Südsteiermark, Austria: A Food and Wine Guide to the South Styrian Wine Road
We’re going to let you in on a little secret, especially you food and wine lovers. If ever there was a culinary region begging to be explored, it’s Südsteiermark (South Styria) in the southern region of Austria along the South Styrian Wine Road.
This stunningly scenic wine road in South Styria connects charming small Austrian villages and towns, and offers travelers a taste of amazing Austrian wines and local food specialties all in one place. From Ehrenhausen to Platsch and Berghausen, the Wine Road takes visitors along a patchwork of woodlands, lush rolling hills, and verdant vineyards, and is a must for food and wine lovers!
Located just an hour south of the culinary city of Graz, the capital of Styria — the Austrian region known as the Green Heart of Austria — this southern countryside is close to Slovenia and reminded us more of Tuscany than central Europe.
It may be hard to pronounce for non-German speakers, but don’t let that keep you away. Austrians know the treasures of Styria, and their closely guarded secret is being discovered.
We visited in early fall when the fruits of the vine greeted us at harvest time — bright orange and green pumpkins and luscious sauvignon grapes. Through the gentle breeze came an unusual clack, clack, clacking sound of the klapotetz windmills spinning slowly through the countryside, designed to ward off birds and other pests who dare to gobble up precious grapes.
All this idyllic scenery and soil translates into one of the most vibrant wine and food cultures we’ve ever explored, that should be on every foodie’s Europe bucket list.
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Table of Contents (click ahead)
LANGUAGE TIPS for English-speaking Wine Lovers
If you’re like us and don’t speak German, don’t let that keep you from visiting Südsteiermark. Many Austrians are fluent in English and some locals speak enough to communicate with you, which makes taking a self-guided tour much easier.
We recommend that you rent a car. You can go at your own pace, stop wherever you like and truly enjoy the beauty, and food, of the area.
Although most road signs and tourist brochures are geared to German speakers, here are some basics to know if you’re driving:
What language do Austrian speak? German.
Quick Translations — The German word for road is “strasse”. Wine road = “weinstrasse”. You’ll also see it written as “weinstraße”. That’s not a “B”, it’s the German eszett, and is pronounced like a quick, sharp S in English. Weingut is German for “winery”.
So… Südsteirische weinstraße, Südsteiermark weinstraße, and Weinstraße Steiermark, all translate to the South Styria - or South Styrian - wine road.
Got it? The important thing to remember is no matter how you pronounce it, all roads in Südsteiermark lead to wine!!!
Where is Südsteiermark (South Styria)?
Südsteiermark (South Styria) is located in the southernmost area of Steiermark (Styria), one of the largest “lands” or regions in Austria. It borders Salzburg and Carinthia to the west, Lower Austria and Burgenland to the east, and the country of Slovenia to the south. The area of Südsteiermark is essentially the south of the south, and therefore very lush, green, and a prime region for agriculture and growing grapes.
As a result, there’s an abundance of local food that is grown and produced here. The food in Austria is delicious, and much of it comes from here.
The South Styrian Wine Road (Südsteirische Weinstrasse)
The 44-mile long South Styrian Wine Road runs from Leutschach, and Gamlitz-Ehrenhausen to Strass. Starting near the village of Ehrenhausen, the road winds through Berghausen and quaint Austrian towns into the heart of the south Styrian wine country.
You’ll travel through Ratsch an der Weinstraße, then Gamlitz past scenic vineyards and inviting wine taverns until you reach the small wine growing village of Sulztal.
The end point of the Southern Styria Wine Road is Leutschach.
The wine road here is self-guided and driving is easygoing, so we recommend renting a car. Like other self-guided drives through wine regions in Chile, the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, and Oregon’s Williamette Valley, you’ll pass by lush green vineyards and can pull over to take closer looks now and then. People are friendly and are happy to chat and answer questions.
Why Is The South Styrian Wine Road for Food & Wine Lovers?
The wine in South Styria (wein steiermark) is famous for the intensely aromatic Austria white wine like Gelber Muskateller and Chardonnay they refer to as Morillon. But without a doubt Sauvignon Blanc steals the tasting show, with its crisp, full flavors bursting through. The crispness was similar to the crisp Vernaccia wine we tasted in San Gimignano, Italy, though much more balanced and elegant overall. You’ll never think of Sauvignon Blanc the same way again.
