At a Styrian tourist office in Graz, we inquired about villages where we could relax and hike in southern Austria. The village of Frohnleiten sounded appealing; a 30 minute train ride north of Graz, on a river, with hiking trails, and a plaza with restaurants and music festivals during the summer. We took a morning train to Frohnleiten where another helpful Austrian tourist official booked us into a gasthaus in a neighboring village of Adriach.
After a five-minute taxi ride, we arrived at the Dorfwirt Gasthaus on a hillside shaded by trees. It was modern, clean, and very attractive. Sunlight was streaming in from windows and open doors leading to the patio and restaurant. Guests and neighbors were enjoying a beer at the little pub or having lunch on the patio. This was no dreary beer hall, the Dorfwirt Gasthaus was modern Austrian hospitality designed for comfort and gemutlichkeit.
We checked in with our ‘landlord,’ Karl Hormann, and went upstairs to our second floor room. The accommodations were just as attractive. Then we saw the bonus — a balcony with views of the mountains, the Mur river valley, and the village of Adriach. A picture postcard scene.
Within an hour, we were hiking along a hillside that followed the contour of the Mur valley. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and we weren’t going to waste a minute of exploring this charming mountain setting.
We turned a bend and in the distance saw a castle on a rocky promontory overlooking the valley. Intrigued, we hiked to the base, a rocky cliff about five hundred feet high. It was named Berg Rothstein, a medieval castle with high walls, protected by rocky cliffs that would have been difficult to climb in the middle ages.
We walked beyond Berg Rothstein and came to a stone wall with an arched entrance behind a fence. A sign in German said that it was the remains of a Moorish settlement several hundred years old.
An hour from our modern Austrian gasthaus, and we had literally stumbled upon ruins of civilizations that lived in the Mur valley centuries ago.
Returning to Adriach at dusk on a path along the river, we followed a stream hidden from view by thick brush and trees. When we approached a pasture where dairy cattle were grazing, the trees thinned and we could see the stream gently flowing through a grassy ravine. We looked back to admire the view of the grain fields, pastures, and mountains where we had just hiked.
Movement in the ravine caught our eye. We looked down to see two Alpine deer climb up and walk along a path thirty feet across from us. The lead deer was a mature buck with dark brown coat and broad antlers in velvet. Behind him, a younger buck with spike antlers in velvet. Then a doe and two fawns appeared, their coats a velvety caramel color with large white spots.
Alpine deer are smaller, prettier and more delicate than American mule deer. Almost like toys. They were so close we could almost reach over and stroke their soft brown coats. As we watched in silence, more deer appeared, three or four at a time, climbing from the ravine, grazing along the fence until another three or four emerged. Within about ten minutes, thirty or forty Alpine deer climbed from the ravine, mostly does and fawns, hooves clattering on stones, large ears erect, dark eyes scanning the woods and pastures. We were so still, we don’t think they saw us.
It was a magical moment that we talked about all the way back to Adriach. By morning, we were so elated about our first day in Adriach — our room with a balcony view, the outdoor patio where we had an excellent dinner, the hike to the Berg Rothstein, and seeing the Alpine deer — that we reserved our room for a week.
It turned out to be the most fun and relaxing week of our summer vacation to date (to be challenged by two other locations in future postings).
Dorfwirt means village landlord in German, But our gasthaus was more like the Adriach community center where people came for lunch or dinner on the patio, went to receptions in the banquet room, or had a beer with the ‘landlord’ at the little pub.
It was a warm and friendly gasthaus, where we ate breakfasts in the banquet room and most lunches and dinners on the outdoor patio next to the playground with sandbox for children, a small soccer pitch, and apple trees.
Our second floor balcony gave us an incredible view of Adriach, Frohnleiten, and the Mur Valley. Directly below were modern homes with yards, fruit trees, bushes, and flowers along with cats, dogs. We watched dairy cattle come in from pasture at dusk, and heard roosters crowing in the morning. Every quarter-hour, bells from the St. George chapel next door chimed and rang on the hour.
