Piber Stud Farm in the Amazing Lipizzanerheimat, Austria
Just 28 miles (45 km) west of the city of Graz, in Austria’s green region of Styria is Lipizzanerheimat, a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it may sound familiar to you if you’ve seen the elegant and world famous Lipizzaner stallions.
This bucolic part of Styria is green and lush, with mountain meadows, rolling pastures and pretty small towns and villages like Piber, home to the most popular attraction in all of Lipizzanerheimat — the Piber stud farm.
A visit to Lipizzanerheimat makes a perfect day trip from Graz, the capital city of Styria. You can visit the stud farm in Piber to see the Lipizzaner horses and learn how they’re bred at this historic site. Lipizzaners are Europe’s oldest cultural horse breed with origins dating back to 1580.
But that’s just one of the fun things to do in Lipizzanerheimat. From Piber, it’s just a few minutes drive to the town of Bärnbach where you should visit the incredibly unique St. Barbara Church designed by the eccentric Austrian-born New Zealand artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The church has quite a story to tell and a character all its own — it truly must be seen to be believed.
About 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) south of Piber is Köflach where families can indulge in refreshing pools (indoor and out), water slides, saunas, and other European spa relaxation. The Hotel & Therme NOVA Spa is a great place for family fun and a good overnight option if you’d like a bit more than just a day trip.
They also have a wonderful restaurant with excellent local cuisine, and a terrace with stunning views over the valley.
How to Get To Lipizzanerheimat
From the city of Graz, the train goes to the town of Köflach about 3.5 km (2 miles) south of Piber. There are also buses that run from Graz to Piber but the service is limited. You can walk from Köflach but it’s all uphill, and there’s not much room for walking along the shoulders of the road.
The best way to explore the beautiful country roads and scenery in Lipizzanerheimat is by renting a car. It’s an easy 24 km (15 mile) drive from Graz, and with a rental car you’re free to visit both Köflach and Bärnbach before returning to Graz. It’s much more flexible.
You don’t have to be a horse lover or know a lot about horses to fall in love at Lipizzaner Stud Piber (‘Stud’ refers to the breeding farm itself), although horse lovers will undoubtedly have it on their Europe bucket list!
Piber Stud Farm
Lipizzaner Stud Farm at Piber
The Piber Stud Farm is open to the public for tours. You can stroll the grounds and see some of these beautiful horses. As you arrive, you can’t miss the village of Piber — its baroque Piber Castle dominates the green mountains of this area north of the town of Koflach.
As we walked up the hill from the parking area on a nice sunny day in September we could hear the occasional whiney of the horses which made us all the more anxious for our visit. It’s a bit of a tease, because these are horses are truly special.
During the events in WWII the breed was nearly lost, but efforts by the US Army under General George Patton in coordination with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna managed to save 375 Lippizans. Sometimes referred to as Piber Federal Stud or Bundesgestüt Piber, the title signifies the Austrian government’s support for the the 550 hectare (1,372 acres) Stud or breeding farm.
This is a concerted effort with very strict breeding guidelines to preserve the purity of the bloodlines of one of the oldest horse breeds in Europe, and in so doing preserve a part of Austria’s rich cultural heritage.
Piber Stud farm is the primary breeding farm that produces the Lipizzaner stallions used by the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Unique to Piber, the Stud has bloodstock from the 17 historically recognized mare families with the stallions representing six classic stallion bloodlines.
When the time arrives only accomplished stallions from the Spanish Riding School, usually two per year, are brought back to Piber Stud to be bred with the mares. The breeding is very controlled for both the safety of the mating pair and to ensure that only horses with the best characteristics, temperament, and behaviors are reproduced.
On average about 30-40 foals are born each year at Piber Stud. This is a joyous time of year. When they’re born, the foals have a black or very dark brown coat that gets lighter as they mature.
We visited the foal barn, a nursery with an indoor rink with feeding troughs along the walls and a lot of young horses with their mothers. The foals are very curious and come right up to the fence to sniff you and nibble on whatever might be dangling from your arm like a jacket sleeve. They’re so soft and playful and enjoy the attention.
