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Austrians liken the rolling hills and vineyards of the southern part of Styria to Tuscany. The similarities end, however, when it comes to prices and the number of American tourists.

A Styrian Vineyard
A Styrian Vineyard

Tell an Austrian you've been to the Styrian Wine Road (Südsteirische Weinstrasse) and she is likely to look wistfully into the distance and say "Ahhh, the Styrian Toscana." In part, this is because of a memorable advertising slogan, but also because the landscape really does look something like the Italian region of Tuscany. Located on the border with Slovenia, the southern Styrian countryside is a blend of crescent hills, tall singular poplar trees, the occasional farmhouse, and vineyards one after the other.

Frau Jakobé, the owner of one of these vineyards at the top of the last crest before the border, prefers to point out the differences. "If this were Tuscany," she says, "at this time of year everything would be brown."

True, on a hot day in late July the view is a palette of innumerable greens - the rolling fields, the shimmering leaves of the poplar trees and the broad pointed leaves strung along the vines - but not a hint of anything parched or withered. In fact, it's downright humid; perfect weather to sit in the shade of a vine arbor and enjoy a cool, perspiring glass of fruitful Styrian white wine.

Which brings up another difference in the two regions. Rather than Tuscany's deep red wines, southern Styria is better known for its light, aromatic whites. The wine region is officially confined to a small delta of land on the west side of the Mur river. Most of the approximately 2000 hectares are under cultivation. In recent decades, a number of vintners have begun to produce world-class white wines, which are only now getting the international attention they deserve.

Complementing its numerous fine wines are a handful of scenic Weinstrassen, meandering rural roads that thread their way past stunning views along the crests and slopes of the vineyards. The oldest and most striking of these is the Südsteirische Weinstrasse, which begins in Ehrenhausen, about 10 kilometers south of the town of Leibnitz and just west of A9 north-south Autobahn out of Graz. It winds its way along the border to Leutschach, threading past thick clusters of hills and narrow, secluded valleys.

A bit further north is the Sausaler Weinstrasse, which runs from Leibnitz to the small village of Höfern. Leave Leibnitz heading west on highway #74. At Glenstätten head north on a "yellow road" toward Preding. This part of the drive is up the Kogelberg with grand views over the extended plain below.

These are just two of the official routes; actually nearly all the small roads in the region contain some rewarding surprise or other. A two-day visit will provide ample time for a leisurely tour of these routes, as well as time to sample the area's food and wine.