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Six things you must do in Graz, Austria

Austria’s second city – now reachable by direct flight from the UK – is known for its sleek design. Gareth Huw Davies finds a unique spiral staircase, a floating cafe – and a stunning gallery nicknamed the Friendly Alien…

1. Take the short route  

BMI Regional now operates direct flights to Graz from Birmingham. The city centre, just 15 minutes by taxi from the airport, is a World Heritage site. Unesco praises its ‘harmonious integration of architectural styles from successive periods. Each age is represented by typical buildings, which are often masterpieces’.

Baroque beauty: Ride the No 1 tram from the centre to Eggenberg Palace (it stops outside) in the lush outskirts of the city. This is one of Europe’s most impressive baroque palaces

Graz has a strong musical tradition, hosting a succession of festivals. The summer festival of dance and music takes over many venues, both indoors and outdoors. I found music on street corners, too, with some accomplished buskers playing beautiful classical music.

2. Castle on the hill 

A 1,000-year-old castle sits high above Graz on Schlossberg Hill. Look up and marvel, or take the funicular railway to get up there. The steep staircase is best left for descents. 

Then ride the No 1 tram from the centre to Eggenberg Palace (it stops outside) in the lush outskirts of the city. This is one of Europe’s most impressive baroque palaces. 

On my visit, peacocks strutted magisterially in the grounds, part of a living landscape painting. A €5 (£4.50) ticket, at the tram stop, gives 24 hours’ go-anywhere travel. A three-day ticket is €12, or about £10.70.

3. Doing it in style 

Graz was the 2003 European City of Culture and is a Unesco City of Design, one of a worldwide network of creative hubs. To qualify, it has to incorporate good design into everyday life.

The place for stylish shopping is the city-centre department store Kastner & Ohler, which is spread over six elegant floors and also has a rooftop cafe.

The city’s most eye-catching building is the modern art gallery, Kunsthaus. It nestles like a blue hedgehog between the roofs of the historic city centre. Its creators, British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, nicknamed it the ‘Friendly Alien’.

Davies says the city’s most eye-catching building is the modern art gallery, Kunsthaus. Its creators, British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, nicknamed it the ‘Friendly Alien’

Davies says the city’s most eye-catching building is the modern art gallery, Kunsthaus. Its creators, British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, nicknamed it the ‘Friendly Alien’

4. Go with the flow

The River Mur gurgles through the city in a narrow valley, a natural air-freshener on hot summer days. Massive rocks stabilise the banks of what is one of few free-flowing inner-city rivers in Europe.

Faithful to the city’s design status, a local firm sculpted five of the rocks into comfy seats, where people may sit to watch river-surfers. On the water itself is The Island In The Mur, a cafe on a floating steel platform that rises and falls with the water. 

Built in 2003 to US architect Vito Acconci’s design, it is linked by walkways from both banks. 

I didn’t see a single international coffee shop in the centre of Graz, but there’s a big choice of independent places. One of the liveliest is the Kunsthauscafe, in an area transformed since the Kunsthaus opened.

The place for stylish shopping: The city-centre department store, Kastner & Ohler

The place for stylish shopping: The city-centre department store, Kastner & Ohler

There are plenty of restaurants, galleries and shops there too.

5. Culinary gems

I recommend the guided culinary stroll through the Old Town. My guide built in random cafe stops for a platter of local dishes, such as krauthauptel, an aristocrat among lettuces, and scarlet runner beans, with their nutty tang. Staff also serve a glass of something, such as Schilcher, a dry and refreshing local rosé, at each stop.

At pop-up shop Fachl (Herrengasse 13), producers rent a few shelves to promote their wares. They included malt whisky from the local Styria region.

6. Race to the top

There’s a 400-year-old architectural trick in the Burg, the regional government HQ, in the Old Town, and it’s free to try out. 

The Staircase of Reconciliation is a clever construction of two opposing spiral stairs which merge briefly on each floor, separate again and then rejoin. 

Two people are better than one, as you can race each other to the next level.

Another place to linger in the city centre is on the steps of the 17th Century Mausoleum, housing the tomb of the Emperor Ferdinand II. It’s best to visit when it is lit up at night. 

TRAVEL FACTS  

Gareth flew courtesy of BMI Regional (flybmi.com). 

For more information about the city, visit the Graz Tourist Board (graztourismus.at).

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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