A few times a day they’re herded out to the adjoining exercise rink to stretch their legs and play. Six months after birth the foals are separated from their mothers and join the small foal herd. With so many horses we were especially impressed with how immaculate and well maintained the facility was.
After another six months the male foals are separated out to join the colt herd. They’ll remain with the colt herd for another two to three years. We could see them in the distance, but on the day we visited could not go up to the mountain pastures above the main area of the facility. The young fillies (females) are also left to roam in their own mountain pasture separate from the colts.
Both groups graze on the lush green grasses in the pastures, play, and build the stamina and agility for which the breed is known.
From the time of their birth the horses are under expert supervision and continually monitored with detailed meticulous records being kept on each one of them. After three years in the high meadows, the now four year old male horses are evaluated.
This is a very strict and detailed process and most times only four to six from the herd will be selected for training at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
For those that make the grade, they will spend up to eight years training for what is arguably the greatest horse performance of its kind in the world.
But what happens to those who don’t make the cut? We wondered too.
They are sold to buyers in Austria and around the world. Given the purchase price, they go to horse lovers who have the means to provide the best life for them. There are also the ‘retirees’, those stallions who have finished their performing careers and are now just horses of leisure.
Other Things To See at Piber
The town of Piber alone is so quaint and charming, it’s worth a drive out through the rolling hills to spend the day. Styria (Steiermark in German) is known as the Green Heart of Austria and it’s easy to see why when you drive west to Lipizzanerheimat. South Styria is known for its stunning scenery, and Lipizzanerheimat is no different.
The imposing Baroque Piber Castle houses the Visitor’s Center, restrooms, the secure breeding records (Stud book) and offices for the management of the Stud. Cultural events and concerts are held in the huge courtyard and it can also be reserved for weddings. We’re told the courtyard has very good acoustics.
The Farrier is an interesting stop in Piber. Caring for the hooves and maintaining the shoes on so many horses is a full-time job. We watched a professional farrier create a horseshoe from a single piece of steel then demonstrate how it is nailed to the horses hooves (it doesn’t hurt them of course!). Although it was all in German we managed to understand that it takes several years of apprenticeship to become a skilled farrier.
The Carriage Museum doesn’t take long to tour but it’s interesting and kind of romantic. The barn has well-maintained carriages of all sorts, many of which are still in use. Some are used for festivals and others for carriage rides around the grounds. Carriage rides are usually offered on Thursdays and Sundays.
Next to the souvenir shop is a small theater and museum where there’s a short presentation on the history of the horses and the Stud. The museum has much of the same and includes an interactive display area. Just outside the souvenir shop is a shady fenced Children’s play area with a suspended treehouse and a fun colorful playground right across from the cafe terrace.
For lunch, the Caballero Cafe is a delicious choice. It’s a casual restaurant, and the food here was quite good. There’s indoor/outdoor seating and the menu is made up of local specialties like Wiener Schnitzel, the most traditional of Austrian food. And ice cream!
Saturdays are a great day to watch young stallions training in the Arena. Training sessions are also held in the Training Hall but may not always be open to visitors. We visited on a no-training day and didn’t get to observe the horses working.
Tours begin at the souvenir shop. In the summer, tours are self-guided. Pick up a map with a tour route of the grounds, or better yet, get a free-to-use multilingual audioguide for a 10€ refundable deposit. Not being fluent in German, we opted for the audioguide and were glad we did — it made the tour much more enjoyable.
During winter months, your tour will be with a tour guide.
Admission is 11€ ($12 USD) for adults with discounts for students and seniors, kids 6 and under are free.
Town of Bärnbach
Popular for its unique church and glass manufacturing, the small town of Bärnbach has several restaurants and cafes and a killer ice cream shop, Eis Salon Corso, just steps away from historic St. Barbara Church.
St. Barbara Church
The main attraction in Bärnbach is the artsy and eclectic Church of St. Barbara created by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Some think the unconventional design is bizarre, but we found it enchanting and completely unique with a beauty all its own.
