city. As I made my way up, I sensed a wonderful vibe in the city: locals were out and about visiting various cultural and food festivals or simply enjoying the gorgeous weather in the parks and terraces. I caught a pretty blissful whiff of roasted chestnuts, a warm, smoky scent that’s synonymous with the colder months, as I walked up the hill.
Once atop the hill, I was greeted by stupendous views of the city, with its terracotta rooftops.
The Truffle Festival
One of the reasons I decided to visit Graz in autumn was to experience the annual Truffle Festival. Created to celebrate the seven different varieties of truffles that are found in the forests in and around Graz, the Truffle Festival now also includes an international truffle market.
During the festival, typically held in late-October to early-November, there are guided hikes in the forests to search for truffles, the truffle market and partnerships with numerous restaurants in Graz to feature truffles in their menus.
The International Truffle Market is located in the lovely Paradeishof (where else would you have a truffle market? ;-)). The market hosts truffle vendors and chefs from Graz, Italy and Slovenia. It was an absolutely delicious experience going from one stall to the next, and tasting a variety of truffle-themed dishes. A local wine vendor offered specially selected wines which perfectly complemented the truffle dishes.
An exquisite culinary experience
My Graz culinary journey continued with a sublime 7-course dinner at Zur Goldenen Birn. This fine-dining restaurant, arguably the finest in Graz, served a special seasonal menu with subtle hints of truffles.
Each dish was simply a work of art and a feast for the senses. The chef’s skills and love of regional products were evident. Each course was a multi-sensory celebration founded on fresh produce, well-honed techniques and artistic talent.
We chose the wine-pairing and were presented a variety of local and regional wines. It was a terrific introduction to the great array of wines produced around Graz.
Being a bit of a history nerd, I was thrilled by the golden pears which the waiter placed at our table before each course. Each pear held up a card with a historical anecdote, and which tied in with the dish that was about to be served. What a wonderful idea!
Graz had another treat in store for me: Klanglicht. This light and sound festival is held each year for several nights in late-October and involves artists from Austria and around the world. During the festival, Graz’s historic buildings form the façade for an absolutely enchanting light and sound experience.
I strolled around the old town to see some of the installations, most of which had free admission. There was a spectacular light and laser show in the Stadtpfarrkirche zum Heiligen Blut (Parish Church of the Holy Blood), a church that’s famous for its beautiful and intriguing stained glass windows.
At the Grazer Burg (Graz Castle), I discovered a wondrous installation of giant bubbles stacked atop one another. In the adjacent park, the side of a building formed the screen for a series of vibrant, moving images. Klanglicht sure is a highlight of autumn in Graz!
In the countryside
In addition to wandering around the city, I made two trips into the surrounding countryside to visit various attractions and see the fall foliage in the forests.
Perhaps the cultural highlight of this trip to Graz was my visit to the Rein Abbey. A short drive northwest of Graz, Rein Abbey, founded in 1129, is the oldest (continuously-inhabited) Cistercian monastery in the world.Before visiting the abbey, I went for a stroll in the surrounding forest to admire the gorgeous fall foliage.
The highlight of the abbey is its basilica, with one of the most splendorous Baroque interiors I’ve ever seen! Read more about my visit to Rein Abbey.
Piber Stud Farm
The following day, I went on another day trip, this time to the west of Graz. My first stop was the Piber Stud Farm, the historic training and breeding complex for the Lipizzaner horses. This farm is the exclusive supplier of Lipizzaner horses to the world-famous Spanish Riding School, one of the top attractions in Vienna.
The tour of the complex, including a visit to the farm and stables, was a wondrous experience that I didn’t quite expect. During the tour, I learned about the fascinating history of this breed and its role in the Habsburg Empire.
A short drive from the stud farm, in the village of Bärnbach, stands a peculiar-looking church. Designed by the famous Austrian artist, Hundertwasser, this whimsical church is a celebration of colour, organic forms and world religions.
Schilcher wine route
There are numerous wine routes in the vicinity of Graz and the Schilcher Wine Route is probably the closest. The route winds its way around the hills, passing vineyard-clad slopes, farms and forests. It was another opportunity to admire the scenic countryside around Graz and have a meal at one of the wine taverns (locally known as a buschenschank).
The wine taverns are a great way to learn about and taste the local wines and produce. We visited the Buschenschank Zach. Situated atop a hill, the tavern offered panoramic views of the surrounding hills. Our meal comprised a platter of cold cuts, cheeses and bread, accompanied by a glass of a delicious local white wine.
Read about another wine route near Graz: the South Styrian Wine Road.
Autumn is perhaps my favourite time of the year for a city trip. In most cases, it’s less crowded thus making travel and accommodation easier and cheaper to book. If you’re thinking of a city break in autumn, consider Graz and its surroundings. Here’s a Graz itinerary for a short trip, and a Graz architecture walk.
Note: my trip to Graz was sponsored by Graz Tourism. However, as always, all views expressed above are mine and mine only.