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ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S GUIDE
The lakes around Salzburg are gorgeous. Less well known, but also of spectacular beauty, are the many lakes sprinkled among the mountains of southern Austria, in the province of Carinthia. Not only are these lakes lovely, but in summertime their waters warm to a comfortable temperature for swimming-sometimes an inviting 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Another plus: this patchwork of southern lakes is surrounded by majestic mountains including the mighty Dolomites whose jagged peaks form the border between Austria and Italy. The following itinerary leads you through the lake district. Although the total area is small and it would certainly be possible to base yourself in one resort and take side trips from there, each of the lakes has a special beauty and a unique character. If time allows, linger for a few days at each destination. If your time is limited, choose the lake and inn that seem most “you” and settle there. But whatever you do, try to incorporate this lovely part of Austria into your holiday.
ORIGINATING CITY KLAGENFURT
Klagenfurt is easily reached by train, car, or airplane, making it a convenient starting point for a trip through the lake district of southern Austria. In addition to its geographic attributes, Klagenfurt merits admiration as an interesting medieval city. Like Vienna, the medieval walls of Klagenfurt were hauled down, and a circular ring road now encloses the heart of the old city where they once stood. At the center of this ring is the Neuer Platz, in the middle of which sits a statue of a marvelous old dragon, the emblem of the city. Perhaps there is some reality behind the legend of this fiery old dragon, for a skull of an ancient rhinoceros was found in the Klagenfurt area-perhaps at one time dragon-like creatures did roam these lakes and mountains.
Sharing the central square with the dragon there is a statue of Empress Maria Theresa. Surrounding the Neuer Platz is the Old Quarter with a handsome Klagenfurt Parish Church, the old Klagenfurt Town Hall (Altes Rathaus), the House of the Golden Goose (Haus zur Goldenen Gans), and an onion-domed Klagenfurt Landhaus. If you arrive early in the day in Klagenfurt, stop briefly to enjoy the sights of the city and then continue to the first destination, Millstatt. However, if you arrive too late in the day to begin your journey, stay in the old city for the night so that you can browse through the shops and enjoy the sights of this once very important medieval town. Klagenfurt does not take long to see-one day should be sufficient. Don’t leave town without stopping at the Konditorei-Kaffee Musil for a pastry. Bernhard Musil is a renowned pastry chef and his fabulous pastries and delectable chocolates (for which he has over 4,000 molds) are shipped throughout the world. The bakery is well located, just a block from the central plaza, tel: (0463) 51.16.60, website: www.musil.at.
DESTINATION I MILLSTATT-OBERMILLSTATT
Leaving Klagenfurt, drive directly north on Highway 83 following signs to the airport. After 5 kilometers you come to Maria Saal, one of the most holy pilgrimage sites in Austria. Here, in the 8th century, Bishop Modestus built a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in which many people from the surrounding area were converted and baptized into Christianity. The original structure was rebuilt in the l5th century into a stunning twin-towered Gothic church. The town, located on a small hill just a short distance to the east of the highway, is well marked. As you drive to the town, you cannot help spotting the large cathedral. The road winds up the hill and you park in a little square behind the church.
Return to the main Highway 83 and continue north for a few kilometers watching for the exit sign for Hochosterwitz, a wonderful old castle that looks exactly as a castle is supposed to look-majestically capping a very precipitous miniature mountain and displaying a hodgepodge of turrets, thick walls, and towers. This castle would certainly do justice to a fairy tale. The castle is visible long before you actually arrive and is impossible to miss.
You cannot drive up to Hochosterwitz, so park your car, put on your sturdy shoes, and start your hike. It will take you about half an hour to walk to the castle, but the walk is really the essence of the castle and a sightseeing excursion in its own right. Ascending the hill, you pass through a succession of 14 gates designed by the most famous castle-fortification architect of the Middle Ages. Thanks to his skill, the castle was never conquered.
