This past weekend we celebrated Valentine’s Day by taking a road trip to south eastern Styria.
With its medieval castle rising from a volcanic rock mountain overlooking a charming little village below – Riegersburg seemed like the perfect romantic V-day getaway.
However, while the forecast predicted sunny skies and balmy weather, fog covered the landscape with its grey haze making for a pretty gloomy atmosphere. To make matters worse, although we knew the castle itself would be closed over the winter, we didn’t know that the path leading up to the castle and the grounds were also closed (as of this year!) Since most shops and restaurants also reduced their hours during the off-season, the village was pretty much dead and sorely disappointing. How was that for great planning? Oups…
Thankfully, the region has much more to offer and especially for foodies! Since we only had a day to spare, this ended up being more of an exploratory trip than anything else but it was well worth it.
We headed straight to Zotter Chocolate Factory just in time to catch the 10 am tour. Zotters is the only ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate manufacturer in Europe. They operate exclusively with fair trade organic ingredients and can trace the cocoa directly back to the producer.
Before the tour started, we were brought to the Cocoa Shop Theatre for a viewing of Ka’Kau – Mayan Gold; the new Zotter movie following Josef Zotter, his wife Ulrike and their daughter Valerie on their trip to Belize.
Next up was an audio-guided tour through the factory where we watched the magic happen! At €14.90, the tour was a steal with tasting stations set up all along the way. Samples included everything from the types of sugar and powdered milk used to cacao and coffee beans straight through to chocolate fountains, flakes, couvertures, balleros, chocolate drinks and of course Zotter’s famous hand-scooped chocolate bars. While Zotter definitely deserves its very own post, we’ll keep this short since we plan on going back very very soon!
Our next stop was just a short drive away to Vulcano ham manufacturer in Auersbach. A regional trade-marked product, Vulcano is famous for its high quality meat and sausage produced from piggery to plate at the same location.
Guests to Vulcano are encouraged to tour the facilities starting with a short video. The video features the story of the Vulcana pig while tracing back the history of Vulcano Ham and the philosophy behind it. The tour then leads you through the factory where you can experience various exhibits, learn about the curing process and peer at the swinging air dried hams left to mature in the aging room. You can also visit the pigs themselves in a special viewing barn. Pigs enjoy an area of almost double the space required by law along with shower stalls, classical music and scratching posts. Looks pretty good for a pig’s life!
At the end of the tour, guests are treated with a plate of Vulcano delicacies and a glass of local Lava Bräu beer. Vulcano’s best known product is air-dried cured ham. Aged for up to 27 months, this Styrian prosciutto-style ham melts on your tongue as it unfolds with a unique, sophisticated and full-bodied flavour.
Our final stop was Lagler Wellness Hotel and Distillery in Kukmirn which is just across the provincial border from Styria into Burgenland. Lagler offers full spa services in the heart of the country-side. Since we were just popping by for the night, we didn’t have time to enjoy all that Lagler has to offer. As a rather basic review, I can say that our room was clean, quiet and simple. The bed was comfortable, the heat adjustable, our dinner was hearty and breakfast was tasty. While the bar/service staff were a bit shy to speak English at first, it didn’t take long for them to warm up and we were treated to friendly, helpful and informative service. For us – naturally – the big draw was the Lagler Distillery. Since classes are only held on Fridays and Saturdays, we didn’t have the chance to attend but we’re excited to come back soon with a full review!
Tips and Suggestions!
With only 24 hours to spare, there was not nearly enough time to experience all that the region has to offer. While there is still much to do during the winter months, the best time to visit is from late spring to summer when the weather is fine and everything is open for high-season. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed our time and look forward to coming back soon.
Some of the things are our list for our next visit include:
- Hiking and bike riding along the many nature paths,
- A visit to Fromagerie zu Riegersburg – ‘The Cheese Artist’,
- A guided tour and tasting with Alois Gölles Schnapps Distillery & Vinegar Production,
- Berghofer Mill,
- Finks Delicatessen,
- And of course, back to Riegersburg Castle!