Friday, 20 June 2014

Carinthia: Calm as a Picture Postcard. Mostly.

Just back from that trip to Austria I mentioned.   I visited the lakes of Carinthia, the southernmost bit of Austria, on a press trip with Headwater Holidays, who run "soft" activity holidays.  I wanted to go partly because when I was a child we lived in Germany and took our summer holidays either at lakes or somewhere along the Baltic.  Of the latter, say no more (think freezing winds even in midsummer) but the lakes seemed idyllic in memory, and I wondered if my memories had been rose tinted.  Actually it was just like I remembered.  To look at the view above makes me imagine swimming there, as we did, and Mum and Dad sitting just out of shot with icecreams ... sigh..

These lakes are remarkably clear and clean, with water from the mountains, so some of them have that distinctive turquoise tinge found in glacial water.  And there is something calming about swimming in a natural environment, being amongst plants and fish and ducks. Not that I managed any lake swimming on this occasion, (see why not, a bit further on) but it's so much nicer than staring at tiled walls and smelling chlorine in a pool.

Anyway, Headwater has opened up Carinthia as a new destination. I've never understood why English speaking people just don't seem to go to this part of Austria.  True, the flights from the UK aren't that good, but you can easily get a cheapo flight to Munich, Germany, and then take a train - it's a great trip which could form a good start to a holiday.

Still, the area is not short of visitors. It's particularly popular with Germans and Austrians who want eco friendly family breaks, or like to cycle or walk along the huge network of immaculate trails and small roads on the slopes of the mountains.

It isn't their high season yet, but the weather during our trip was warmer than is usual in June, and there were plenty of people looking as if they were posing for tourist board brochures. In fact, a lot of the scenery looked like a picture postcard.

You will need to take exercise to work off the meals.  The food was all of good quality but although everyone else in our group loved it, it was frankly too stodgy for my taste.  It is like German food used to be but these days in Germany you can get much lighter fare, and less of the fried dumplings and slabs of meat. Take a look at a local speciality - pancake soup!  A delicious bouillon, to be sure, but filling it up with sliced pancakes - ?  This was not for me. I passed it on to one of the other journalists, and he enjoyed it.

I mostly chose salads and fish, though, and the surroundings were usually so lovely that I could forget about the awkwardness of leaving half of the huge portions.

The place above is on the Millstätter Lake and below is the Hotel Schönruh, Faakersee, where we had lunch on the terrace.

 As you see the menu is all in German, although everyone seems to speak English and the waiters are happy to translate. 

We did a sort of condensed version of the company's holidays, so there wasn't as much cycling as there would have been on one of their usual trips,  but we covered forty or fifty kilometres, including some moderate hills.  Here are a couple of members of our group, dawdling around as we considered which route to take.   Several of the houses we passed grew their own fruit and veg and did bio bed-and-breakfast.

The cows apparently hadn't yet gone up into the "Almen" - the high mountain meadows - but seemed happy enough in their spick-and-span barns.

There's more sunshine in Carinthia than other parts of Austria but that didn't spare us from some spectacular mountain weather. One day, we were supposed to be seeing a falconry show in a ruined castle atop a hill. As we climbed, the weather began to look pretty dodgy in the distance, with the lakes going dark green beneath gathering clouds.  But it was still bright and sunny where we were...

And for a while, the show managed to go on - it was all in German and the birds were rather small so I can't really tell you much about it. What you can't see from the picture below is the extremely high wind which had blown up by this time. Or perhaps you can, if you look closely at the bird's slightly ruffled feathers. That shot was pointing in the direction of the relatively "good" weather, by the way, not the dark clouds which were racing towards us from the other direction.

But eventually ......

Great pillars of rain began to fall out of incredibly black clouds. I was hoping to get some of the spectacular forks of lightning which were shooting around, but didn't succeed.  Needless to say, this lot ruined the falconry display when it finally reached us, and its rainy, cold aftermath also stopped me from lake swimming  (see above)- but it was well worth experiencing such dramatic weather. 

I thought Headwater was good, by the way.  They mostly use their own reps (rather than buying them in) and the trip was very well planned, with routes that were interesting and varied, but not too alpine for the  kind of "occasional" cyclists who form most of their customer base.  Our press group ranged from people who had ridden bikes as kids,  to one veteran of the Lands End-John o'Groats run.  We all felt pretty happy with the routes.   And we stayed in pleasing hotels, like this one below, the Familiengut, which as its name suggests, caters mostly for families. But the fact it had an outdoor pool, play area and lots of grass to roar around on didn't stop it from being civilised for adults too. Like many other places we saw, it had well tended gardens full of roses, and varied, civilised outdoor eating for grown ups. A bit like being in someone's particularly nice back garden. 

