This newsletter probably serves its readers best when it reports on destinations like Steyr, an enchanting town with enough old world allure to maintain a visitor's interest for a few days but not so Disneyland cute that it attracts the multitudes.

Steyr, which gave the name to the province of Styria but is in Upper Austria, is about a third of the way from Salzburg to Vienna, south of Linz and the main east-west Autobahn. Its picturesque Altstadt sits on the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Steyr and Enns rivers.

The town's history dates to 980 when the Styraburg - now called Lamberg Castle - was built. A fire destroyed Steyr in 1727, but in the middle of the 19th century a local lad named Joseph Werndl came to the rescue. He began to manufacture guns and Steyr became one of Europe's main weapons suppliers, an activity that continued through two world wars. (On a more positive note, Werndl and Steyr are given credit for erecting Europe's first electric street lights in 1884.) Werndl's company eventually became Steyr-Daimler-Puch, a World War II arms producer and the town's industrial installations were heavily bombed in 1944. Until 1955, Steyr was the border town between the American and Soviet occupational zones. These days the city still makes it living in the iron trade: the Steyr-Puch company builds motorbikes and there is also a BMW truck assembly plant.

Entrance to the altstadt is through an arched stone gate, part of the wall that protected the city in medieval times. Inside is a wide square lined with well-preserved Gothic and Renaissance buildings. Further on, the main square narrows to become the town's alley-size main shopping street, the Eisengasse, and eventually passes through another gate and on to where the two rivers become one.

Most sights are within a five-minute walk of the square and for information about them you can use Michelin's Green Guide for Austria or stop by Steyr's amiable and efficient tourist office which is on the square at Stadtplatz 27.

One excursion not to be missed in the weeks prior to Christmas is to the tiny pilgrimage hamlet of Christkindl, just two kilometers away where you'll find a lovely little church and a very busy post office. It is here that Austrian children send their Christmas letters and all are answered by the Christkindl post office. You may wish to mail a card from here as the stamps and postmark are somewhat prized. There is also a massive, wonderfully intricate, Rube Goldberg-style, mechanical Nativity scene on display. Completed just before the war, it is the work of a single local hobbyist who took some 40 years to build it in his living room.

For a reasonably-priced (400 AS/ $35) private tour of the town in English, contact the tourist office and request Ms. Renate Hammerschmid.

Hotels

Hotel Mader

(Editor's Choice)

Solid is the word for this recently renovated hotel located on the main square in the very center of town across from the tourist office. The comfortable, spacious guestrooms have white painted walls, light wood ceilings and substantial dark wood furniture. They come equipped with cable TV, direct-dial telephone, minibar and a sparkling, well-lit bathroom.

Breakfast is downstairs in the café where you'll be joined by local farmers and shoppers dropping by for coffee or a morning snack.

On good weather days, the scene moves outside to a pleasant courtyard.

The combination of comfort, location and price make the Mader our first choice in Steyr.

* Address: Hotel Mader, Stadtplatz 36, A-4400, Steyr
* Phone: 07252/53358-0
* Fax: 07252/533506
* Location: On the main square
* Rooms: 21 Singles, 32 doubles
* Proprietor: Johann Mader
* Prices: Singles 660 to 770 AS ($55-$65), doubles 880 to 1100 AS ($73-$92), including breakfast
* Meals: All available
* Facilities: Lift, café, courtyard
* Credit cards: All
* Disabled: Not suitable
* Closed: Never
* Parking: Unload on the main square and park in a public lot across the river about 250 yards away
* Rating: Above Average 14/20 G $

Romantik Hotel Minichmayr

This member of the Romantik Hotel group is the best-known and most expensive hotel in Steyr. its setting is quite lovely, on a bluff looking out over the joining of the two rivers, Enns and Steyr, and on to the old town. The view from several of the guest rooms and the hotel's dining room, particularly at night, is most attractive.

Public rooms are typical of the Austrian countryside with lots of light wood; paneled, painted ceilings; and oriental carpets.

Guestrooms, while well-equipped and comfortable enough, just didn't quite get our juices flowing.

The hotel's restaurant was another matter, however. Based on our experience, the chef's Toque it was just awarded by Gault Millau is well-deserved. In the first place, the room's view - in early December we were looking over an old town that sparkled with the lights of Christmas - puts one in the right frame of mind. And the kitchen produces dishes that have an adventurous style and nuance beyond traditional Austrian cooking. That became immediately apparent with our first course, Carpaccio vom Hirschen mit Marinierten (150 AS/$12.50). This dish - usually raw beef pounded paper thin and drizzled with olive oil, then topped with capers and finely chopped onion - is fairly standard stuff. Here, it came with walnut oil and intensely flavorful tiny wild mushrooms. One main course, slices of moist, tender pheasant breast in a rich rosemary sauce, with white cabbage and Potatoes Anna (215 AS/$18), was perfect for the winter evening. Medallions of Reh und Hirschen (280 AS/$24), small and large deer, with a Cabernet sauce thick with wild mushrooms, was a substantial dish and almost as good as the pheasant, though perhaps a shade wild for our taste. Both went well with the Austrian red wine Blaufränkisch (410 AS/$35), vintage 1989 from Burgenland our waiter convinced us to try.