When we first drove up we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. But we had a wonderful local guide who explained all the symbology that Hundertwasser put into the design of the church.
One of Hundertwasser’s beliefs that inspired this creative design is that straight lines lack ‘Godness’ so there are curves and bends built into every facet of the design. The interior of the church is equally unconventional and colorful and has works of several local artists on display.
One thing we found particularly interesting is the 12 gates (arches) on the grounds around the church. They are meant to represent every major religion in the world putting all on an equal footing. He also converted the traditional church steeple into a clock tower with a gold plated onion dome on top. Very different indeed.
Hundertwasser was certainly unique but there is no denying his intentions to save the church and his artistry. He even helped the church parishioners raise funds to finance his artwork that went into the church rehabilitation.
It’s no wonder that to this day Hundertwasser is seen as a bit of a nut. But his artistic vision and uncommon way of looking at things might just be his genius.
Stölzle Glas Center and GlasMuseum Bärnbach
Stölzle Glas Center and GlasMuseum Bärnbach is another great place to check out on your day trip from Graz. With a reservation you can watch glassblowers produce works of art, or tour the museum and shop for unique pieces of glass art as well as everyday glass items, but really nice everyday glass items!
Be sure and stop at Eis Salon CORSO at the end of the day before you hit the road back to Graz. This small little ice creamery in the middle of Bärnbach has amazing ice cream — not gelato — but real, rich and creamy, honest-to-goodness ice cream. What a treat!
Therme Nova Spa in Köflach
If you have the time and would like to stay overnight in the area, we highly recommend the Thermal Nova Spa in Köflach. The huge warm indoor/outdoor pool draws its mineral water from the Barbara Spring and averages a very pleasant 36.5° C (96° F). Both inside and out the pool is surrounded by plenty of lounge chairs and hanging racks to keep your things dry.
The modern design of the spa gives it an open and peaceful feeling. Spa facilities like saunas and massage rooms are on two levels.
There’s plenty to do here. Step into the waterfall with a pebble bottom and be taken away to some exotic island, or you can relax in the steamy indoor tropical forest. It even has a cave. This was one of the most peaceful rooms that we experienced.
There’s a room called the ‘blue grotto’ complete with its own hot tub, and an amazing wooden sauna that has a panoramic view of Lipizzanerheimat’s rolling green landscape.
They haven’t missed anything at Therme NOVA. There’s water aerobics, a 25-meter lap pool, and a kids area with all sorts of things to swing on, climb up or crawl through. The area even has a water slide. If you’re visiting the South Styria region of Austria with kids, Therme NOVA should be on your list for a day trip or an overnight.
We didn’t stay overnight though they do have rooms. We didn’t even have bathing suites with us as we were expecting a spa with massage treatments and such. We never expected such an amazing swimming and thermal spa experience like this. No worries, the Spa has a shop with an excellent selection of bathing wear, accessories, and spa style toiletries.
We then went to the locker room to change into our new swim suits. Surprise! It’s a unisex locker room. At the end of each row of lockers there are small private changing booths — private enough that we never felt uncomfortable.
Should you get hungry the second floor cafe has a very nice hot/cold buffet and indoor/outdoor seating and you can go here straight from the pool if you like. Rather than the buffet we decided to try entrees made to order from the grill which came to us well cooked with generous portions. The rooftop 4 star restaurant wasn’t yet open by the time we left but we peeked in, and it looked very elegant.
After wandering around the countryside for most of the day, a few hours here were just what the doctor ordered.
Our love affair with South Styria continues to grow. This was our first time visiting this part of the region and we highly recommend a day, or two, in Lipizzanerheimat.
If You Go
If you choose to base yourself in Graz, the drive from Graz is easy and scenic. We stayed in a very nice traditional buschenshank, Weingut Hack-Gebell along the South Styrian Wine Road near Gamlitz, and we had no trouble navigating from place to place. Spend some time in South Styria, Austria, experience the remarkable history here, visit Piber and the Lipizzaner stallions, and enjoy some fantastic food.