So many of us are enchanted by fairy tales. The story line and the beauty of made-up places are something that takes us away from reality of everyday life. It is something so mesmerizing that you come to think it can only be invented by Disney.
Don’t get me wrong: Vienna is gorgeous and has much to offer. However, sometimes I just feel like escaping the concrete jungle with its busy people hurling the streets awaiting rejuvenation while being surrounded by untouched nature.One of the best combinations of this untouched nature is a lake nestled between mountains. Don’t you agree?
Just 200 km from Vienna, in the southern part of Austria, lies the European Capital of Culture of 2003: Graz. But it’s not just culture, history, beautiful architecture, traditional shops, restaurants, and cafes this royal Austrian city has to offer. Simultaneously, Graz enjoys a really hip vibe with young people coming from all over the world to study here. Fun fact: students actually make up almost a fifth of its citizenry. Now, you can probably imagine what I mean with student vibe.
With its cobblestone streets, rustic house-fronts, and dreamy window shutters in all the beautiful colors there are, it seems like a big version of the Viennese Spittelberg in the 7th district. Spittelberg is one of my favorite parts in Vienna, naturally, I am in love with Graz too.
Hence, Graz makes for a wonderful day-trip if you want to get out of Vienna for a bit. And, there is no doubt that staying in Graz longer than only a day will allow you to find plenty things to do.
It is actually quite a shame: I haven’t been gracing Graz with my presence in forever. The last time I remember being here was when I was a child, traveling around Austria with my parents who were eager to show all famous Austrian landmarks to me and my little brother. Even though I might have only been between 6-8 years old, I remember it so clearly. In my humble opinion, I suppose I must have enjoyed it back then too.
So, right before Christmas, and after visiting Admont Abbey over the weekend, we walked the cobbled streets of Graz, ejoyed Chai Lattes at one of my new discoveries of favorite cafe stores, and held hands picking out cute Christmas tree decoration at the romantic Christmas markets.
See for yourself.
Walking down the main street, already gives you all the feels, doesn’t it?
Those window shutters, and that balcony. Sigh.
Mulled wine and Christmas market love!
Cobble streets, bikes, and beautiful architecture.
Wasn’t that a romantic walk through Graz?
I always spy with at least the corner of one of my eyes cute places and spaces. Green House is a sweet cafe we stumbled over when wandering around downtown Graz.
Yael didn’t stand a chance, as I pulled him in to get some hot drinks to warm up. Stepping inside, my boyfriend must have spotted the convinced smile on my frozen face and then realized right away that I felt at home here at The Green House. I ordered a Chai Latte and Yael got his cappuccino. So, there we were: super relaxed and content with our lives.
As always, I did my research and found out that you can also sip on smoothies and cold pressed juices, as well as munch on vegan cakes and cookies. And, all of this is brought to you with lots of smiles from the friendly barista, who was so just so nice and patient with me as he answered all my questions, showed me to the upstairs (which is also really cozy by the way) and explained so many things to me.
The place was just recently opened by the owners of GINKO in fall of 2015. Let me say it like this: They did a hell of a job with the interior design of this place. With the epic (seriously, there is no other word for it) floor tiles, the hip and comfy chairs, and the cozy nooks the owners have just outdone themselves.
I have a weakness for cute spaces and this one has stolen a little piece of my <3.
From December 20-22, we ventured to the Austrian countryside to find the Christmas spirit in the Austrian town of Bad Gastein, situated in the region of Salzburg. Just a 4-hour drive from Vienna, in the midst of the Austrian alps, we were hoping for snow. You are right when you think that snow was not going to happen for us. However, we stayed at a gorgeous resort called Hotel Valley Grüner Baum and were spoiled just like royals back in the day. It was exactly what we needed right before all the Christmas festivities in Austria and North Carolina. On our adventures outside of the resort, we expected to find a cute old town with sweet Christmas markets, happy villagers, and lots of Christmas decorations. But we didn’t find any of that.
It seems Bad Gastein, while a necessary luxury stop for the aristocratic families of yesterday, is closer to a ghost town today. In the three days of wandering around, we found exactly one cafe which was open – thankfully we warmed up to coffee and tea at Cafe Schuh! Now, taken over by an Italian, we overheard white-haired Viennese ladies pondering over the fact that it has lost all its charm. To us, it still seemed nice, and coffee and tea were more than fine.