* Address: Hotel Minichmayr, Haratzmüllerstrasse 1-3, A-4400, Steyr
* Phone: 07252/53410
* Fax: 07252/53419
* Location: Across the river from the old town
* Rooms: 19 Singles, 22 doubles, three apartments
* Proprietor: Ingo Viertler
* Prices: Singles 725 to 1170 AS ($61-$100), doubles 950 to 1620 AS ($81-$138), breakfast included
* Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner
* Facilities: Lift, lovely terrace overlooking river and old town, sauna, solarium, gemütlich bar
* Credit cards: All
* Disabled: Not suitable
* Closed: First week in January
* Parking: Free - on street
* Other: Restaurant gets one Toque from Gault Millau
* Hotel Rating: Above Average 14/20
* Restaurant: Excellent 15/20

Schwechater Hof

Located only a two-minute walk above the square next to the Parish Church is the friendly Schwechater Hof. With just seven rooms it is more restaurant than hotel. Nonetheless you'll get a warm welcome from the Pötzl family, Otmar, Elfriede, Eva and Strubbi, the hound in residence.

That short walk from the square will save you some money. Though the Schwechater Hof doesn't quite measure up to the Mader, it's close and the price difference for a double room is about $25.

The best room in the house is Number 12. It, like the other six rooms, has cable TV, direct dial phone and minibar.

* Address: Schwechater Hof, Sieringerstrasse 122, A-4400, Steyr
* Phone: 07252/53067
* Fax: 07252/5477054
* Location: Above the main square near the Parish Church
* Rooms: Seven rooms, six doubles, with private bathroom facilities
* Proprietor: Family Pötzl
* Prices: Singles 550 ($47), doubles 830 to 880 AS ($71-$75), including breakfast.
* Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner
* Facilities: Lift, beer garden, stuberl
* Credit cards: MasterCard only
* Disabled: Limited access
* Closed: Never
* Parking: Free-ample
* Rating: Average 11/20 G $

Gasthof Pöchhacher

For Steyr's best bargain, you must stray about 15-minutes walk from the old town to the homey Gasthof Pöchhacher. The alternative to hoofing it is the city bus which stops near the hotel every 15 minutes. Not much English is spoken here, but Herr Pöchhacher and family are so enthusiastic and welcoming that it is a difficulty easily overcome.

Guest rooms are large and comfortable with the standard amenities, except that Herr Pöchhacher hasn't brought in cable TV yet in the fear that his guests will spend too much time in their rooms. Ask for Number 28, a charming double on the top floor with a view toward Christkindl and renting for 660 AS ($55) per night.

The Pöchhacher's inviting stuberl serves some of the best food in the region with entrées priced from 80 to 110 AS ($7-$10). Later in the evening you might ask for some of the house's special apricot schnapps.

Breakfast is served rather than from a buffet.

* Address: Gasthof Pöchhacher, Sieringerstrasse 122, A-4400, Steyr
* Phone: 07252/63173
* Location: 15 minutes walk from old town
* Rooms: 19 rooms, including six double, most with private bath (bring your own soap)
* Proprietor: Ludwig Pöchhacher
* Prices: Singles 330 AS ($28), doubles 650 to 800 AS ($56-$69), breakfast included.
* Meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner
* Facilities: Cozy stuberl, direct dial phones, TV (not cable)
* Credit cards: Not Accepted
* Disabled: Not suitable
* Closed: Last two weeks in August
* Parking: Free-ample
* Other: Half board available for 80 AS ($7) per day
* Rating: Average 10/20 G $

Steyr Information

Population: 39,000

Altitude: 1,017 feet

Approximate distances from:

* Salzburg 140 km/87 miles
* Linz 40 km/25 miles
* Vienna 170 km/105 miles

Steyr Tourist Office
Stadtplatz 27
Phone: 07252/53229
Fax: 07252/53229-15

* Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
* Saturday 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
* Sunday-Holidays 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Sight-seeing

* Private, in-English, tours available through the tourist office for about $35.
* During Advent season an old postal bus leaves from the main square about once each hour for Christkindl. The fare is 20 AS ($1.75).

April 1994