South Styria. To be honest, I’d never heard of this region before until my recent trip to Austria. Situated about a two-hour drive southwest of Vienna and less than an hour from Graz, South Styria is a gorgeous region with green rolling hills, mile after mile of vineyards, picturesque villages, wine taverns and lovely, family-owned hotels and inns. I spent several days exploring the South Styrian Wine Road – a beautiful route that winds its way along the region’s best loved vineyards, farms and wine taverns (called buschenschank) – and it didn’t take long to fall in love with South Styria’s stunning landscapes, gorgeous wines and food and incredibly hospitable people.
Exploring the South Styrian Wine Road
The South Styrian Wine Road (map) runs from Glanz-Leutschach – Gamlitz-Ehrenhausen to Strass and passes countless vineyards and wine taverns as well as quaint villages, meadows and lush forests. I stayed in the area near the border with Slovenia at the lovely Ratscher Landhaus.
Michaela and Andreas own the hotel/restaurant and were the perfect hosts. I felt so welcome from the minute I arrived and Michaela was never too busy for a chat about the region’s wines, produce, cuisine and customs. I sat at the terrace and enjoyed the view of the vineyards when Michaela showed up with a glass of Weissburgunder. I sipped on the fresh, crisp wine and smiled; I knew I was in Austria but the whole atmosphere and lifestyle felt so wonderfully Mediterranean!
Later that day, I went for a walk around the area. The scenery of the green hills covered with endless rows of vines, colourful houses and clumps of forests was just beautiful! South Styria is an ideal place for hikes as there are many trails and country lanes to explore and lots of places to stop for a rest and a drink or meal.
A buschenschank (wine tavern) is never far away. These taverns are where locals and visitors congregate for some wine and food (mostly cheese, meat and vegetable platters; no hot meals are served at these taverns). The taverns are a great place to mingle with the friendly, inquisitive locals – you’ll be chatting with them in an instant! Buschenschanks I can recommend include Kögl (in Ratsch an Weinstrasse) and Erika’s (near Gamlitz).
There are about 700 wines on the list!
Dinner that night at the Ratscher Landhaus was an absolute treat! The waiter laid an enormous book on the table, which turned out to be the wine list! He laughed as he saw my astonished look. “There are about 700 wines on the list!”, he explained.
I chose a Muskateller; a gorgeous dry, fruity and aromatic Muscat from the vineyard next door. I started with a beef carpaccio (drizzled with pumpkinseed oil and roasted pumpkin seeds) and continued with asparagus and ham. I didn’t have much room for dessert but when Michaela showed up and suggested vanilla ice-cream and pumpkin seed oil, I couldn’t say no! Haha! South Styria is famous for its pumpkin seed oil and they use it profusely in various dishes. I’d previously only used it in salads but South Styria was giving me new ideas!
The next morning, I continued my exploration of the South Styrian Wine Road, this time by e-bike! There are various places to hire these e-bikes – I got mine in the town of Leutschach. I’m not accustomed to cycling in hilly places (the Netherlands, where I live, is pretty flat!) so I was thankful for the electric motor on the bike. Even with the ‘Turbo’ mode on, it was still a challenge navigating some of the steeper slopes! I turned around when it got too steep and took another route.
Upon returning to Leutschach, I dropped by the local brewery, simply called ‘Die Brauerei‘ (‘The Brewery’). The lady introduced me to one of their specialties: wine beer, which turned out to be a delicious surprise!
That afternoon, I had a terrific lunch at the Sabathihof, a stunning hotel/restaurant/winery with an infinity pool located on a ridge overlooking vineyards and forests on both sides. I tried another South Styrian specialty: ‘backhendl’ (Styrian fried chicken). I finished that plate in no time!
After lunch, I called the WeinMobil (a local taxi service for visitors to the South Styrian Wine Road) which took me to the Wolfgang Maitz vineyard. This visit turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to South Styria. Wolfgang took us on a tour of the vineyard and his cellar before offering us a wine-tasting.
The wines were simply superb – my favourites were the Sauvignon Blancs (a fresh, incredibly well-balanced wine) and the Morillon (a local Chardonnay) – and the views from the terrace were breathtaking!
The wines in South Styria are predominantly white, with the most prominent red being the elegant Blauer Zweigelt. Of the whites, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the Sauvignon Blancs. The unique terroir contributes to fresh, aromatic wines with a distinct body, characteristics that can also be found in the other varietals such as the Traminer, Morillon and Weissburgunder.
South Styria was a great surprise. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I quickly fell in love with this off-the-beaten-path region with its undulating landscapes, fine food and wines and easy-going people. This little corner of southeastern Austria is absolutely worth discovering and I can’t wait to return!
I recommend including the South Styrian Wine Road as part of a larger Styrian road trip (and you shouldn’t miss Graz! Read about my weekend in Graz and things to do in Graz). Please do not drink and drive. Instead, utilise the WeinMobil taxi service when you visit the wineries.
Note: my trip to South Styria was part of the #AustrianTime campaign organised by iambassador with the Austrian National Tourist Office. As always, all views mentioned above are mine, and mine only.