Graz is in the southern part of Austria. It is only 30 miles to the Hungarian border and 25 miles to Slovenia. It is Austria’s second largest city, with a population of just over a quarter of a million people. It is also Austria’s “Cultural Capital”, and claims to be the “culinary capital”.
If you have brought your caravan to Austria and enjoyed Vienna, then you are probably going to enjoy Graz even more. It has a lot to offer, with the added bonus that the centre of the city is much more walkable. The scale is not so large as Vienna, and you can do all of the best parts on foot, although there is an excellent public transport system, and on a number of occasions we used the trams for short hops, so that we can save our “walking capacity” for seeing the sites. Despite it being more compact, it feels more “open”. A lot of the historic buildings in Vienna looked a little “pushed-in”, surrounded by modern buildings. In Graz there was more space to enjoy them.
Camping Central appears to be the only site in the area. It is very convenient and on the south side of the city. It is only a short and easy drive from the A9 Autobahn. If travelling from Vienna you come south on the main A2, but stay on this Autobahn until it meets with the A9 south of the city and go northbound, and take just one short hop to the next exit from the A9.
The site is next door to a huge lido, outdoor swimming pool. It is massive, with a lot of diving boards, etc, and your site fee gives you free access in to the swimming pool. Amazingly, there is a Naturist section of the pool, but it is well hidden, so no need to get embarrassed. The site is well signed, but as seems to be common in Austria, only once you get quite close to it, so if you have not seen any signs when you still have some way to go, do not worry. The site is somewhat strange at first. You enter under a huge overhead canopy, but as you get to the gate, you are normally met by someone who comes to the car window and takes your basic details, and your camping carnet, and gives you a numbered card in return. He then explains the site and you are in. Very quick and very efficient. The reason he sits there all day is (I think) twofold. The reception on site is only open from 8am to 9am, and then from 6pm until 9:30pm. Secondly, the site has a private gate in to the swimming pool, so he is there to stop strangers walking on site and then using the pool for free. One other strange thing is that last departure time is 9pm. The site has Wi-Fi. It costs €1 for an hour or €3 for the day. However, check that you can get it before paying, as it only works for about 40 or 50 metres from the reception. We could get a weak signal, but it made it fairly unreliable and slow. Site fees for the time we were there in early June were €23.00 including two people and electricity (6A).
The site roadways are perhaps a little tight, especially on the bends, but it is well laid out. The pitches are quite narrow. We picked one that was very good for a British van (with the door on the wrong side!), but having put the car inside the pitch markings, we had almost no space left. When you look around, then you realise that we British have been programmed by our Caravanning Clubs – Rules is Rules!! Everyone else except us ignores the pitch markings, after all it is off-peak. One Dutch van that arrived just after us, put his van on the pitch sideways, using one and half pitches, then put his car on the next pitch on one side and his table and chairs on the pitch on the other. He was perhaps the extreme example, but everyone, except us, had at least one and a half pitches, and so did we later! The other rule was that it said that the minimum stay is 3 nights, but lots of people came for one night, so perhaps it does not apply off-peak.
The toilet and shower facilities are excellent, and there are a number of separate blocks, although not all are open, off-peak. The pitches are all flat, water is not far away (albeit a little slow) and other facilities are all nearby. Being a Germanic country, then there are five separate bins for different types of rubbish. If you cannot read the signs on each one, look inside, and you will soon realise most other people are just as confused, although glass is always easy. There are a number of pretty scruffy statics on site, but otherwise this is a very good spot to explore Graz. However, I assume it probably would be a bit crowded in the peak season.
Just across the street from the site entrance is a restaurant. It is called Volksgoart’n. That is in a local dialect. The food is pretty good there, and it is a nice place on your doorstep. It has a large outdoor eating area, a traditional indoor eating are and then a large conservatory. The evening we went here, next to the conservatory they have a function room, which has large windows on to the conservatory. They firstly had a traditional dance group, and then had a choir. It was not meant as entertainment, but it was a sort of cabaret!! Considering it is open 6 days per week from 11am to midnight, it was surprisingly busy (closed Monday). On the site there is also a take-away van, which we did not try.
200 metres from the site gate brings you back to the main road. There are some shops on the corner, but within a further 200 metres there are several supermarkets, other shops and more than one petrol station and a lot of services. That proved to be useful for us, as a branch of Autoglass is there, and we needed a new windscreen, which they fitted very efficiently. The nearest petrol station also has a small Spar shop, which can be handy, as being a Germanic country all of the main shops close at midday on Saturday until Monday morning. There is also a bank on the corner.