You will soon see why this stronghold was never conquered. Each gate has its own unique brand of protection-one has holes through which hot oil was poured upon the invader, another has a moat, another a drawbridge, another hidden spikes, another fire-torch slots, and so on. If the enemy was clever enough to conquer one gate, he was sure to be defeated before the final entrance. Just as you draw close to the top, a path leads off to a beautiful little chapel on a ledge overlooking the valley far below. Take the time to walk over to it. Not only is the view lovely, but the church interior is splendid in its combination of simple white walls and ornate gold altar. Upon reaching the summit, you will find a small museum, a central courtyard, a nice restaurant, and magnificent views.
From Hochosterwitz castle, return to the main highway and continue north for a few kilometers following the signs to Saint Veit an der Glan, the medieval capital of Carinthia. As you approach the town you will notice the ruins of many medieval castles that at one time guarded this strategic route to Vienna. Upon reaching Saint Veit, follow Highway 94 west for about 23 kilometers to Feldkirchen, at one time an important medieval town belonging to the bishops of Bamberg. There you find a lovely old parish church and some picturesque houses.
Continue west on the 94 in the direction of Villach and after about 7 kilometers you come to the Ossiacher See. If you have time, take a short detour on the road to the south side of the lake to the tiny town of Ossiach. This is one of the few picturesque villages along this pretty lake that hosts mostly camping sites. Ossiach is a good place to have lunch and visit the Benedictine Abbey. After seeing Ossiach, return to the 94 and continue west in the direction of Villach. Just after the road leaves the lake (before you come to the freeway), watch carefully for Highway 98 where you turn right (north) on the back road to the Millstätter See.
About 4 kilometers after the turnoff onto 98 (soon after passing Treffen), take a small road to your right, signposted to Winklern and Elli Riehl’s Puppenwelt. Elli Riehl, who was born in Villach in 1902, always wanted a “little house in the mountains.” When she became a widow at the age of 28, she fulfilled her dream and moved to a small farmhouse in the country. She loved being out of doors and took long walks where she became friends with all the local families and adored all their children. Elli then began to make dolls based on the people in the valley, concentrating especially on young children.
Elli Riehl’s passion for dolls continued until she died in 1977. A small farmhouse next to her workshop has been converted into a museum, beautifully displaying in glass cases over 600 examples of her work. Each of the small dolls is a masterpiece, exquisitely crafted and dressed to perfection with clothes all sewn by Elli. Do not pass up this museum-even if you aren’t much interested in dolls, this exhibition is enchanting. I promise you will come away smiling. The whimsical, happy children and adults depicted are absolutely irresistible. The museum is open from April 1 to May 31 and September 16 through October 15 from 9 am to noon; and from June 1 to September 15 from 9 am to noon and 2 to 6 pm, tel: (04248) 23.95.
After visiting the doll museum, continue north on 98 following signs to the Millstatter See. The road hugs the hillside above the water. You soon come to the most picturesque town along the lake, Millstatt.
The old part of Millstatt is snuggled on the incline rising from the lake. Here you can visit the abbey, which dates back to the 11th century. However, most tourists head for the lake where a promenade lined with hotels, restaurants, and small parks traces the water’s edge. Boats are available for rent, but most fun of all is to walk down to the pier and take a relaxing excursion on one of the ferries that circle the lake.
DESTINATION II WEISSENSEE-TECHENDORF
When it’s time to leave, our favorite lake in Austria awaits you. Follow 98 west along the north shore of the Millstätter See to the town of Seeboden and from there take the autobahn heading west. Do not get too settled because you stay on the freeway for only a few minutes before leaving it to follow Highway 100 (also called E66), which will be marked to Lienz. The road traces the beautiful River Drau for about 20 kilometers to the town of Greifenburg where you leave the main highway and turn south, following signs to the Weissensee. This is a spectacularly beautiful drive: the road curves up through lush green meadows and over a small pass to a high Alpine lake, the Weissensee.
