The only thing better than a mind-blowing meal in a magical setting is a mind-blowing meal in a magical setting when you know you’ve already burned off all the calories!
That’s pretty much my definition of a GastroAdventure. I had lots of them in 2013 but one stands out: A foray into the Austrian wine country called Steiermark (Styria in English) where we ate fabulous food at Restaurant Kreuzwirt and hiked during the day in the enchanting Altenbachklamm.
Home base for the two-day adventure was Pössnitzberg (above), a family-run winery with about 20 elegant hotel rooms and a Gault-Milau-celebrated restaurant, Kreuzwirt.
On the day we arrived, we walked the serpentine country road called the Panorama/Weinstrasse (wine road), taking in the vast expanses of manicured vineyards, meadows full of flowers and cows eating them, and picturesque clusters of old homes and barns. That night we dined at Kreuzwirt (below), a sleek modern restaurant that appears to be floating in open space, thanks to two sides of floor-to-ceiling windows that were completely open on the warm June night we visited.
Dinner was a thrilling procession: A “martini” of homemade vermouth sorbet flecked with olive bits and herbs to mimic the “juniper” flavor of gin; a single raviolo (below) holding a poached egg, sautéed spinach, browned butter and shaved white truffle; local venison with summer mushrooms and tiny dice of speck (bacon); raw milk mousse and rhubarb sorbet, and more, much more. (Click here to read about the whole dinner.) Every course was accompanied by award-winning Gut Pössnitzberg wines.
The next day, after a terrific breakfast served on the sunny terrace, we drove 20 minutes to the trailhead at Altenbachklamm. (Klamm means gorge or ravine; this Website is not available in English but you can use Google to translate it.)
South Styria is well known for its hikes, especially the panoramic walks on country roads and through vineyards and farms. But we were looking for something more challenging and, given the fact it was 95 degrees, something in the shade.
After a short hike thru some vineyards, we found ourselves in heavy woods and climbing steadily. A billboard at the beginning of the trail described how the Klammsteige (“ravine climb”) was created in 2009 by local climbers and engineers. This masterpiece of bridges, steps, ladders, and one unattended hut, turns a terrifyingly steep and dark ravine into a pleasurable day hike. Miles of railings, ropes and iron cables allow hikers to traverse the challenging terrain, and crisscross the deep ravine over and over again. Bridges are numbered -- I lost count at 25 – with the most impressive being a 100-foot long suspension bridge.
A bit of dappled sunlight peeked in now and then but mostly we were in a cool, dark wonderland that we had all to ourselves. Ninety minutes later we emerged onto a vast, grassy plateau, and gazed out over the vineyards and valley floor from the terrace of Gasthaus Tertinek, a family-owned inn where we stopped for cold drinks and a donut.
You heard that right. A donut. Known as Krapfen in Austria, these beloved jelly donuts are almost always homemade and always scrumptious. The way I figure it, you can enjoy one completely without guilt if you have just clawed your way up 1,200 feet in a veritable jungle. (Photo by EuropeanBusinessJournal.)
That evening, we enjoyed a quiet dinner on a tiny outdoor terrace overlooking the Pössnitzberg vineyards. We drank Sekt (sparkling wine) during sunset, then enjoyed iced cucumber soup, garnished with minced salmon tartar, that hit the spot on an 85-degree evening. Next came a lightly creamed ragout of local mushrooms, studded with diced speck, topped with a fried egg from the neighboring farm, and accompanied by a small green salad. Apple-rhubarb strudel, drizzled with raspberry sauce, was a colorful conclusion to the GastroAdventure of 2013.
Like most of the wineries in the region, Gut Pössnitzberg offers appealing package deals. We opted for the “Culinary Time-Out” package that included two nights’ accommodations with buffet breakfasts, one dinner in the garden from the hotel’s menu, and the four-course dinner, with wines, at Kreuzwirt. The cost was 199 Euros (about $250) per person. For more details, check out Gut Pössnitzberg.