One of the highlights was traveling out in a motor boat to a pontoon moored outside Kollers Hotel on the Millstätter See.  Guests can book an eight course meal on this glamorous pontoon, with staff zooming out in boats with each course.   Click the link on their website for a better image of the pontoon - I didn't manage to get one but this was the view from it.

We didn't have a meal but they gave us sparkly water and local wine which hit the spot on our first day - which had involved a 3 AM start for me.

The cycle trails were pretty good. They even had toolstations every now and then, with free tools for your bike repair.

Carinthia is not a place to go if you want bright lights or metropolitan buzz in any shape or form, and I doubt you'd meet any incredible challenges on these holidays, unless you feel challenged by heights or the occasional thunderstorms. It seems like a cosy little corner of Austria, although apparently the inhabitants of Vienna are a bit scornful of their Carinthians' countrified ways, I was told.   But when I spoke to a local newspaper reporter, she said she hadn't reported any murders at all during her twenty year stint in the region, and I guess that is worth a few Viennese sneers.  

The area's biggest town, Klagenfurt,was certainly calm and rather beautiful.  Look at this apothecary's window, with shutters hundreds of years old. 

On our last day, we had a guided tour of Klagenfurt, and discovered much harder and darker sides to the area's history, however calm and prosperous it is now - as is usually the case everywhere that has any history (and there is plenty of history here). 

But what I saw seemed to me prenaturally calm, beautiful, easy and well organised. Almost uncannily so, when I compare it with the normal hustle and bustle of my everyday life. So I can only suggest that you do come here if you like some gentle cycling and hiking with Headwater, or come independently for a clean, attractive, well equipped and not too expensive family holiday (in German),  And don't come here if your normal life includes patrolling Detroit in a cop car or hunting down drug gangs, because quite frankly, the shock will be just too much. :)


  1. I would go there is a second. What a beautiful place.
    Thank you for the great review and photos.

    cheers, parsnip

  2. I love the areas without the bright lights, hustle and bustle. Beautiful, indeed...and my appetite (for food) has also been whetted!

    I'm exhausted from all this travelling around! I'm also been travelling through Italy, Greece and will soon be off to Paris with a couple of Aussie friends of mine...via their blog....they're on the trip...I'm with them in spirit. I've got to get some sleep to get over my jet-lag!! ;)

    I love your photos, Jenny...they depict the area's peaceful ambience, along with its beauty.

  3. My friend Ann spent her teens in Switzerland, and some summers in Austria. You sound like her account of her vacations there.

  4. What a fascinating trip. I do love those shutters in the last pic.

  5. It looks divine. Soul-restoring.

  6. What a beautiful area...and the activities provided would make for a relaxing holiday, it is clear.

  7. That was a most enjoyable travelogue. Sounds like the sort of bicycling I might be able to handle (it's been years). The colours in your photos look so brilliant; the area seems pristinely beautiful. And what a dramatic thunderstorm you got to experience! Great fun. Thanks for the tour.

  8. Thank you for introducing us to the Carinthia region, Jenny (I have never heard of it!). It does look like a great holiday destination, and, as always I love your pictures. The mountains/lake shot is serenely beautiful, and I love the drama of the falcon against the dark mountain and the growing storm. Pancake soup? No wonder they tell us there is an obesity epidemic! The old doors on the Apothecary shop are quite wonderful, aren't they. Great post!

  9. Carinthia sounds exactly like the kind of place I'd want to live. Beautiful mountain scenery, peaceful and slow-paced, low crime. Heck, I'm on my way.....
    Your photos are all spectacular. I especially like the rain storm approaching the mountains. I love German-Austrian food, but I think I can do without the pancake soup.

  10. As a person who is definitely not into bright lights (nor, unfortunately, stodgy food) but into less severe activities when on holiday this looks rather attractive to me. It would give me a chance to see if my tourist German is still lurking somewhere in the back of what passes for my brain from my months spent in Berlin. However a question which I would like to see answered in tourist brochures and the like is what the toilet/washroom/loo stops are like along the way. New Zealand, for example, has good public toilets in even the smallest town or village one might pass through.

  11. The very first holiday I ever took with my parents and my sister, back in 1970 or 1971, was in Carinthia. Together with a couple of friends, our parents had rented a small wooden holiday house near the lake. The one thing I remember about it, apart from the sun reflected on the water, is the very tall grass in the flower meadow between our house and the lake. The grass was as tall as I was back then (at the age of 2 1/2 or 3 years), and I lost the tiny golden bracelet in there, a gift from my uncle.
    My sister and I even had original Carinthian dirndls and looked very sweet in them!

