These days, it seems like ‘local’ has never been more important.
We are learning to explore our own local, to see what makes the neighbourhoods around us special and discover things that we’ve never noticed before.
And as we travel again to other cities, other countries, (maybe, one day, other continents), we will look for what is local in those places.
It feels like there’s more at stake now when we take a trip. It’s not quite as easy as before, there’s a sense it needs to be more worthwhile. By experiencing what is unique about a destination, we justify that trip away from home – we have found something new and special, enjoyed connecting with the world.
When I think about some of my trips over the past couple of years, and I consider this idea of ‘local’, I think of Austria… and, specifically, Graz.
One afternoon, with a few other blogger friends, I was sitting outside at what the locals call a ‘buschenschank’. It’s the word used in Austria’s Styria region to describe the tavern attached to a small winery (in other parts of Austria, it’s generally called a ‘heuriger’).
Underneath the trees, with some welcome shade from the bright blue sky, I learn a bit more about the idea of a ‘buschenschank’. They first emerged in the 1780s when the Austrian Emperor Joseph II allowed wineries to sell their own ‘new wine’ at their establishments. But, in order to protect the business of restaurants, they weren’t allowed to sell food.
More than two centuries later, the ethos of that original decree has not changed too much. Buschenschanks still have a licence to serve their own wine (although it doesn’t have to be ‘new’) but they are not allowed to sell other prepackaged drinks like coffee or cola.
They are also still not allowed to serve hot meals, as to not directly compete with restaurants, but they are able to serve cold food like cheese or meat platters… as long as it has come from nearby producers.
You can’t really get more local than a situation like this!
We ended up at a buschenschank called Weingut Schauer, which has been a farm here since at least 1757 but started to focus on wine in the 1980s. It’s a family affair, mainly run now by two brothers in their 30s, Stefan and Bernhard Schauer.
Stefan took us through the wines – most of them Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling – and I remember feeling like each of them just seeeds more fresh because we are out there in the garden with the vineyards stretching up and down the green hills. And more local because the winemaker was pouring them, metres away from where they were made.
Weingut Schauer is about 40 minutes’ drive from the centre of Graz and it, along with other similar wineries in Styria, are very popular with locals on the weekends. They are designed to be places where people can spend the afternoon hanging out and enjoying the regional produce outside with friends.
Something I have found with many Austrian cities – and it’s certainly the case with Graz – is that you can very quickly get from the urban centre to the green surrounds. It is not like many cities where there is a clear delineation between the two and the idea that leaving town must be described as a ‘day trip’. Here in Graz, they blend together.
Perhaps it is because people tend to spend a lot of time outside anyway, and the city is full of greenery.
Although Graz is Austria’s second largest city, it’s closer to Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, or Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, than its own in Vienna. The Italian border is about the same distance.
This means it has adopted a lot of influences from these southern countries, especially the idea of aperitivo and al fresco dining.
It seemed a bit odd to me at first to see so many people just sitting at tables outside cafes with a glass of wine in the mid-morning, or an Aperol spritz in the afternoon. But it’s not laziness or decadence – rather, an embrace of what makes life enjoyable. For many, that is catching up with a friend for a drink in the sun before lunch (you can’t get out to a buschenschank every day).
When I last visited Graz, I spent a lot of time walking around the city – which is actually very easy, considering the centre is quite compact. And another of the things that struck me was how different cultural influences blended together within the urban centre, just like the green spaces merged with the built environment.
The historic centre of Graz, listed as a World Heritage Site, is full of beautiful old buildings that are both grand and intricate. (And I have written previously about the best things to do in Historic Graz.)
But to find cool new suburbs, all you need to do is cross the river – perhaps over the Murinsel, which is a funky steel construction that is part bridge and part island, with a cafe and performance space in the middle.
Over the other side of the river are Gries and Lend, two neighbourhoods with street art, cool bars, live music, and trendy cafes. I love that they are so close and connected to the history of the city, yet bring a fresh atmosphere so nothing feels staid.
Within Graz, there are so many things to do – the museums of Graz are a good place to start, for example – yet it’s also the kind of city where you can just explore the neighbourhoods, walk the streets, visit the markets, and discover your own little treasures.
Like the small pop-up vending machine I saw on a street with quirky sunglasses inside. It was more street art than bold commercial venture. It made me smile… and then, when I realised that it had not been vandalised or stolen, smile even more.
These are the unique and local experiences that we should look for when we travel, but often we miss. Or, unfortunately, sometimes they have been lost because of a wave of tourism or globalisation.
But in Graz, these gems are everywhere.
One morning, while walking down a street in the suburbs of Graz to reach the imposing Eggenberg Palace (it’s about four kilometres from the city centre), I spotted a basket of fruit at the front of somebody’s house.
It had a sign that read “Apfel: Fallobst, ungespritzt, gratis!” which translates roughly as “Apples: Fallen from the tree, organic, free!”
Someone was giving away free apples that had presumably fallen from a tree in their garden. It wasn’t just generous, it was emblematic of the lifestyle here.
I think back to the buschenschank, where I drank the local wine under the trees with my friends. I look at the basket of fresh free apples being offered by a local resident. And I realise these are things we will still travel for. It’s these special experiences and these deeper connections that make it all worthwhile.
I’m looking forward to getting back to Graz as soon as I can.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN GRAZ
I recommend staying in the historic centre of Graz – not just because you’ll experience the heritage, but because you’ll be in the thick of the action.
Clean, comfortable, and right next to the main train station, a&o Graz Hauptbahnhof is a great hostel option.
Although the rooms are small, Minihotel Graz is right in the centre of town and is great value.
Filled with art and an interesting design, Augarten Art Hotel offers very cool accommodation.
And for luxury, Schlossberghotel has an incredible blend of modern and historic in a building full of art.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Visit Graz but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.