Apples, beer, wine and pumpkins. Perhaps the four things most associated with the Austrian province of Styria (German: Steiermark).
And once a year around mid-April, lorry loads of apples, beer, wine and pumpkin products travel up the southern motorway to Vienna for the 4-day Styrian Spring (Steiermark Frühling) festival on the Rathausplatz.
It’s a celebration of the province, its culture and (particularly) its culinary delights: the 2016 festival, for example, featured a 30 metre apple strudel.
The festival itself is a little piece of Styria transplanted into the capital, with booths and wooden cabins, turf, mulch and floral displays adding rural charm to the city centre.
Many people here are in traditional dress, from senior citizens with imperious moustaches to youngsters sporting Lederhosen and sunglasses – not just booth staff, but visitors, too. It’s not a display for the Viennese and tourists, but the continuation of an authentic tradition. You can get some idea of the festival feeling from this 2016 promo video:
And this slideshow:
Numerous booths cover the main tourism regions in the province, from the city of Graz through to the extensive Alpine areas, and there are demonstrations of traditional crafts, like basket weaving.
As you wander around, two things strike you:
1. Styrians are a happy folk. All smiles and laughter, and full of regional pride. But not the “we’re better than you, so leave your money here and get out” type of pride. More of the “come and share in our luck” variety.
2. They do like their wine and beer.
There are indeed an awful lot of booths, tents and cabins selling Styrian wine and schnapps. A very distinctive regional wine, for example, is the Schilcher rosé made from the local Blauer Wildbacher grape.
They like their food, too.
You can buy pumpkin seed snacks in a multitude of flavours, as well as pumpkin seed oil (a distinctive dark green dressing that goes well on salads). Sausages and small dumplings with melted cheese, dark bread garnished with air-dried ham, local cheeses and horse radish, fried meat and potatoes, sweet rolls (Buchtel) and funnel cakes, giant pretzels, and more.
There are plenty of seats and benches to sit around to enjoy all the above. Or you can flop onto some straw and enjoy the spring sun: the surrounding Rathauspark is normally in fine form, too, with fresh green carpeting the trees and displays of tulips on the ground.
Among the chatter and laughter you will also hear music, and not just on the main stage. Often a booth or cabin has its own traditional folk group from the mountains, perhaps with a portly gentleman in leather trousers swinging his accordion with gusto, pausing only for another sup of Styrian beer and a satisfied smile at the assembled audience.
It’s a great atmosphere and perhaps a good place to eat as you wander the more traditional city sights.
Styrian Spring visitor info
There is no entrance fee and the official website has dates and the daily programme. You can get there easily enough, given the central, convenient location. Chances are you’ll run into it by accident on your sightseeing tour.
Subway: U2 line to Rathaus.
Trams: Lines 1, D or 71 to Rathausplatz / Burgtheater or line 2 to Stadiongasse / Parlament.
Address: Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna