Wednesday 15th August 2012
Mariazell is a small city in the Styrian Alps that is known foremost for its shrine and also for winter sports. The best access to it is not from its home state of Steiermark (Styria) to the south, but from the north and the Danube valley. It is a destination for pilgrims, a lot from Eastern Europe.
They come to see a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary that is said to have certain properties. It is housed in magnificent building, the Mariazell Basilica, which overlooks the centre of the city. The statue arrived in 1157 and the Basilica was begun in the 14th century. It was later rebuilt and emerged in its present form in 1780. It was visited by Pope John-Paul II in 1983 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
Just around the corner from the Basilica was the object of our pilgrimage, Brauhaus Mariazell which is the home of the Wirtshaus Brauerei. This is an ancient brewery first recorded in 1673. In 1888 the last brew was made on the old equipment. The family Girrer took over the pub in 1914 and remain owners to this day. In 1996 they re-installed a brewery.
It was a very hot sunny day (temp: around 34°C) and I was very grateful to get the last seat in a communal taxi up from the station to the centre, one kilometre. My compatriots, Patrick, Russell and Vaughan walked and arrived at the pub slightly distressed but at least they'd earned their beer!
The place was full of lunchtime diners so we repaired to the small bar. There was a straight choice of two beers, light or dark, and we had them in that order. Girrerbräu Zeller Gold (4.6%) was a pleasant light beer but not too bitter.
The consensus was that the dark was the better. Girrerbräu Mönch Magnums (5.4%) had more bitterness than the Gold and had real depth of flavour as it is made with five types of malt. One surprising aspect of these beers is that they are top-fermented, very unusual in this part of the world, excepting Wheat beer, of course.
Whilst we were imbibing we had a look around the interesting interior. From the entrance the pub slopes down to the small garden at the back. Most of the small rooms were to the right of the central corridor. They are extremely comfortable and, after the lunch time throng had dissipated we took a seat in one and had a really good meal. We all had something different and the opinion was that they were all good. I suppose it is not surprising as they have won awards for their cuisine. The pub also has two letting rooms so technically is a hotel. It's a very nice place in an interesting small alpine city.
On the walk back to the station we passed a small distillery and accompanying shop so you can take home a tangible souvenir of a visit to Mariazell.
Brauhaus Mariazell, Wienerstrasse 5, Mariazell A-8630
Open: May-September: Wed-Thurs 10.00-23.00; Fri-Sat 10.00-24.00; Sun 10.00-14.00
October-April: Wed-Thurs 10.00-14.00, 17.00-23.00; Fri-Sat 10.00-24.00; Sun 10.00-14.00
Mariazell is a long way away from any other large towns or cities and probably the best way to get there is by the Mariazellerbahn, a narrow-gauge railway that runs from the city of St Pölten. There are good connections from there to Vienna and other North Austrian towns and cities. There are five trains each way daily and they take about two hours and forty minutes.
There are a few buses but services are infrequent. Route 172 from Brück an der Mur, Route 192 from Vienna via Mitterbach, 195 from Mürzzuschlag, 197 from Mitterbach and 922 from Hieflau.