The only chapel in Styria dedicated to the patron saint of wine growers, St. Urban of Langres, is located here with a charming chapel built in the early seventies. Their church wine must be amazing!
In the fall, wine lovers look forward to tasting the first press of wine called stürm, which is generally higher in alcohol and always a fun shared experience among friends at a local weingut (winery) or the cozy wine taverns known as buschenschanks.
Best Restaurants in Südsteiermark
Sernau 2a, 8462 Sernau, Austria
The lovely Sattlerhof hotel, restaurant, and winery in Gamlitz sits high on a hill perfectly blended in with the countryside. Our good luck, it was a nice sunny day so we were seated at a table on the terrace overlooking surrounding vineyards. Our first tastes of two wines that Südsteiermark produces, a dry sauvignon blanc and a fruity but dry Muskateller, were hardly disappointing.
The wines were impressive and paired perfectly with our food course - Gamlitz-style pumpkin soup, a local favorite, drizzled with pumpkin oil and a whisper of vinegar. Our salad greens, very tender roast pork and chicken fried in the local style were all farm fresh and delicious. We finished with their very own Sauvignon Gamlitz which was excellent.
This is a great place to begin the journey through this beautiful region.
Kogelbergstrasse 62, A-8430 Leibnitz
This elegant and beautifully-designed restaurant overlooks a sea of vineyard and is the perfect spot to catch a gorgeous sunset with a glass of wine. If you can, opt for a table under the pergola overlooking the vineyards, and enjoy an array of Styrian specialties. Their extensive wine collection boasts over 300 wines. They are open Wednesday through Saturday.
Unterschwarza 1, A-8471 Spielfeld
Oliver Kocht Restaurant in Stellplatz, Austria near the Slovenian border has a beautiful softly lighted outdoor courtyard. The excellent menu is regional Austrian cuisine done with the chef’s modern culinary art. It’s a great place for a romantic dinner.
Vinofaktur Vogau Cafe and Wine Bar
An der Mur 13, 8472 Vogau
The cafe at the Genussregal Vinofaktur is a great place to grab a bite after your tour inside. There are over 2,500 Styrian wines and culinary products from over 250 regional producers, so taste some wine, take a tour of their impressive selections of local foods, oils, and sauces, and then grab lunch at the Cafe.
The pizzas here are amazing as are the charcuterie boards. Everything we’ve had at the Cafe has been so yummy!
Alte Post Restaurant
Sparkassenpl. 7, 8430 Leibnitz
Located in the heart of Leibnitz, Austria, the Alte Post Hotel and Restaurant dishes up local Styrian specialties prepared with a twist. With a nod to fresh locally produced seasonal products, the menu here is full of hearty schnitzels, roast pork and other regional specialties including Backhendl, Styrian style fried chicken. In the fall, try a bowl of their pumpkin bisque.
The cuisine at Alte Post is excellent and has been recognized by the restaurant guide Gault Millau. And as always, save room for dessert as the homemade pastries are divine.
Buschenschanks and Heurigers
One of the best things to do along the South Styrian Wine Road is to eat at a traditional Buschenschank Steiermark. A Buschen-what?
A Buschenschank (BOO-shen-shank) is a small inn run by a local grape farmer with just a few overnight rooms for rent. They’re a wonderful cultural tradition in South Styria. The word literally means “bar in the bushes” with a tradition of hanging a small bush or bundle of twigs upside down at the entrance to signal that they’re open for business.
But they are different from a traditional restaurant where you can order drinks from the bar and hot food. These are called Heurigers and it’s important to know the difference between the two if you’re planning on visiting Steiermark!
Read on, my friend.
What’s the Difference Between a Buschenschank and Heuriger?
Buschenschanks are happy social places and not at all formal in South Styria. In some parts of the Austrian wine country buschenschanks open near the beginning of autumn signaling the start of the harvest, although many in South Styria are open year round. By law they can only serve cold food - cold-cuts of meat, local cheeses, cold salads in pumpkin seed oil, and homemade bread.
Don’t ask for beer or coffee, as they’re not allowed. The winemaker will sell only his own wines, but the star of the show in the fall is a little something called stürm (as in thunder-schtOOrm).
We passed places along the road that appeared to be small roadside gardens with picnic tables and strings of small lights overhead with people enjoying stürm wine. The party was definitely on. Don’t pass them up!
Heurigers, on the other hand, are formally licensed restaurants where you can enjoy local dishes served warm as well as beer and other beverages. Heurigers are generally not as quaint as a buschenshank and can be touristy and sometimes crowded. On some nights you might even enjoy musical entertainment.