    By the way, their pancake soup is the same people eat around here, in the Schwabenland where I live. We call it Flädlessuppe, and I have never liked it, not even as a kid :-)

  12. I love your header with the double rainbow!

    Such a beautiful place, and beautiful pictures too! I would definitely have tried the pancake soup.

    Thank you for your kind comments on my last few blog posts.

  13. You told about this place and I just wanted to go there, Jenny.I've been to Austria two years ago, but it was a trip to Vienna and Salzburg. Going by train in Alps I saw this quiet and calm life in small towns we were watching . Your photos are nice especially of the lakes and of old drugstore. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Walking or biking there would be a delight! The scenery is picture postcard material.

  15. It looks like a wonderful place to visit. If getting there involves a train ride,that makes it even more enticing.

  16. Hello Jenny:

    In so many ways this looks and sounds to be an idyllic part of Austria, and one previously unknown to us, and one not overrun with restless tourists. That we should much enjoy. It is also really refreshing to read that somewhere you have known from your childhood is, today, relatively unchanged.

  17. I went to Bavaria with Headwater, many years ago - one of their trips where they give you walking routes and somewhere to stay and you do the rest of it.

    They're pricey - but I thought you got what you paid for. Lovely rooms, great food, and all their information was clear and helpful. And when there was a luggage-people strike at the airport on our way home, they did their very best to look after us.

    Maybe I'll try Austria next time I go with them.

  18. I'm very fond of Austria so I know I would love Corinthia. It certainly looks an idyllic place.

  19. Many years since we've been to Austria and even then it was mainly to Salzburg and Vienna. When we lived in Stuttgart, Germany we use to drive down to visit friends in Italy and would drive through Austria. Once spent 6 hours in a traffic jam in the Brenner Pass.

  20. It looks very picturesque Jenny, and would be like us going to the cottage here in Ontario Canada. Lovely lakes and green hills etc. It seems there was lots to do, and since I am not a fan of bright lights and big cities I would probably enjoy it.

  21. What a gorgeous, calm, beautiful place. I loved that storm--like you were almost right up in the clouds! I'm not one for hustle and bustle so this looked most appealing to me. What a wonderful vacation. :)

  22. Oh my...did you bring back memories with that picture of the pancake soup! My mother used to make that, and it does seem a bit old-fashioned and outdated to me. I don't think anyone of my generation makes this soup any more. The more modern cooking in Germany is, indeed, a lot lighter and often has vegetarian options. Not to say that Germans no longer love their meat and sausage!

    I'm glad you had a good time - and your pictures do look like postcards.

  23. Great report! This is the second report that makes me want t go there. Hills, bikes, lakes it all looks good. Unnaturally clean to one who has been picking up litter at the front left by our nation but otherwise super.
    The photos again are marvellous and the one of rain on the hills stupendous! Very Turner like, great shot.

  24. wow...what an adventure...the view from up top is amazing....i have a good friend that does hawking...and owlry...pancake soup...i have heard about it but never seen or tasted it......that water looks so clear and refreshing as well....

  25. It reminds me of Zell am See, beautiful!
    Great shots as always, thanks!

  26. Hi Jenny,

    Every time I visit your wonderfully visual site with such thoughtful added words, I go away with thoughts of getting out there and take a holiday. Probably Austria.

    Thank you for this, Jenny. A lovely weekend to you.

    Gary :)

  27. It looks like a beautiful place, but it probably wouldn't be my cuppa tea as a holiday destination. Your photos are excellent.

  28. I devoured every word of this post Jenny, discreetly dribbled over the images and am about to depart with the firm belief you have the best job in the world! :)

  29. These comments are very much appreciated - thank you, everyone.

    Rose, I agree but you know it would be even better if the pay was better :) still it certainly is good to have the chance to do stuff I wouldn't otherwise do. Pixel Peeper, in general I find German food is the best of anywhere I go, but that's partly because they've expanded their meat and dumpling cuisine to include so many other types of wonderful food. They've kept the good from both the old and the new.
    Sheila, yes, you have such lovely scenery in Canada. Do you have big meadows near your cottage? One beautiful feature of Austria is the long open meadows which remind me of "Heidi" even though "Heidi" was actually Swiss I think!
    Awww, the little dirndl dresses. They still sell them but I didn't see any kids wearing them - I'm think they are a holiday souvenir kind of thing.
    Yes, Jo, Headwater seemed good value for money to me, because the type of holiday when you are moving around all the time can be expensive even if you do it independently, and getting the bikes etc. is such a hassle. Mind you I don't know about walking, I suppose all you need for that is a pair of boots! In terms of a holiday I might not generally want to go in such an organised way but in fact I'm considering going with them to Croatia just because I don't know the place or the language and they really did seem to know what they were doing.
    Jane and Lance, I hope you get there!
    GB I didn't notice about toilet stops. There seemed to be enough, in that nobody was hopping around uncomfortably! :)
    Yes Jon I think we can safely say Carinthia doesn't have much in common with your bit of Texas. I hope you get there, or somewhere equally peaceful, soon.
    Yes, Lee, sometimes it can be exhausting accompanying friends blogs - it can make home seem quite a pleasant refuge.....

