Our last report on Graz was September 1990. Four years later, not much has changed other than the prices.

Austria's second city is somewhat of a forgotten destination. Birnbaum's Europe treats it as though it doesn't exist. Fodor's Affordable Europe, omits it, as does Fodor's Budget Europe.

But Graz is not to be missed. It is a worthy destination, replete with good hotels, restaurants and shops; all contained in a beautifully preserved Medieval core that brims with fascinating things to explore.

That core, the Old Town, is by far the city's most interesting section; dense, alluring and ideal for walking. The altstadt's bustling, youthful aura is no illusion. One of every six residents is a student. Four hundred year-old Karl-Franzens University, with 30,000 students and one of Austria's three major universities, is located at one entrance to Old Town. Two smaller schools are also in Graz.

Though crowded, Graz is both clean and colorful: stone paving immaculately swept; flowers and greenery everywhere. In the altstadt, however, one is never far from the peaceful surroundings of the Mur River: a placid, parklike setting, with benches and trees, always available for tranquil waterside strolls. Nearby, on the busy Hauptstrasse, narrow streetcars rumble along, sharing the confined space with taxis, pedestrians and delivery vans.

On the other side of this busy thoroughfare, beyond the noise of the trams, are the agreeable sounds of jazz. In summer, the extensive network of alleys and courtyards that radiate off the main street are places where small ensembles, usually students, practice their craft before audiences of tourists and locals.

Exploring the altstadt's labyrinthine network of streets is a surprisingly intimate and suspenseful experience. Narrow rocky passageways open suddenly to reveal unexpected vistas: a palace, a church steeple or a gilded clock tower rising to the sky. Hovering over all this is the Schlossberg, a towering ruined fortification perched above the altstadt and reached by steeply terraced steps. Like all medieval cities watched over by castles, it gives Graz a special drama.

Graz Hotels

Erzherzog Johann

A charming, almost palatial hotel, situated in the central part of the Old Town on Hauptstrasse, close to shopping, museums and important historical sites. It was once a residence of the Archduke Johann, a Hapsburg who married badly and could not succeed to be king.

The building is grand in scale. One enters to an elegant high-ceilinged lobby with a graceful staircase. Adjoining is a stunning 5-story high "winter garden" dining room, one of the most beautiful in Graz. This exquisite inner courtyard, enclosed by skylights, was originally built for horses and its glass roof was added in 1920.

Some rooms are gigantic, even the singles are large. My double was 35 feet by 18 feet, with a 17-foot ceiling. its towering double-glazed windows are sealed against outside trolley noise. This imposing space is furnished with minibar, sofa, soft chairs, coffee table, a larger conference table, lovely veneered French Provincial chests, desks, wardrobes and Oriental carpets. The generously-sized bathroom has a huge tub, large lavatory and separate toilet room.

* Address: Erzherzog Johann, Sackstrasse 3-5, A-8010 Graz

* Phone: 0316/81 16 16

* Fax: 0316/81 15 15

* Location: Central

* Rooms: 67 total, 32 singles

* Proprietor: Bernhard Reif-Breitweiser

* Prices: Singles 950-1300 AS ($86-$118), doubles 1750-3000 AS ($160-270). Fall and Winter rates approximately 33% less than summer rates.

* Facilities: Outdoor sundeck, lounging area and sauna.

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Good access

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Garage at 120 AS ($10) per day and limited free street parking

* Rating: Above Average 15/20 G

Hotel Kirchenwirt

This pleasant country inn is about three miles northeast of the center, in the Mariatrost section. The tram to the Old Town is a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel. Built as a restaurant for pilgrims in 1833, the Kirchenwirt was converted to its present use in 1920 and has been continuously modernized since. The average-sized guestrooms are furnished in a green and cream color scheme. Most have panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and come with phone, hair-dryer, minibar, cable TV and robes. Number 231 is a two-room apartment for four, for 1600-1840 AS ($145-$170).

