CREATIVE HUBS: GRAZ
With a famously well-preserved Old Town, Graz is a place with one foot firmly rooted in the past. But Austria’s second-biggest city is also home to six universities (students makes up roughly one sixth of the total population) and a thriving design scene that is putting a more innovative side to the city on the map.
Graz was named European Capital of Culture in 2003 and became a Unesco City of Design in 2011. Both of these honours ignited creative sparks that can still be felt today. To coincide with the celebrations of 2003, Graz inaugurated Mur Island, a floating feat of architecture that links the two banks of the Mur River. The same year also saw the opening of Kunsthaus Graz contemporary art museum. Known by locals as “the friendly alien”, the otherworldly structure – with its smooth curved edges and sucker-like appendages – contrasts with the city’s otherwise traditional skyline. The image in itself seems to encapsulate the dynamics of a city moving forward while maintaining ties with the past.
Located on the west bank of the River Mur, the creative district surrounding Lendplatz and Mariahilferstraße has in particular undergone a programme of redevelopment. The area today is alive with creative enterprises: coffee shops, bespoke barber shops and co-working spaces like Menagerie. Living costs in Graz are much lower than they are in Vienna, which has made the city a popular base for Austrian entrepreneurs. The national government supports start-ups with favourable crowdfunding laws, and many university students hang around in the city after graduating to secure their first job.
As the capital of the south Austrian state of Styria – a land of rolling vineyards, verdant orchards and thriving farms – Graz has always been viewed as a culinary hotspot, thanks to its high quality regional produce. Lately, there’s been a buzz around new additions to the scene. Having opened in 2015, Kunsthauscafé is an on-trend locale that serves imaginative salads at lunchtime and cocktails by night. In the same year, Graz stalwart Landhauskeller was given a new lease of life that respected its old-world appeal. And that’s the key to culture here – it’s a place that takes the new with a respectful nod to the old.
WHERE TO STAY
Surrounded by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture of the Old Town, Augarten Hotel breaks the mould. This design-centric base is all glass and metal, with contemporary sculptures dotted around the courtyard and rooftop terrace.
Located on the banks of the River Mur, Schlossberg Hotel prides itself on its art collection. You’ll find a range of contemporary works hung across the 49 rooms, as well as curated art guides to the surrounding neighbourhood on their website.
Having been around since 1909, the Wiesler is a hotel with heritage – but that’s not to say this place is resting on its laurels. The lobby is home to a contemporary art installation comprising painted wooden slats, while the Speisesaal restaurant serves a modern iteration of traditional Austrian cuisine.
WHAT TO SEE
This artificial island hovers atop the River Mur. Designed by New York-based artist Vito Acconci, this vision in metal and glass houses an open-air amphitheatre, a children’s playground and a café, which is perfect for sitting and watching the world go (or should we say float?) by.
Designed by architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, Kunsthaus Graz is a contemporary art museum that has become an unlikely icon for the city. Its otherworldly shape is unmissable, especially when contrasted with the red roofs and white walls of Graz’s more traditional buildings.
Styria wine region
Located one hour south of the city, the Südsteirische Weinstrasse (South Styrian Wine Road) is a 6.5km hiking trail that snakes through acres of verdant vineyards. It’s often compared to Tuscany in Italy, and offers a glimpse into the natural bounty that surrounds the region’s capital city.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
This relative newcomer to the Graz culinary scene is located (like everything good in the city) on the bank of the River Mur. During the day, on-trend locals come for long breakfasts or vegan brunches, while cocktails and electro beats steal the limelight by night.
Graz’s hottest bakery knew that pink was cool before millennials did. This candy-coloured bakehouse has three outposts across the city and serves up pillowy baked treats around the clock. It’s even rumoured to be opening in New York’s Tribeca district – watch this space.
A former 16th-century pub has been transformed into one of the most stylish eateries in town, complete with a terrace hung with lanterns and plants. Expect plates of tender boiled beef, grilled fish or a local take on tiramisu, which makes use of pumpkin seeds and crushed cherries.