Slowing down in Graz, Austria’s sustainable second-city

Take every thing you’ve imagined about an Austrian metropolis and throw it out the window. Graz doesn’t have fairly the identical degree of grandeur as Vienna, the classical music tradition of Salzburg, or the Alps on its doorstep like Innsbruck, but it surely does have one thing else – though it’s arduous to quantify what that beguiling one thing is.

There’s a barely Mediterranean vibe amongst the pastel-hued courtyards dotted with olive timber. Within the pedestrianised metropolis centre, you’ll hear the whirring of trams and the jingle of bicycle bells quite than vehicles. Some 20 p.c of the inhabitants are college students, holding a younger soul beating via the previous city. A communist mayor – a shock of the earlier election – at present leads the council. And, after all, there are the 2 UNESCO designations, each for the historic core and the forward-thinking design.

Sure, Graz is a metropolis of light paradoxes. A spot the place the classics and the modern coexist. The place culinary creativity makes you query every thing you suppose you understand about Central European delicacies. A metropolis with such a pronounced give attention to recent produce that farm-to-fork eating places are merely known as eating places, and the stalls at farmers’ markets are as a lot concerning the growers because the produce.

Inexperienced Graz

At its coronary heart, Graz seems like a metropolis the place merely present is a pleasure. Even earlier than you’ve visited a single attraction or sipped your first glass of Styrian wine, you may’t assist however surprise how a lot better life can be if each metropolis felt this fashion. It’s inexperienced, car-free in its coronary heart, and oozes a way of society, inviting you to linger for for much longer than you’ve deliberate. Absolutely that makes it the sustainable metropolis break we’re all dreaming of?

Slowed down sustainability 

Austria’s second-largest metropolis doesn’t simply tout its inexperienced credentials; it lives them. Certain, that’s simply boasted in a metropolis that’s 60% inexperienced areas, however sustainability isn’t solely a buzzword right here; it appears to be a lifestyle. From up-cycling outlets supporting these struggling on the streets to zero-waste cafes reinterpreting yesterday’s leftovers, the neighborhood is as a lot to thank for town’s ecological drive as the environment.

Providing far more than water refill fountains – though there are many these throughout town – the extent of Graz’s Cut back and Reuse mindset turned clear to me the second I stepped off my prepare from the Czech Republic.

Following some barely poor packing, I used to be attempting to find hotter trousers. Firing up Google maps, a minimum of ten second-hand garments shops flashed earlier than me, seemingly outnumbering the fast-fashion chain shops that dot each European excessive avenue.

Hopping on the tram – free within the metropolis centre – which highlights every journey’s CO2 utilization, I rapidly realised how walkable and compact the core was. Free from vehicles, the grand central avenues present a haven for pedestrians and bicycles to co-exist, sometimes giving method to the common trams and town’s new emission-free hydrogen buses.

Graz’s objective to be a walkable metropolis, with every thing you want reachable on foot, is nicely underway, and when strolling the streets is as pleasant as it’s right here, the goal seems far more achievable. 

In a metropolis of lower than 300,000, the place one in 5 residents is a pupil, the will for a clear, climate-focused metropolis has shone via in all current polling. The Inexperienced social gathering has been rising from power to power in Graz’s native authorities, reflecting the resident’s considerations, and numerous eco-focused initiatives have been born.

This isn’t the one continent-bucking development within the native political panorama, although, because the current shock election of town’s first communist mayor – selling a platform of hire freezes and limiting gentrification – exhibits. Nevertheless, it’s removed from simply being a government-led drive to make Graz a greener, fairer metropolis, with charities, NGOs, companions and native companies becoming a member of forces to type a greater and extra community-focused place to stay.

Sunset in Graz's Old Town
Sundown in Graz’s Previous City

An previous metropolis with a younger soul: design, tradition and neighborhood

With its close to millennia-old architectural historical past, there are many issues to do in Graz, and the Previous City ticks many containers that any historic European metropolis would, even when it regularly has a slight twist.

There’s a grand Opera Home, after all, however outdoors stands a towering fashionable Statue of Liberty adorned with a sword. Inside, it’s not simply the classics on present, however Graz’s frequently rising music scene, which has a selected affection for Jazz. Outdoors the principle monuments, smaller statues additionally stand. Bronze fashions recreating the sights in miniature sit on plinths, permitting the visually impaired to ‘see’ town’s structure.

Storied streets net the numerous courtyards collectively, with the occasional memorial stone – an ongoing mission – sunk into the ground as a reminder of these persecuted or murdered by the Nazis. These 50-plus historic courtyards, usually dotted with wine bars, supply an Italian-esque edge to town, offering one thing of a Mediterranean-like labyrinth.

You’ll additionally discover probably the most in depth historic armoury on the earth right here – a testomony to town’s typically troubled previous – though the big dolomite rock standing within the coronary heart of town offers probably the most spectacular story of a neighborhood within the face of invasion.