So if you prefer a more restaurant-y experience with a full menu, bar, and maybe a buffet, a heuriger is a good choice.
At a Glance
By law they only serve cold food - cold-cuts of meat, local cheeses, cold salads in pumpkin seed oil, and homemade bread.
Winemakers/Grower selling only their own wines
Formally licensed restaurant most often affiliated with a winery or vineyard to showcase and serve only their wines.
Serve a full menu of warm dishes as well as beer, wine, cocktails and other beverages.
Often will have musical entertainment.
3 Recommended Buschenschanks
Buschenschank Dreisiebner Stammhaus
Sulztal an der Weinstraße 35, 8461 Sulztal an der Weinstr., Austria
The family-run Dreisiebner winery and buschenschank Südsteiermark serves their own smoked meats and homemade breads along with their own incredible white wines. They’ve been awarded the "Excellent Quality Booklet” emblem (Ausgezeichneter Buschenschank Steiermark) and our experience there shows why.
The food and wine were excellent and the folks around us were all very friendly and tolerant of our very bad German. It was a very fun night. If you have a chance, don’t hesitate to eat here — and spend the night too.
Eckberg 100, 8462 Gamlitz
Not only is Hack-Gebell a lovely place to stay for an overnight or a week, an evening of wine tasting along with their amazing food is a special treat. The brettlejause is always creative and fresh, and they smoke all their own meats and cheeses on site). Owner Anna Marie’s baked goods are really delicious and the wines here are outstanding. Definitely worth a visit for lunch or dinner.
Höch 87, 8442 Kitzeck im Sausal
This winery and buschenschank has some of the prettiest platters of brettlejause we saw in South Styria. True works of art, they are as pretty to look at (and photograph) as they are to eat!
Wine Tasting in Südsteiermark
If you’re looking to taste some wine, maybe buy a bottle and plant yourself for a few hours at a charming Austrian weingut, Steiermark has no shortage of places to choose from.
Steinbach 12, 8462 Gamlitz, Austria
It’s always interesting when you’re able to meet a gifted winemaker and have a glimpse into their world. Katharine Tinnacher speaks gently and with her warm smile explains her philosophy and love affair with her land, the grapes, and the wine that she produces. Her knowledge and commitment to winemaking is evident in every tasting at the modern, cleanly designed tasting bar.
You wouldn’t think this was inside when you first arrive at the 400-year old restored farmhouse. But it is and there’s more.
The modern barrel room at Weingut Lackner Tinnacher features giant oval shaped barrels and intimate spaces with chairs and tables for you to enjoy some wine. One very cool artifact is the huge beam from a 300-year old winepress that serves as a wine bar. This is a very well thought out organic certified winery with impressive wines and a must visit for wine lovers.
Other Things to Do in Südsteiermark
Taste Styrian Oil at Resch Kernölpresse (Pumpkin Seed Oil Factory)
Resch Kernölpresse, Schlossberg 89, 8463 Schloßberg, Austria
It’s hard to find a soup or salad that isn’t garnished with locally produced pumpkin seed oil and the Styrian oil produced here is one of the very best you’ll find. Why? Because this type of pumpkin is unique to Styria — the seeds don’t have to be shelled, which makes the process of roasting and extracting the oil easier though labor intensive, and the oil much more flavorful and highly prized.
This small pressing facility at Resch Kernölpresse uses the seeds of only locally grown Styrian pumpkins. They’re quite tender and have a mild nutty taste when roasted. Producing the oil is time consuming with the pressing moved by hand from stage to stage.
The seeds are first ground, mixed with salt and pure water, then heated to remove moisture. From there they are roasted then pressed. After sitting in vats for 5 days to allow any sediment to settle to the bottom, the oil is bottled in cans or glass and can be kept for up to a year and a half at room temperature.
This stuff is so delicious it’s addictive, and you’ll find yourself looking for things to garnish with it, like vanilla ice cream. Don’t laugh — it was deeeelicious! Thanks to Bernd Resch for the in-depth tour of his facility.
Drink Sturm Wine
So what the heck is stürm? It’s new wine, or young wine if you like, made from freshly pressed and fermented grapes, usually about a month old and only available from around mid-September to mid-October (a lot depends on the weather and the time of grape harvesting).
