Graz is a worthy destination, replete with good hotels, restaurants and shops; all contained in a beautifully preserved Medieval core that brims with fascinating things to explore.

That core, the Old Town, is by far the city's most interesting section; dense, alluring and ideal for walking. The Altstadt's bustling, youthful aura is no illusion. One of every six residents is a student. Four hundred year-old Karl-Franzens University, with 30,000 students and one of Austria's three major universities, is located at one entrance to Old Town. Two smaller schools are also in Graz.

Though crowded, Graz is both clean and colorful: stone paving immaculately swept; flowers and greenery everywhere. In the Altstadt, however, one is never far from the peaceful surroundings of the Mur River: a placid, parklike setting, with benches and trees, always available for tranquil waterside strolls. Nearby, on the busy Hauptstrasse, narrow streetcars rumble along, sharing the confined space with taxis, pedestrians and delivery vans.

On the other side of this busy thoroughfare, beyond the noise of the trams, are the agreeable sounds of jazz. In summer, the extensive network of alleys and courtyards that radiate off the main street are places where small ensembles, usually students, practice their craft before audiences of tourists and locals.

Exploring the Altstadt's labyrinthine network of streets is a surprisingly intimate and suspenseful experience. Narrow rocky passageways open suddenly to reveal unexpected vistas: a palace, a church steeple or a gilded clock tower rising to the sky. Hovering over all this is the Schlossberg, a towering ruined fortification perched above the Altstadt and reached by steeply terraced steps. Like all medieval cities watched over by castles, it gives Graz a special drama.