The Weissensee is still “country”-the relatively few hotels are basically converted farmhouses nestled along the lake. Except for a small village at the end of the lake, the entire eastern half of the Weissensee is a nature preserve-off limits to any commercial development. Ferries circle the lake, but they are mostly for dropping off passengers who want to hike along the beautiful path that completely encircles the pristine water. The lake is an incredible emerald-green color and in the early morning and late evening mirrors the steep green hills that rise precipitously along its eastern half in a fjord-like beauty. The western half of the lake is surrounded by more gentle hills that melt down into green lawns extending to the shoreline. There is no beach, but lounge chairs dot the grass and piers extend through the reeds into the water. The activities along the Weissensee are simple-no great sites to visit, just the splendor of nature at its finest. Linger here and enjoy fishing, swimming, boating, and long walks. A reader wrote that one of the most spectacular hikes he has taken was from Neusach to the Domitenblick ferry stop. This is about a two-hour, challenging hike along the lake. When you reach Domitenblick, you can hop on a boat for the return journey.
You might never want to leave your oasis of tranquillity, but if the mood for sightseeing moves you to action, you can make a circle excursion to visit the old town of Lienz. To really enjoy this outing you should allow most of the day. First leave the Weissensee and retrace the road east down into the beautiful Drau Valley. At Greifenburg take the main highway west to Lienz. On approach, the town looks like a modern, uninteresting city. Cross the river and park at the car park near the center of the town, then walk into the heart of Lienz and you will be well rewarded. Although war destroyed much of the town’s periphery, the core has been restored to its former picturesque self. A pedestrian mall is framed by colorful buildings. There are many cafés in the square-a great suggestion for lunch would be the outdoor restaurant of the Romantik Hotel Traube. After lunch and exploring the old town, visit Bruck Castle, which sits on a hill above the city. This 16th-century castle, formerly belonging to the Counts of Gorz, has a museum with artifacts discovered in nearby excavations of Roman settlements, Austrian folklore and handicraft displays, and paintings by Tyrolean artists. From the castle you can look down into the city of Lienz and appreciate its lovely setting with mountains rising almost at the edge of the town.
From Lienz, return east along Highway 100 for approximately 15 kilometers to Oberdrauburg where a small road heads south and makes a series of crisscrosses as it climbs over the mountains before dropping down the other side into the next valley to the town of Kötschach. From here take Highway 111 east following the River Gail. It is a beautiful drive made all the more rewarding by glimpses to the south of the fabulous jagged peaks of the mighty Dolomites marking the border with Italy. When you reach the town of Hermagor, turn north again and complete your circle back to the Weissensee.
DESTINATION III PÖRTSCHACH-WÖRTHER SEE
When it is time for you to end your lake interlude, you have several options. You can head north and over the famous Grossglockner Pass into Salzburg, you can drive south and be in Italy in less than an hour, or you can complete your circle by returning to Klagenfurt. If time allows one more lake interlude, retrace the highway west along the Weissensee through the town of Techendorf and watch for the signs for Highway 87 going south toward Hermagor. At Hermagor, follow Highway 111 east toward Villach.
A few kilometers before Villach, the road becomes an autobahn that bypasses Villach on its way toward Velden. Although it requires a slight detour from the freeway, Villach is an interesting city for a short visit. It will be easy to find the center of the Old Quarter-definitely the most interesting section. Just follow the church spire and you will come to the River Drau, which makes a loop outlining the ancient part of town. In the center of town on the main square is a dramatic church whose steeple soars over 90 meters into the sky. Nearby are many picturesque old houses, little shops hiding in alley-like streets, and a l6th-century Rathaus. Also of interest, in the Schiller Park is a huge relief map of Carinthia: this is especially fascinating because it is fun to identify the mountains and lakes you have been exploring.
Leaving Villach, return to the Autobahn A2 and continue east following the signs to Velden, the popular resort and gambling center on the Wörther See. From Velden skirt the lake along the northern shore for the short drive to Portschach.
While in Pörtschach you can enjoy tennis, swimming, boating, shopping, and hiking. But one excursion you must not miss is taking the ferry that circles the lake. Be sure to get off to explore the picturesque village of Maria Worth, which clings to a tiny peninsula jutting out into the lake on its south side.
When it is time to end your holiday, it is only a few minutes to Klagenfurt. From there you can continue your journey by driving north to Salzburg or Vienna, flying to your next destination, or boarding one of the many express trains departing for another chapter of exciting places.