One cannot imagine Styria, Austria's "green" province, more lovely than in late October when we made the drive from the pilgrimage town of Mariazell along the Salza river to Hieflau. (These are tiny towns; to find them on a map note that Mariazell is straight north of Bruck an der Mur and lies at the center of the triangle formed by Linz, Graz and Vienna. Hieflau is southwest of Mariazell and about 44 kilometers east of Liezen.)
The countryside is quietly spectacular. The river runs so clear that we were able to see fish swimming—from our moving car. (Underground water from this region is gathered and piped to Vienna to be used as the city's drinking water.)
Below the limestone cliffs, eroded into extraordinary formations, the ravine slopes are covered with green conifers and—during our visit—deciduous foliage in fall colors. The reds, browns and yellows among the dark green timber, all standing out in sharp relief from the grey rock, provide wondrous scenery. Where the valley widens it almost seems the farms and grazing cattle are set pieces, carefully chosen and perfectly placed on the broad meadow. The driving itself is not as dramatic. The road is well maintained and, except in one or two spots, not especially narrow or steep.
The drive from Mariazell to Hieflau has a serene quality about it, due no doubt to the lack of traffic and habitation. We traveled at lunchtime and the tiny villages that comprise civilization along this road, Weischelboden, Wildalpen, Palfau and Grossreifling, seemed deserted. No cars or people moved, stores were locked. The feeling was of being far off the beaten track. As we wandered near a small but tidy cemetery by the road we wondered what a week's stay in one of these hamlets would be like. If you find out, let us know.