We made us on our way to hike the surrounding area and experienced breathtaking views over the Bad Gastein Valley. Many of the hotels have long since been abandoned, taken over by a real estate magnate some years ago and then left to collect dust after his passing. It’s both romantic and spooky in the same fell swoop to see so many old palace hotels with great interior and furniture on the inside but the doors locked on the outside. Couldn’t you imagine just waltzing through the hotel halls and soaking in all the Austrian mountain Christmas spirit?
As per usual, we found some notable advertising and chocolates — what’s more to like in a small Austrian town! There’s even a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I, said to inhabit Bad Gastein in several summer and winter months during his reign of Prussia back in the 19th century. History buffs would love that.
So, why is this travel article called Royal Remembrance or Ghost Town? While back in the day, the Habsburg Family as well as royal families and important persons roamed the area skiing, enjoying the thermal pools and healing centers, nowadays, the town is quite sad to look at. Most houses have fences in front of them, because the outside walls are crumbling. In the photos below you can see my favorite hotel, abandoned of course. Walls are crumbling, the insides look like ghosts roam the halls. What used to be so royal is now just a ghost town.
The question remains: Isn’t it the investor’s obligation to keep the beautiful old and historical houses from falling apart?
Text: Melanie Pfeffer & Yaël Ossowski // Photography: Melanie Pfeffer
To me, it is sometimes difficult to get into the Christmas spirit in the midst of the city. A stressful last few weeks at work as the entire world population seems to travel to and from Vienna International Airport, the desire to finishing up personal projects before the end of 2015, being constantly surrounded by people running in and out of shops stressing to purchase the last Christmas presents. I usually find myself surprised when mid-December arrives.
This year, Yael and I made a plan. Instead of spending the days before Christmas in Vienna and hoping to find the holiday spirit somewhere by accident, we were going to travel to the Austrian countryside, stay at a gorgeous hotel surrounded by the Austrian Alps. We thought, who would not get into Christmas mood like this? And, we were right.
We spent the 4-hour-drive from Vienna to Kötschachtal in the Salzburg region listening to our favorite podcasts and singing along to our songs. The roadtrip itself was beautiful, we passed majestic castles, sweet Austrian country houses, adorable churches, and gorgeous snowcapped mountain views. The only thing missing was the snow.
So, as we arrived the Kötschachtal valley, my heart quickly filled with joy.
The Hotel Village Grüner Baum looks simply breathtaking! The hotel village was just sitting there between the frost covered hills, a snow capped mountain top at the end of the valley. Oh, what bliss!
A handful of rustic old Austrian country houses make up the cute hotel village. Upon check-in, the hotel staff made us feel so welcome and fulfilled my personal wish to have a room with a great view. Oh, everything was just wonderful, from getting Christmas cookies during check-in to being offered to book massages for the same evening.
We spent three romantic days relaxing and rejuvinating at the hotel spa, enjoying a full body massage, the Finnish sauna and steam room, as well as the thermal pool.
Every morning we were treated to amazing healthy food. The buffet offers absolutely everything a brunch-loving heart desires, from sweet treats such as little pastries to cakes, to rich local speck, champagne, mimosas, fresh orange juice, a cook making your personalized omlette for you, and even three different kinds of milk choices. And then, the breathtaking view from our table. Every single morning was a true experience!
All bundled up in my awesome new coat and equipped with my favorite little backpack we went out to wander the gorgeous winter wonderland around the hotel area. The frost made everything so special, it was almost like a real snowy winter!
And we found alpacas and baby goats, my favorite past time. I mean, look how cute they are. The baby goats put on a show for us jumping around the little stall and sniffed around with their cute wet noses. And then, look at the alapacas and their sweet faces. I am just loving those cuties.
We also enjoyed coffee in Bad Gastein (about this in another blog post), and when we came back from exploring we cuddled up with hot chocolate (spiked with rum) in front of the crackling warm fireplace.
In the evenings we treated ourselves to tasty dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was outstanding by the way.
In a nutshell: The three days we spent at Hoteldorf Grüner Baum were incredible – the perfect place to relax, rejuvinate, get inspired, and get into the Christmas spirit. A big THANK YOU to all the lovely staff at Hoteldorf Grüner Baum for making our stay so incredibly perfect. We will be back some day for sure!
PS: This is Bellmondo, the cutest hotel staff!