Dining at Dorfwirt
We enjoyed wonderful meals at Dorfwirt starting with a hearty breakfast of cereals, cheeses, meats, boiled eggs, breads, juice and fresh fruit.
Before and after afternoon hikes, we’d have salads heaping with locally grown vegetables and topped with tuna or slices of local cheese and ham. Soups were creamed celery, vegetable, or potato leek soup. All fresh, delicious, and filling.
For dinners, fileted chicken or wiener schnitzel, lightly breaded and fried, pommes frites or fresh white fish with spaetzel. Excellent.
The patio was pleasant, about ten tables, a couple of benches with pillows, all under umbrellas to block the sunlight. We heard mostly German from locals, with occasional Italian or French. The only English we overheard was from a couple with New Jersey accents who’d walk in and have heated discussions about work back home. No thanks; not looking to join any drama debate about a topic we have no interest in joining. We’re on vacation from that world. We didn’t engage them, even though they would have been the first Americans we’d talked to in weeks.
A dozen or so older men ate dinner at the same table several nights. They’d drink wine, talk animatedly with much laughter, and flirt with their waitress who poured wine, and laughed at their teasing. After dinner, Karl came over with a pale orange beverage, probably peach or apricot schnapps. He poured into tiny glasses and passed them around to the men, and toasted with “Zum Voll” (to your health). They’d toss the glasses back and Karl poured another round.
St. George Chapel
Behind Dorfwirt was a two centuries old St. Georges Chapel enclosed in stucco walls. From the bell tower, bells chimed every quarter-hour and rang each hour. At night, the chimes were a gentle sound floating over the valley.
We walked around St. George several times, appreciating the care parishioners had taken with their chapel. We stood in the entrance on Sunday morning to observe mass as the priest read scripture, led parishioners in hymns, and baptized an infant.
The tragedy of the 20th century European wars was memorialized in white marble plaques on St. George’s wall. The Fink family, the Jantscher family, and the Prietl family all lost three sons, brothers, or fathers in the Great War.
The Jantscher and Prietl families lost five family members in World War II; the Zink family lost two.
Hiking in the Mur Valley
Our greatest joy in Adriach was hiking through the forest, up the mountains, and along the river. Most trails were conveniently named and marked with time and distance to the destination on yellow signs.
On some hikes, we crossed a walking bridge beneath a highway bridge in Frohnleiten and up the mountains to the other side of the Mur valley. One trail along a stream dwindled to a rocky foot path that rose steeply to a mountain ridge with view of Frohnleiten. A four-hour hike one afternoon took us to the top of the mountain across from Frohnleithen with a spectacular view of the Mur and neighboring valleys.
A steep trail through thick woods above our gasthaus ended at a farm-house and barn on a meadow at the top of the mountain. We walked up one hay-field so steep, I couldn’t imagine how the farmer got his tractor on to mow the hay. But the tracks were there.
A trail we took twice started in pastures in Adriach, through woods, along a ridge into a neighboring valley where we discovered a village named Gams (more on Gams in next posting).
One morning hike along the Mur River, a woman stopped us and held out a basket of apricots she’d just picked from a neighbor’s tree. We offered to pay, but she shook her head, laughed and said in German. “No please, just enjoy them. They’re a gift!” They were deliciously sweet, bursting with juice when we bit into them. Another reason to love Adriach.
The morning we checked out, it was chilly and drizzling. Karl offered to drive us to Graz to catch our train to Salzburg. That doesn’t happen at Holiday Inn, Westin, or the Hilton. We had a nice chat along the way and told Karl we’d be back again soon. Like next summer.
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Next: Gams Strudel Parade!
In addition to writing this travel blog, I write fiction — thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. I’m currently writing a thriller series based in Milan featuring the anti-terrorism police, DIGOS, as they track down domestic and international terrorists.
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