Serving as each town’s image and a reminder of previous residents’ affection for his or her hometown, the Uhrturm – a brief and stump-like clock tower – crowns town. When Napoleonic troops destroyed the huge Schlossberg fortress that when towered above the Previous City, the residents all got here collectively to pay a ransom to guard their beloved clock tower from the identical destiny.

Whereas a lot of the Schlossberg fortress is lengthy gone – as are the tales of those that lived there within the eighth century BC – the elevated inexperienced house is endowed with postcard-perfect panoramas. Settle in for a espresso, attempt to spot the peculiarity with the clock’s hand, after which, you may even take an inner slide again all the way down to the underside; Graz likes to maintain a little bit enjoyable and never take itself too critically.

Group, like Graz itself, isn’t only a story of the previous. Every little thing seems to stay in concord right here, and with 150 languages spoken within the metropolis and one in 5 residents being a pupil, the youthful and aged forge a means ahead – considerably helped by the Previous City nonetheless being residential and never taken over by vacation leases.

These adjustments didn’t simply occur in a single day; a selected turning level in Graz’s story got here in 2003 when it was topped the European Capital of Tradition. Not did town simply have World Heritage standing for the Medieval Previous City, but it surely was additionally awarded the UNESCO designation as a Metropolis of Design. This accolade celebrates Graz’s design colleges, forward-thinking structure and embrace of contemporary city design, making it solely the second metropolis on the continent to carry each titles, Berlin being the opposite.

Whilst you’ll spot the intertwining of up to date and traditional structure throughout town – from the curve-shaped buildings of the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid to the aforementioned Statue of Liberty – two of town’s most futuristic emblems hyperlink the grandest a part of town with two lesser-visited neighbourhoods; Lind and Gries.

View of the Graz River Mur
View of the River Mur in Graz

The ‘different facet’

“My grandmother warned me about shifting right here”, laughs Ruth, my native information, as we cross the River Mur in the direction of town’s Lend district.

This was my introduction to ‘The Different Facet’, as I usually heard it referred to throughout my go to, which invoked photographs of some lawless place throughout the river. Because it seems, this district, Lend, was precisely as soon as that; very a lot with a facelift these days.

Earlier than reaching the center of this up-and-coming (learn: beginning to gentrify) district, you’ll encounter two of town’s most distinguished fashionable architectural feats.

The primary, the Murinsel, is a synthetic island linked by bridges, initially designed to drift on New York Metropolis’s Hudson River. Glass and metal walkways fuse Graz’s two sides collectively, assembly within the center at a central platform the place artwork is displayed amongst locals lounging with a latte.

Simply past, the Kunsthaus, town’s fashionable artwork gallery, stands out like a sore thumb – or a pleasant alien – because the locals have affectionately named it. An expansive house of black glass that turns into an LED display by night time, tentacle-like home windows crawl out from the rooftop, and modern and fashionable exhibitions inhabit the inside.

These two buildings without end reworked the entire metropolis – at first with a lot native disdain – however for Lend, they have been the beginning of a catalyst of change.

Graz's Kunsthaus at night
Graz’s Kunsthaus at night time

At first look, the neighbourhood seems to be fairly just like the Previous City. Grand Baroque church buildings and pastel-hued façades line the thoroughfares, hiding tales of bygone intercourse work, revelry and crime alongside the once-historic commerce route – and pink mild district – which linked Vienna with Trieste. 

Whereas well-heeled residents from the Previous City now not keep away from the world as they as soon as would, even with the advance of gentrification, it nonetheless retains a little bit of a fame for freedom-seekers and creatives.

These days, brothels have been reborn as fashionable cocktail bars, natural eating places serve up cuisines from world wide, and social-impact-focused shops, equivalent to Offline Retail, up-cycle whereas creating employment alternatives and supporting native communities. It’s been a comparatively current and fast turnaround for Lend, and maybe the rise within the velocity of the change – and rents – can present a solution to the shock of the current mayoral elections.

It’s part of town you enterprise to simply to benefit from the ambiance quite than to tick off sights, offering a welcome, and complementary, change of ambiance to the polished Previous City.

In neighbouring Gries, the place gentrification is much less noticeable, Ruth tells me you may expertise an air of what Lend was like a decade or so in the past. With community-focused festivals – I stumbled upon a avenue social gathering that was based by a hairdresser a few years in the past – an lively church reimagined with graffiti-style fashionable artwork, and so many unbiased bars, galleries and artisanal shops, having fun with a craft beer right here seems like a unique Graz than the wine bars of the Previous City.

Farm to fork with out the cliché 

It was a cold September afternoon, and the Styrian capital was nonetheless desperately making an attempt to cling to summer time. The scent of pumpkin oil wafted via the lunch hour air whereas the clinking of glass celebrated the arrival of this 12 months’s Sturm, a nonetheless fermenting wine discovered solely throughout harvest season.

The Styrian countryside, the fertile farmlands that envelop Graz, play an enormous half within the metropolis’s standing as Austria’s Culinary Capital. Nevertheless, the bestowed title is excess of a advertising gimmick and results in a city-wide philosophy of what meals must be.

