In Styria, the "green heart of Austria," forests cover about half the country, and grasslands and vineyards blanket another quarter. This is one of Austria's bargain provinces -- even its top hotels charge only moderate prices. Trout fishing, mountain climbing, and hiking are popular summer activities, and in the past decade Styria has been emerging as a ski area. (It has a long way to go before it will rival Land Salzburg or Tyrol, however.) Schladming/Rohrmoos is a skiing center of Dachstein-Tauern, in the upper valley of the Enns River.

Interesting areas to visit in Styria include Bad Gleichenberg, the most important summer spa in South Styria, set among parks and mineral waters; and Bad Aussee, an old market town and spa in the heart of the lush Salzkammergut. Also worth a visit are Murau, a winter ski region and a good center for driving tours of the surrounding countryside, and Mariazell, Austria's pilgrimage center. If you're driving around this area, you should know that parking is free unless otherwise noted, and is rarely a problem.

Styria ("Steiermark" in German) is the second-largest province in the country. It borders Slovenia and Hungary, as well as the Austrian provinces of Burgenland, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Land Salzburg, and Carinthia. Northwestern Styria includes the alpine ranges of the Salzkammergut, while its eastern section resembles the steppes of Hungary. The Dachstein features mammoth glaciers.

Throughout history, this rich land of valleys, rivers, mountain peaks, and glaciers has been sought after. It was greedily attacked by Huns, Hungarians, and Turks, and even in Celtic times people knew that the mountains of Upper Styria were a valuable source of iron ore, which the tribes used for weapons and other goods. The Romans also exploited the rich deposits, and the Crusaders used armor made from Styrian iron to fight the "infidel" in the East. Iron resources shaped Styria's economy, and today it's Austria's leading mining province.

Styria is a province deeply steeped in tradition, and the costume that some of the men still occasionally wear demonstrates this point. Derived from an original peasant costume, it's made of stout greenish-gray cloth with Styrian green material used for the lapels and the stripe along the side of the pant legs.

Graz, the capital of Styria, is the second-largest Austrian city, and in imperial times it was known as the place to which state officials retired -- the city even acquired the nickname Pensionopolis (City of the Retired).