  30. Loving the photos and the post. :)

    I need to get away to somewhere as nice soon! ^^

  31. I have to say that the gloomy and grey picture of the rain moving in is my absolute favorite. If you ever quit as a writer, I PROMISE you have a future in photography. Some people get it all. :0)

  32. Tell you what, even the rain looks glorious in your photos. Absolutely stunning these photographs are.

    Have a great week.

  33. It's beautiful. Reminds me quite a bit of Switzerland.

  34. Hi Jenny, thank you for your informative post. I feel a little like I've been on a mini-holiday, your narration is so good. What spectacular scenery - your photos are quite something. It was fascinating to read about the food available (always enjoy that - guess most people do... it's what we do 3 times each day isn't it).
    Your summations are always very down to earth and just what potential travellers wish to read. Along with your sense of humour, it makes for a very satisfying read :D)

  35. Looks like a wonderful corner of the world. Everything seems so calm and clean. I really enjoy your informative travel posts.


  36. Gosh Jenny, this sounds like my idea of paradise. I've been exploring walking/hiking holidays in Bosnia, Montenegro and Bulgaria but think if definitely consider this too - self-catering!!

  37. It looks like a beautiful area. I love lakes, they're so soothing. I'm fortunate to be close to both Belfast Lough (which is really an estuary) and Strangford Lough.

    Interesting comment on German food getting lighter. We're going to Berlin shortly and we're expecting all the food to be rather stodgy and heavy-going but maybe that won't be the case.

  38. What a stunning spot - both in the sunshine and the pouring rain! I love you photo of the floating ducks too - beautiful above the murky green stones.

  39. Lovely! Your photographs are amazing. The colours are intense. I particularly like the fade from turquoise to spring green in the photo of the ducks. I am completely sold on the beautiful scenery and peace and quiet. Where can I book my ticket? :-)

  40. It all sounds very interesting Jenny. And there is certainly plenty of beautiful country to see. I really loved all the orange umbrellas, napkins and linens in that one shot. So this sounds like it was a bicycle tour, but not too strenuous. I like the idea of biking through lovely backwaters of places and leaving the big cities behind. That thunderstorm surely was very dramatic judging by your photo. I am glad you were not struck by any of those lightening bolts flying about!

  41. Loved this write-up - was drawn into it. Really great shots too. I have only been to Austria a couple of times, but enjoyed it and plan to go back - maybe this will inspire! I somehow shared your ice cream memory...

  42. Thank you for the comments, everyone. I too was a little anxious about lightning, Sara, we were very high up! but there were some things even higher than us. Nick, I do not think you'll find unrelenting stodge. They DO have good bakeries, but we like a chain called Nordsee, which does all kinds of fish, ranging from fish n chips to much lighter fishy food. And the fruit and veg always seem good. So do they in Austria, actually but they just didn't seem to eat much of it at the restaurants we visited
    Thanks for your really nice critique, Susan!

  43. Your photos are heaven -- or rather, make everything look like heaven! Even a bit of the drama in the skies would be interesting so long as it wasn't the whole holiday! You talk about postcards -- every photo looks like one (especially the ducks in that clear water!). Sometimes you need exactly what you had -- a spot that isn't big city, isn't hectic, is beautiful and relatively gentle. This looks like the spot!

    (Oh -- thanks for coming by my wedding post. It was indeed special.)

  44. I am glad that you had such a great time.Things were good in London too, I have to say. I used to for to Austria when I was a teenager. Your post made me want to go back...Feeling a bit nostalgic right now.

  45. Wonderful account, as usual. Was that actually you preparing to go wind-surfing?

  46. You were so lucky to go on a trip to such a wonderful place! Your photos made me want to go there very much. I've never been to Austria. Of your photos, I particularly love the lake photos and the black-golden-clouds photo!
    I read your old posts too and found your photos of beautiful dew-laden petals. They are stunning!!

  47. What a beautiful place and pictures, looks like you had a lot of fun!!


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