Billionaire Benko Beats Red Bull King for Coveted Austria Forest

Austria’s Rene Benko outbid fellow billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz to buy an ancient hunting ground in the Styria province, confirming once again the penchant for forested land among the country’s wealthy.

Real estate mogul Benko’s family trust is paying almost 30 million euros ($35.8 million) to buy the Stueblergut property, half way between Vienna and northern Italy. The estate with 1,300 hectares of land and forests has a small chapel and a historic inn built in the 1300s, which served as a resting place for travelers going from the south of Europe to the north. It’s being sold by Italy’s Morassutti family that has owned it for more than 100 years.

“It’s a beautiful plot of land with a very long tradition and historically valuable buildings,” Benko said in an interview. “We’re planning to renovate the building ensemble, and for us it’s a good way to diversify our portfolio.”

With the purchase, Benko will be big-footing it into Mateschitz’s home region for the first time. Mateschitz — Austria’s richest man — who built his fortune by co-founding the company that sells the energy drink Red Bull, has been voraciously buying up properties in the Styria province and restoring mansions that stand on them.

Forests are a favorite asset among Austria’s wealthy, allowing them to retreat from big-city life while enjoying the long-term appreciation of the value of their investments. Old Austrian families like the Habsburgs and the Catholic church are among the country’s biggest real estate owners.

Benko has leaseholds on two hunting grounds in the provinces of Burgenland and Tyrol. The billionaire, who lives in Tyrol, said he’s starting to invest in forests to diversify his real estate empire, which includes mostly retail and office spaces. In the past, he has invested hundreds of millions euros to renovate historic buildings in Vienna, making some of them available to the public.

With his Stueblergut purchase, he will inherit an inn that was used by wine traders who traveled on horses and on foot to sell their wares. Standing at almost 1,500 meters, close to an Alpine pass, the inn is also known for its historic, open-fire kitchen that dates back more than 700 years.

“This estate is coming on the market maybe once in a century,” said Klaus Bischof, the real estate broker who helped the Morassutti family sell the property. He said he only pitched it to a handful of people who he knew would be interested. “You can enjoy it, it’s rising in value and you can generate annual income from the timber. It’s a good way to diversify your overall portfolio.”

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