Within Styria's borders are the alpine ranges of the Salzkammergut and steppe country that resembles that of the Great Hungarian Plain. This conglomerate of river valleys, mountain peaks, glaciers, and verdant sun-drunk vineyards is a great place to pursue outdoor activities. Graz serves as a good base for stockpiling supplies and planning your excursions. Here are the essentials for planning an outdoorsy vacation in Styria.
Ballooning -- Styria is home to several hot-air ballooning outfits. Ask a local entrepreneur to take you up for a 90- to 120-minute escapade over the region's rooftops and lakes, preferably with a bottle of champagne and a good companion. The oldest outfitter in Styria (established in 1976) is Gerd Skreiner's Union Aeronautic Styria, Postfach 68A, A-8182 Puch bei Weiz (tel. 06645/456941). Located in a village adjacent to the Stubenbergsee (a local lake), 40km (25 miles) east of Graz, it maintains six balloons. Excursions cost 230€ ($368) per person for the first flight and 140€ ($224) for subsequent flights. Flights can be conducted, weather permitting, in any season. Each balloon holds a pilot and up to three passengers.
Biking -- Cycling enthusiasts will be pleased by Styria's terrain. The gentle undulations of the eastern plain and the historic scenery make for a pleasant ride. You can rent a bike through an independent operator, Bicycle, Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Kai 66 (tel. 0316/8213570), near Graz's town center for 10€ ($16) per day. Contact Eurobike, Mühlstrasse 20, A-5162 Oberturn (tel. 06219/74440), to arrange bike tours through some of the most scenic regions of Austria and Italy. A particularly appealing trip is an excursion known as the Muradweg, a week-long trek along the Mur River. The average age of participants in this tour ranges from 50 to 60, and cost is between 490€ to 610€ ($784-$976), depending on the hotel you choose. Overnight accommodations, some meals, equipment rental, and luggage transfers are included in the price. You pay extra, however, for breakfast and dinner, costing 100€ to 120€ ($160-$192) per person.
Boating -- The region's many lakes are great places for experienced and novice boaters. Hotel Backenstein, Braühof 156, A-8993 Grundlsee (tel. 03622/8545; www.backenstein.at), offers packages that include boat rentals, lessons, and accommodations.
Canoeing -- White-water enthusiasts will be enchanted by the clean, crisp waters of the glacial runoff. Although water temperatures can be brisk, any hearty paddler will tell you the best way to stay warm is to paddle furiously. Sportagentur Strobl, Ausseer Strasse 2-4, A-8940 Liezen (tel. 03612/25343), will help set you adrift.
Fishing -- If you want to spend an afternoon fishing, cast your luck with one of the guide services that can be arranged for you by the Tourismusver Ausseer Land, Bahnhustrasse 132, A-8990 Bad Aussee (tel. 03622/54040), or Tourismusverband Murau, Bundesstrasse 13A (tel. 03532/2720).
Golf -- Styria's gently undulating landscapes are well suited for golf courses, many of which allow nonmembers to reserve tee-off times if the course isn't too busy. Two of the region's most appealing golf courses are Golfclub Gut Murstätten, A-8403 Lebring (tel. 03182/3555; www.gcmurstaetten.at), a half-hour drive south of Graz; and the Golfclub Murhof, A-8130 Frohnleiten (tel. 03126/3010; www.murhof.at), a half-hour drive north of Graz. Additionally, any hotel or tourist office can point you to other golf courses.
Hiking -- Alpinists who toil for their highs will want to experience some of the climbs in the Dachstein-Tauern region. It's best to scale the steep rock faces of the Alps with an experienced guide. A guide (or just some climbing buddies) can be located for you by Alpin- und Abenteuerclub Dachstein, Schilldletten 88, A-8972 Ramsau (tel. 03687/815980).
Skiing -- The Dachstein glacier enables year-round skiing in Styria. Cross-country skiers will find this a great diversion in summertime. For general and booking information, contact Tourismusverband Ramsau (tel. 03687/81833). The Dachstein-Tauern and Salzkammergut regions have winter ski facilities.
Tennis -- If you want to play tennis, Sporthotel Matschner in Ramsau (tel. 03687/817210) offers guests hotel and tennis packages, as do many other hotels with courts.