Also on the corner, 200 metres from the site are the bus stops. On weekdays and Saturdays, there is a bus every 10 minutes (the no 32) which takes you in to the centre (don’t catch the 62, it does not go to the cntre). The service is every 15 minutes on a Sunday. You buy your ticket from the bus driver. You can buy a 24-hour ticket for €4.50 (June 2013) that covers all transport in the whole area, and includes the Schlossbahn, the funicular that takes you up to the old castle and a magnificent view over the town. It also covers all of the trams, which offer an easy hop-on, hop-off service, all around the central area. There are lots of them. We got good value out of day tickets here in Graz. A single ticket is €2, although in theory, if you are over 60, then it is €1.20. Not sure I could get that across in German, and the day ticket is so much easier. The busses always ran on time. Every time we went to catch a bus it was always exactly on time.
Taking the bus in to the city is simple as you get off at the terminus. Where you get off is the central transport exchange, and so almost all of the buses and trams pass through this point. It is also right next to the main central street and the Tourist Office is only 100 metres away.
On the site they have two main guide leaflets in English. One gives details of the main attractions in the city and provides three guided walks around them. The other is for attractions in the vicinity, but travelling by car. What they do not have on site, but have a good one in the Tourist office, is a map of the city, which includes a tram map, which is essential if you want to make use of them.
The best walk in the book is the one of the old town. That takes you past most of the historic buildings, and there is a brief description of each. Make sure you explore each of the places marked thoroughly, or else you will miss some of the best bits. Many of the old buildings have courtyards and you are usually free to go in and explore. It is often very well worth it. In one, for example, you will find an excellent example of a twin spiral stone staircase. You can go up the staircase, which is novel. They also used to allow people to walk though their gardens and passages under the house, and you can often walk through gateways in to alleyways which are full of interest. In one courtyard, there was an artificial snowman, complete with an artificial carrot nose. You would have thought that with the amount of snow they get around here, that once it had melted they would have been glad to see the back of it. At the end of the walk is one of two Farmer’s Markets in the city. This takes place 6 days per week from 6am to 1pm and is meant to provide a magnificent display of foods, with plenty of stalls selling samples. We got there at 2pm, so we cannot vouch for this!
The second best walk is the one that takes you up to the top of Schlossbahn, to the old castle, and then gradually brings you down to the base again, showing you the most interesting sites and views. On this walk, there is a lot of steep downhill parts (you do the uphill first on the furnicular) and there are also stairs. However, you can also come down in the lift built in to the mountain. There are also some interesting tunnels. They were built during WWII and housed up to 40,00 people at night during the air raids. There are 6.3 kms of tunnels, but only a small amount are now open to the public but you can walk along a a long sloping tunnel as part of your walk down the hill.
The third walk takes you around the old and the new and across the river. This one includes some more historic buildings and areas you have not already seen in the other two, but it also shows you some of the more modern buildings. Two of which are a little controversial (you either love them or….). The first is the Kunsthaus. This is an exhibition gallery. It was built in 2003 by American architects. It is certainly different. The second is a stainless steel bridge across the river, the Murinsel. It crosses the river at an angle, and has a strange structure in the centre that houses a cafe. We had intended to stop there for a coffee, but when we got there, it lacked atmosphere and a view, so we did not bother.
One place well worth a visit is Schloss Eggenberg. This is well outside the centre to the North West, but is easily accessible on the No 1 Tram (every 10 mins Monday to Saturday, every 15 minutes on Sunday). This is a UNESCO Listed World Heritage site. We chose not to go inside, as we had been around the large castle in Vienna, and because the main rooms are only available on a guided tour every hour. Instead we went in to the Park and Gardens. This gives you a very good view of the castle, which is not really visible from outside, you can go in to the courtyard, and the park and gardens are lovely and well worth walking around. There is an interesting rose garden, and the park is based on the 18th century English style. Inside the park are a cafe and toilets.
There are some other places to visit within the vicinity of Graz. The leaflet gives details of a lot of places either within a 25km or 50km ring. If you choose to go exploring outside the city, then pick your outings carefully. We chose two places to visit. The first one Thal, is only 6 miles from the site and the booklet describes a pretty village with an interesting church and the ruins of a castle, and a lake where its most famous citizen used to train. Its most famous citizen in Arnold Schwarzenegger. He lived here all his childhood, and the museum in his childhood home is very interesting, but quite small. The rest of the village was not so interesting. The Schwarzenegger family continued to live in the house until 1967, when Arnold’s older brother was killed in a car accident and then parents moved away. In fact, the family lived on the first floor, the ground floor was occupied by another family, as they were apartments. The museum is in the complete building.