Heading north from Graz the landscape of Styria begins to change; gentle hills and flat pastures are replaced by jagged mountains, virgin forests, deep valleys and cold, clear mountain streams. This is also the region’s industrial heartland, home to the Steirische Eisenstrasse (Styrian Iron Road), where for centuries iron mining was the backbone of the economy.
Like northern Styria, west Styria is a mountainous region divided by jagged ranges and alpine streams. Murau is a picturesque town well placed for hikes and cycle trips into the surrounding forests. If you’re heading this way from Graz, consider a detour to Seckau or Oberzeiring.
Southern Styria is known as Steirische Toskana (Styrian Tuscany), and for good reason. Not only is this wine country, but the landscape is reminiscent of Chianti; gentle rolling hills cultivated with vineyards or patchwork farmland, and capped by clusters of trees. It’s also famous for Kürbiskernöl, the rich pumpkin-seed oil generously used in Styrian cooking.
Unprepossessing Leoben reveals a few surprises once you dig down into its modest urban soul. A revamped museum quarter is one very good reason to prolong a flying visit here between trains. The town is also a centre for metallurgical industries and home to Gösser beer, and achieved ultimate fame with the peace treaty signed here in 1797 by Napoleon and Emperor Franz II.
Situated deep in the Ennstal (Enns Valley) in western Styria at the foot of the glacial Dachsteingebirge (Dachstein Mountains), Schladming is a winter ski resort that in summer also offers glacier skiing and snowboarding, easy access to hiking trails, white-water rafting on the Enns River and excellent mountain biking.
Murau, in the western reaches of the Murtal (Mur Valley) on the banks of the river, is an attractive town filled with pastel-coloured houses. It's also surrounded by forested hills and alpine meadows. Its close proximity to Stolzalpe to the north and the Metnitzer mountains to the south makes it an excellent base for hiking and cycling during the summer months.
Otherwise unremarkable, Bärnbach is famous for its St Barbara Kirche, a church redesigned by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Completed in 1988, it is a visual treat of bright colours and glistening copper dome. Leave a donation and pick up the explanation card in English, which reveals the symbolism behind the architectural features.
In the heart of the Schilcher wine region, Deutschlandsberg is a bustling little town dominated by a well-restored castle, some 25 minutes’ walk uphill from the town centre. Inside the castle is a museum with exhibits on ancient history, the Celts, historical weapons and antique jewellery.