Asking the receptionist at Lodge Gollner – the characterful family-run lodge I used to be calling dwelling – to suggest some farm-to-fork eating places, I acquired a questioning look again. On this metropolis, consuming native produce isn’t one thing to have a good time; as an alternative, the usual. Some vetted institutions are highlighted with the “Genuss Hauptstadt” brand of their window, displaying their dedication to high quality, native, and seasonal produce. Nevertheless, these are removed from the one eating choices dwelling by the ethos.

Take Hummel, for instance. A women-led, low-waste idea restaurant within the ever-evolving Lend district. Natural espresso beans and home made bio jams adorn the restaurant-cum-shop’s cabinets, whereas mushy pastel-hued furnishings mix completely with the brown recycled napkins on the tables. In contrast to the Ottomans of the seventeenth century, whose advances and invasions within the area actually weren’t welcome, the desk laden with their scrumptious Levantine-inspired small plates actually is.

The zero-waste idea turns into clear as I take my first mouthful; it’s too good to depart a single morsel. After all, the credentials are extra outlined than that, with the components coming from their packaging-free grocery retailer Das Gramm. How, I’m wondering, after a mouthful of cauliflower, can it have absorbed a lot flavour and never be full mush? I determine it’s a feat of engineering quite than cooking and rapidly transfer on to one of many 20 or so different plates. Once I depart two hours later, stuffed and smiling like I’ve received the lottery, I spot a ‘reuse bread’ store throughout the road, the place yesterday’s loaves are given a discount-priced likelihood at discovering their method to one other desk.

An overflowing table at Die Hummel
An overflowing desk at Die Hummel

Vegetarians and vegans may even discover a foodie mecca right here, with numerous eating places devoted to uncooked meals and natural produce. This idea isn’t simply restricted to eating out both; even the native colleges and authorities places of work have adopted a meat-free day every Wednesday. Consuming nicely in Graz isn’t a chore, neither is good high quality meals essentially priced at a premium.

Take quick meals – and neglect McDonald’s – the short bites menus in Graz are far more thrilling and inexperienced. At Swing Kitchen, I tasted probably the most scrumptious vegan burger, washed down by a bottle-free refill served in a tin-can cup. Likewise, you received’t discover Starbucks right here; as an alternative, the go to is native chain Tribeka for a cup of fair-trade espresso. Even the merchandising machines supply native produce, whereas lots of the surrounding farms have 24-hour honesty-box fashion outlets to seize last-minute recent produce.

Straying to the countryside actually isn’t mandatory – though extremely really useful – to get a flavour of Graz’s growers’ current harvest. Farmers’ Markets dot town, and from Monday to Saturday, the very palms that planted the goodies hawk their ochre pumpkins and rich-red berries, including a face and spot of pleasant banter to the recent produce. 

“What we actually like concerning the market are all these little bars across the edge” Ruth tells me as we sip on a home made glass of Schilcher, a rosé crafted from grapes indigenous to the area.

“On a summer time night, folks meet mates, skate, get pleasure from music and even take salsa lessons,” she continues. “It’s an important place for meals and enjoyable.” 

Whereas we frequently go to the markets when travelling to get a way of a location, right here, you’ll get far more than that. You’ll be gifted with a way of the residents’ pleasure.

Helena makes jam at Fattingerhof
Helena makes jam at Fattingerhof

From Moni, a neighborhood chef crafting dumplings in her purpose-built kitchen, which distributes to eating places across the metropolis – preserve a watch out for her identify on menus – to Helena, a farmer who was making jam once I visited Fattingerhof, an out-of-city buschenschank (rustic farm-based inns) for a chew to eat, pleasure is one thing that oozes from Graz’s residents.

But, this essential ingredient isn’t simply in what’s produced right here; it’s additionally a ardour for preserving the luxurious panorama for future generations. Whether or not it was Susanne Huber telling me about her sustainable screen-printed style, some utilizing cutting-edge replanted wood-based materials at Peaces, or the workers of TAG werk explaining how their fashionable recycled backpacks additionally create youth employment, there was no denying that sustainability was very a lot a lived objective.

When it’s time to depart – by night time prepare to Italy, following within the metropolis’s inexperienced credentials – I recognise that Austria has someway develop into considered one of my favorite international locations with out actually realising it was occurring. 

In case you requested me to let you know why I couldn’t actually quantify it past how I began this text – Graz is only a fantastic place to exist – and it encapsulates that in a far much less pretentious means than different locations which might quite greenlight, than go ahead, with their sustainable ambitions.

My Graz tip? Overlook a whirlwind tour of the highlights and settle in for some time; the Styrian folks will definitely make you’re feeling welcome, and your abdomen will greater than thanks. 

Plan your journey to Graz, Austria 

Able to discover Austria’s Eden-like metropolis your self? Try my in-depth Graz Journey Information to find all the highest issues to do in Graz, the place to eat, sleep and store, and the most effective methods to get to and across the metropolis and close by sights.

This text was produced in partnership with #TravelDeeperGraz, who supported my autumn 2022 go to with guides and lodging. All editorial content material is, as at all times, my very own

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