The mini-metropolis of Styria
Is this a regional capital? With less than 300,000 citizens? Sounds more like an Austrian backwater provinces, you’re thinking? Well then, you would be quite wrong. Bold, gracious Graz is a perfect example of how a historical world cultural heritage, a modern culture scene and avant-garde architecture can come together to form a mini-metropolis – which has some fantastic natural attractions on its outskirts
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Culture in capital letters
For its year as a European Capital of Culture, Graz made a suitably grand gesture and commissioned a whole ensemble of avant-garde buildings that have been causing a sensation ever since. One of them, the Kunsthaus building, has even graduated to the status of a city landmark, having won the hearts of the people of Graz, who came up with two affectionate nicknames for the bulbous building: “Friendly Alien” and “Blue Bubble.” Inside, Kunsthaus Graz features often spectacular exhibitions spotlighting every facet of contemporary art – from architecture and design or new media to cinema and photography. Since the declared purpose of the museum was to showcase only the latest artworks of contemporary artists, it has no place for permanent exhibitions or a resident collection.
Kunsthaus Graz: Lendkai 1, Tel.: +43-316/80 17 92 00. Opening times: Tue-Sun 10am-6pm (except Shrove Tuesday, Ascension Day and December 24 and 25). Admission: €8, reduced €3 to €6.
Graz is also famous for its southern, almost Italian atmosphere, its “italianità” – and nowhere is this more evident than in the historical heart of the city. There, imposing Renaissance facades punctuated by beautiful Baroque and Wilhelminian-style buildings grace magnificent Herrengasse, the main shopping street. The most interesting buildings here are the Landhaus (which houses the Styrian Parliament), the Armory and the “Painted House.” The entire old town area of Graz including Herrengasse is considered the best-preserved city center in Central Europe and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.
Architectural model of the world: Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg had grand ambitions for his proposed palace and intended that it should mirror the universe. The large Planetary Room with its paintings depicting seven planets, four elements and twelve signs of the zodiac is central to that vision. Further paintings in 24 magnificent halls plus 600 individual scenes relate the history of the world and of humanity. Countless more details both inside the palace and in the surrounding park with its Planetary Garden together constitute the “Eggenberg Palace universe.” The palace is located west of Graz and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. It also houses an archeology museum and the Old Gallery.
Schloss Eggenberg: Eggenberger Allee 90 , Tel.: +43-316/80 17 95 32. Opening times: Castle park and gardens, usually daily 8am-7pm (April to October), 8am-5pm (November to March). Guided tours of the state rooms Tue-Sun 10am, 11am, 12 noon, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm (only Palm Saturday through October 31). Admission: Palace park and gardens €1, guided tours of the state rooms €8 (reduced €3-€6). www.museum-joanneum.at/de/schloss_eggenberg
A varied cornucopia in the province capital
An island? A ship? Or something completely different? Whatever it is, this shell-shaped object floats in the middle of the River Mur – and boasts an amphitheater that provides an unusual setting for all manner of events. Outside of event time, sun worshippers gratefully drape themselves on the amphitheater’s benches. Also a popular haunt is the Mur island café right next door to a playground, where kids can tear around and play to their heart’s content. A bridge on either side connects Mur Island with both banks of the river. Created especially for the Capital of Culture Year in 2003, the island was originally intended to be taken down and sold to another city. But the people of Graz were unwilling to part with their favorite new shell and now it is to stay put, at least for the time being.
Mur Island: Lendkai, between Kunsthaus and Fellingergasse, Tel.: +43-316/82 26 60 (Reservations in the café). Opening times: 9am-12 midnight.
Farmers’ market on Kaiser-Josef-Platz:
Almost an outing into the Styrian countryside: The region around Graz owes its byname as the “garden of Austria” to a mild climate in which vegetables, fruit and vines flourish. Many of the family farms here have survived and sell their produce at farmers’ markets – like the one on Kaiser-Josef-Platz, the main square of Graz. Fish, honey, scarlet runner beans, pumpkin seed oil, horseradish, krainer (a type of Slovenian sausage), ham and tangy Schilcher, a local rosé wine, are among the most coveted regional specialties here. Many products are organically grown.
Farmers’ market: Kaiser-Josef-Platz. Opening times: Mon-Sat 6am-1pm
The 15-kilometer stretch between Graz and its local mountain, Schöckl, is popular with skiers and sledders in winter. In summer, day trippers from the city come here to stroll or hike, but Schöckl is also a popular spot for mountainbikers and paragliders. On an Alpine scale, Schöckl is almost a dwarf at just 1445 meters, but seen from the plain that’s little more than 300 meters above sea level, it looks pretty massive and imposing. A further highlight in the area surrounding Graz is the Lur Grotto. A dripstone cave five kilometers long and millions of years old, it provides a habitat for entire bat populations. Guided tours of the cave are available for visitors.
Schöckl: www.holding-graz.at/freizeit/schoeckl.html. Lurgrotte: www.lurgrotte.com
Pictures: Graz Tourismus (7)