High mountain peaks that descend right down to expansive lakes make these southernmost regions of Austria a paradise for visitors. Excellent on-shore facilities attract water sports enthusiasts, while the mountain glaciers enable committed skiers to enjoy the slopes even in summer. The loveliest parts of the region are the scenic route of Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse and the Hohe Tauern National Park. While Carinthia is a lake district, East Tyrol is an inaccessible region of high mountains. In winter, cars need to be properly equipped, and not all roads are passable.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Situated at the eastern end of Wörthersee, the warmest lake in Austria, Klagenfurt, the attractive provincial capital of Carinthia, is an important trade center and transport hub, founded in the 12th century. In 1544, it was almost entirely destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. Reconstruction was undertaken mainly by Italian architects and it is highly reminiscent of Italian towns in style. In the 16th century, Klagenfurt was the center of the Counter-Reformation. During the Baroque period, it was extended and partially rebuilt, although most of its historic buildings date from an earlier era. Its historic center is the district around Alter Platz (Old Square).
Carinthia’s second largest town is an important tourist center, health resort, and transport hub. The earliest archaeological finds testifying to the region’s settlement date from Celtic times. In the small old town, Stadtpfarrkirche St Jakob (parish church of St Jacob) was built after a powerful earthquake in 1348 and later rebuilt. Its most notable features are the Renaissance chapels of the Görz-Dietrichstein and the Khevenhüller families and the 312-ft-high tower. The Municipal Museum (open May-Oct) in a 16th-century building at No. 38 Widmanngasse, covers regional history, archaeology, and art. In Schillerpark you can see an astonishing 3D-map of Carinthia, at a scale of 1:10,000.
Wörthersee is the warmest lake in Austria; in summer, the temperature of its waters can reach 77°F. Numerous resorts line its shores; the largest of these is the modern, brash town of Velden, with its casino. Krumpendorf and the exclusive resort of Pörtschach lie on the easily accessible northern shore; quiet Reifnitz is on the southern shore. Nearby are other, smaller lakes, including Ossiacher See, in a scenic mountain setting. To the south, the Carinthian lake district extends along the Slovenian border, surrounded by the snowy peaks of the enchanting Karawanken Alps.
HOHE TAUERN NATIONAL PARK
The beautiful area around Austria’s highest peak, the Grossglockner, is a national park. The unique landscape, flora, and fauna of the region, the Hohe Tauern, is jointly protected by the provincial governments of Salzburger Land, Tyrol, and Carinthia. The Hohe Tauern has more than 300 peaks rising above 9,850 ft and several glaciers – the Pasterze is the longest and most spectacular. This whole national park area is protected by law and visitors are asked to keep to the marked trails. On its edges are many popular tourist resorts, such as Bad Gastein, Kaprun, Zell am See and East Tyrol’s capital, Lienz.
The Möll river, a tributary of the Drau and overshadowed by Grosses Reisseck peak, runs along the Mölltal, a valley whose upper reaches form a natural extension of the magnificent road known as Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. The river meanders scenically between the high mountain peaks, while the road along the valley winds its way between old mills, waterfalls, and huts, blending in seamlessly with its spectacular natural surroundings. The parish of Grosskirchheim was once a major mining district, and the 16th-century Schloss Grosskirchheim now houses an interesting museum of local history and gold mining. In Döllach you can see the interesting late-Gothic church of St Andrew and in Sagritz the originally late-Gothic church of St George. Schloss Falkenstein, on a rocky promontory near Obervellach, has an unusual tower with a wooden top.
The town has been the capital of East Tyrol since 1919, but its origins date back to the Middle Ages. The Stadtpfarrkirche St Andrä (parish church of St Andrew), a triple-nave Gothic basilica, was built in the 15th century; western sections include parts of an earlier Romanesque church. Today, following many alterations, the church is predominantly Baroque in style. Inside are a fresco by Josef Adam von Mölk and a high altar by Franz Engel. The Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan church), built around 1350, features original 15th-century frescoes and a Gothic Pietà standing by a side altar. High above the town sits Schloss Bruck, the seat of the Görz counts, built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The castle has a tall Romanesque turret; its main body contains a Romanesque chapel with 13th- and 15th-century frescoes. Today it also houses a regional museum with Gothic and Baroque artifacts and paintings by the local Tyrolean artist Albin Egger-Lienz (1868–1926).
Traversing the Hohe Tauern National Park is the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful mountain routes. Completed in 1935, the road was built along the old mountain passes between Bruck in Salzburger Land and Heiligenblut in Carinthia. Measuring 29.7 miles long, it forms part of a north-south route from Bavaria to Italy. A road branching off from the main road leads to two spectacular viewpoints. The highest point of the route is Hochtor, at 2,505 m (8,218 ft), the lowest is Bruck, at 2,477 ft. With the 1 mile rise in altitude, the flora also changes.