* Address: Pfeiffer Hotel Kirchenwirt Kirchplatz 9, A-8044 Graz

* Phone: 0316/39 1112-0

* Fax: 0316/39 111249

* Location: In a residential area, 3 miles from town, 5 minutes walk from the tram

* Rooms: 20 singles, 25 doubles

* Proprietor: Joseph Pfeiffer

* Prices: Singles 800-980 AS ($72-$90), doubles 1200-1400 AS ($110-$128)

* Meals: All available

* Facilities: Outdoor food service

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Limited access

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Free

* Rating: Above average 14/20

Hotel Mariatrosterhof

Near the Kirchenwirt is another countryside hotel under the same management. The Mariatrosterhof's guest rooms are also furnished with phone, cable TV, minibars, and robes. Most have a view of the tree-covered landscape.

* Address: Pfeiffer Hotel Mariatrosterhof, Kirchbergstrasse 1, A-8044 Graz

* Phone: 0316/391070-0

* Fax: 0316/391070-69

* Location: In residential area 3 miles from town, 5 minutes walk from tram

* Rooms: 20 singles, 30 doubles

* Proprietor: Joseph Pfeiffer

* Prices: Singles 800-980 AS ($72-$90), doubles 1200-1400 AS ($110-$128)

* Meals: All available

* Facilities: Outdoor food service

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Limited access

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Free

* Rating: Above average 14/20

Ohnime

This agreeable, reasonably-priced inn and restaurant, is also in the Mariatrost section, and easily reached via tram from downtown. Most rooms have panoramic views of countryside and mountains, a few look over a nearby cemetery. They are decorated in tones of blue with harmonizing printed drapes and furnished with phones, cable TV and minibars. Room 203, an average-sized single has wide windows and a sweeping mountain and pasture vista for 660 AS ($60). Number 205, a junior suite, decorated in rose and gray has two rooms and a French-style double bed. At 1100 AS ($100) it is a bargain.

Ohnime's restaurant serves simple fare and its prices are moderate: I had fried chicken, green salad and white wine for 140 AS ($12.50),

* Address: Hotel-Restaurant Ohnime, Purbergstrasse 56, A-8044 Graz

* Phone: 0316/39 11 43

* Fax: 0316/39 11 43 19

* Location: In residential area 3 miles from town, 5 minutes walk from tram

* Rooms: 14 singles, 28 doubles

* Proprietor: M. Digallo

* Prices: Singles 660 AS ($60), doubles 820-1100 ($75-$100)

* Meals: All available

* Facilities: Bar and outdoor terrace with food service

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Limited access

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Free

* Rating: Above Average 14/20 $

Restaurants

Landhaus-Keller

Close to the Erzherzog Johann Hotel. The entrance of this atmospheric and extremely attractive hideout is past a guard booth and through the courtyard of the 16th century Styrian Parliament building in Old Town. It's rather dressy business clientèle belies the relatively simple food and reasonable prices. A romantic, intimate atmosphere is created by candle-lit tables in a series of narrow rooms under towering stone-vaulted ceilings. Some tables are also available outside in the ancient cobblestone courtyard.

On an evening last June, the food was excellent and the service quick and unobtrusive. The meal began with hors d'oeuvres of vegetables in aspic and garlic and herb-flavored cream cheese, accompanied by tasty pumpkin seed rolls. The main course was tender and flavorful boiled beef, served in a soup terrine with side dishes of white dill and caper sauce, sauerkraut, creamed spinach with garlic, and black bread. Without wine, the bill for one person came to 230 AS ($21).

Landhaus-Keller, Schmiedgasse 9, A-8010 Graz. Phone 0316/83 02 76. Fax 0316/83 02 76 6.

Krebsenkeller

This beer garden-restaurant is tucked inside a courtyard up a long pedestrian alley, on the ground floor of an ancient building. Here one finds plain wooden tables, unpretentious but prompt service and large portions of meat and cheese dishes, reasonably priced.

A large slab of rather bland cordon bleu was greatly improved by a squeeze of lemon juice. The "mixed salad" consisted of marinated cabbage and vegetables. For dessert, a local cheese called Schlierbacher, served with whole wheat bread, strong and pleasant, somewhat salty, with a Camembert-like taste. With two glasses of local red wine, the bill for one came to 199 AS ($18).

Krebsenkeller, Sackstrasse 12, A-8010 Graz. Phone: 0316/82 93 77.

September 1994