Moving into our last week in Austria we’ve continued to visit new places, meet more people and generally make the most of every single day. It hasn’t all been chess and chocolates! Well it has a bit to be honest.
A fabulous day out on Saturday with Othmar and Maggie took us to the imposing Riegersburg Castle in South East Styria. It was a fair drive but took our breath away as we approached the town and saw the incredible castle sitting right on top of the rock face several hundred feet up. The town seemed to be full of Witches though, shops and pictures everywhere. Bit creepy. A steady walk up cartwheel-worn tracks and over medieval ramparts took us to the top where the views were incredible. Vineyards all around as far as the eye could see. Lots more witchy stuff up there with stories and paintings and even a ‘Witch Museum’.
The whole place was simply awe-inspiring and we wish we’d had more time to explore the history and watch the guys working in the forge, even maybe grab a beer in the restaurant at the top. But chocolate was calling us ……..
A short drive took us to Zotter. We’d been told that we were off to a chocolate factory for the afternoon but nothing could have prepared us for Zotter! Nestled in a little village to the East of Graz is the Zotter Chocolate Factory and Choco Shop Theatre. We weren’t sure what the big deal was really as Maggie particularly seemed fairly excited about the visit and kept telling us to ‘wait and see’. Slightly worrying. So big choco-type attraction with queues and shops and we marched in to find out what all the fuss was about. After an introductory film, luckily with English subtitles for the German-lacking amongst us, we wandered out to start the walk through the factory.
Well. Did I say walk? It was unbelievable. Everyone got a little ceramic spoon at the beginning and we started the walk through different manufacturing areas of the factory showing how chocolate was made and packaged. Interesting though that may be the really interesting part was that every few feet, on either side of the passageways, there were chocolate dispensing devices. Some with cocoa beans, some with liquid cocoa, some with part-processed chocolate, and so many with blocks of all of the different types of confectionery that Zotter produces. And they make over 180 different flavours! they call it a choco-tour with tit-bit stations apparently – Zotter Choco-Tour. No limit to how much is eaten by each visitor either so you can imagine that some people went completely choco-crazy!
There was just SO much chocolate to try. Hundreds and hundreds of different things. Even a special Hot Chocolate bar where staff served up multiple flavours of free hot chocolate drinks. It was just never ending. The biggest problem really was not to try everything as we wouldn’t have made it round, and our stomachs certainly wouldn’t have survived! Wanna know some of the flavours that they produce and that we tried?
Caramel Coffee Toffee, Crunchy Passion Fruit, Apple and Carrot with Ginger, Basmati Rice with Saffron, Cashew and Pineapple, Toasted Nuts and Lavendar, Bacon Bits, Lemon Curd, and the list goes on and on. Just checkout the Zotter online shop and see how much they do, it’s amazing. Jo’s favourites were obviously the Red Wine, Champagne, and Cherry Brandy flavoured bars.
My favourite part of the whole place was actually outside. They have their own farm and restaurant with kids play areas etc, but in the middle of our walk around the grounds we came to a little cemetery. Not for people though, oh no. For chocolate flavours that have died through lack of sales of lack of interest.
What a place. But was that it for the weekend? No chance. Eva and Othmar had organised a family barbeque for the next day with around 20 members of their extended family, and us, invited. We spent the morning trying to help get set up but may have actually been a hindrance and got in the way unfortunately. Didn’t seem to bother them though as we sat down at 1 o’clock for food and many many drinks.
Everyone was just so friendly and made us feel part of the family. With our partial German and their partial English we got by perfectly, although a couple of the younger ones spoke better English than we did. Lots of schnapps and wine, loads of meat skillfully prepared by Othmar, a fair bit of Austrian political discussion (which we couldn’t keep up with), lots of football talk, and several people asking ‘why did you come to Vochera?’. Such a brilliant afternoon and evening and we just felt so thankful that these marvelous people have taken us in so generously.
A little lie-in the next day was obviously in order due to overdoing the sausages and Puntigamer beer a little and we had a couple of relaxing days doing not a great deal. A bit of Australia planning was necessary and some final accommodation booking for NZ but pretty quiet.
Then it all kicked off again yesterday as we walked to Frauenthal an der Lassnitz for a coffee and some cake, before having an immense outdoor game of chess in the park. Close game but apparently there’s a stewards enquiry and will definitely be a rematch at some stage.
That evening Eva offered to take us out for drive and we visited the impressive Hollenegg Castle on the outskirts of Deutschlandsberg before heading up a steep track to the top of a local mountain to see St Wolfgangs Church. What a view and as the sun set we could see the mountains of Slovenia in the distance and the lights of Graz in the other. Spectacular and a beautiful thoughtful place to end the day.
As our time here draws to an end we’ve started thinking about what comes next, our week back in the UK and then our big trip down under. We’ve got quite deep and meaningful in some of our discussions about life and friends and family in fact and it will be interesting to see how we feel back in England and who we meet up with. This post was very nearly a complete ramble of my feelings about life the universe and everything. You only just escaped. Maybe next time.