Generally this stuff is cloudy and still a bit sweet and fizzy like a lightly carbonated grape juice, but make no mistake, it’s usually quite potent.
Here’s the kicker — because it’s so much fun to drink it’s easy to maybe have a bit too much. Roads in this part of Austria are twisty and narrow and unlighted after dark so it’s always a good idea to have a designated driver or use one of the taxi services to get you back and forth to your lodging. Wine taxis are quite common here and always a good idea. Prost!
Visit the Vinofaktur Genussregal
Vinofaktur Genussregal, an der Mur 13, 8472 Vogau, Austria
The term genussregal translates literally to “the shelf of pleasure” which is fitting given the amount of local food and wine products here which appeal to all your senses. From the outside, with its three-tiered, steel i-beam rack holding colorful metal freight containers, it’s hard to tell what it is exactly. Located in Sankt Veit am Vogau just across the river from Ehrenhausen, what looks a bit wild on the outside holds a ton of surprises inside.
This is a great place to start your tasting of the local food and wines of South Styria — it’s located at the start of the South Styrian Wine Road! The facility boasts 2,500 Styrian wine and culinary products from over 250 regional producers which includes the Vinofaktur, the largest wine store in Styria.
Walking into the wine store section of the building is overwhelming. Fortunately there’s a knowledgable and friendly expert on duty to lead you through a tasting.
For a nominal fee, it’s worth taking the short tour — it’s not only educational but also entertaining. There are displays everywhere on the history of production, organics, how things are produced, and the influence of the different soil types in the region. Most importantly though, are the many nods to the slow food movement for the conscientious sustainable production of regional foods, farm to table vs. mass food production, something near and dear to our hearts.
Walk around with the porcelain spoon included in the fee and taste honeys, vinegars, jams, and cold-pressed oils. There’s a full size model reclining pig with a butchering schematic and small videos with different products. Austria doesn’t shy away from the reality of farm-to-table which is very refreshing.
An entire section is dedicated to native Styrian Sulmtaler chickens and their eggs which are numbered to indicate the farm they came from. You can taste most of the products and purchase them at the shop counters. Or grab a table at the onsite Vinofaktur Vogau cafe and wine bar and order a local specialty from their menu.
Vinofaktur Genussregal is so impressive and well worth a visit .
Find Love on the Heart Shaped Road
What better place for a food and wine lover to end their tour along the South Styrian Wine Road than on the famous heart shaped road in nearby Špičnik, Slovenia, just one of many unique day trips from Graz. That’s right… South Styria and Slovenia are close neighbors in the EU, as you can see from our picture below… we’re sitting in Austria and the heart-shaped road is in Slovenia, not too far from the gorgeous herdsmen settlement of Velika Planina and the glacial region around Lakes Bled and Bohinj.
Contrary to some claims, the road really is heart-shaped, and no you don’t have to be in a certain position or out in space to see it. Just drive out to Dreisiebner Špičnik, park, and take a quiet walk to the vineyard’s edge. See how lovely international neighbors can be, especially when wine is involved?
Where to Stay in Südsteiermark
Weingut Dreisiebner Stammhaus
Sulztal an der Weinstraße 35, 8461, Austria
Not only was this an excellent buschenshank, they also have lovely overnight suites at Dreisiebner Stammhaus. Our stay here could not have been nicer. The spacious room was modern, with an ultra comfy Queen bed, and a small outside deck overlooking the vineyards.
Eckberg 100, 8462 Gamlitz
For the best that a buschenschank has to offer, Weingut Hack-Gebell in Gamlitz is an excellent choice. With guest rooms and a very nice included breakfast, the 360-year old buschenschank has some great wines and locally sourced regional foods. They smoke all their own meats on-site and their wines are some of the best we tasted in South Styria.
The prime location along the South Styrian Wine Road is not only perfect for exploring the Wine Road but it’s easy access to nearby Gamlitz, the Heart-Shaped Road, and just minutes to the border of Slovenia.
We loved our stay at Hack-Gebell and miss Anna Marie’s cooking (and baking)!
We were guests of Südsteiermark during this part of our travels through South Styria. As always, all opinions are ours alone based on our first hand experience.
IF YOU GO
Spring and fall are some of the best times to visit this part of Austria, when visitors have their pick of food festivals and wine events galore. Reserve your stay at a quaint local buschenschank that Südsteiermark is known for, and spend your days exploring.
This green region is one of the best places to visit in Austria. For more information, visit the Steiermark tourism website.