The ancient mountain terrain of Central Carinthia represents Austria at its most authentic. Off the beaten track, it’s a real hidden gem for easy hiking.
Central Carinthia: An Overview
Central Carinthia is situated in the heart of the Austrian state of Carinthia, amidst the Gurktal Alps. Often overlooked in favour of the more popular lakes further south (such as Lake Wörthersee), the area manages to maintain a far more peaceful atmosphere, despite being only 30 minutes north of Carinthia’s capital city, Klagenfurt. The historic town of Sankt Veit an der Glan is located here, and has a remarkable array of old burgher houses in its centre, dating back as far as the Medieval era. The town of Friesach, which is the oldest town in Central Carinthia, is also worth visiting when in the area.
In terms of walking, rambling and hiking, Central Carinthia offers a more gentle terrain than other mountainous regions. The surrounding Gurktal Alps offer many walking routes, with most peaks being around the 2,000m region or less. The highest peak is Steirische Eisenhut, which stands 2,441m high. However, there is more to the region than just mountain walking. The valley floors and lush meadows provide excellent landscapes to explore, and the plentiful vineyards are among some of the finest in the country.
Central Carinthia tends to be somewhat overlooked by tourists, but this is adds considerably to its appeal. Walking enthusiasts visit the area in order to escape the crowds, to enjoy the tranquillity and to experience a taste of authentic Carinthian culture, which is very much in evidence in the towns and villages.
Exploring Central Carinthia on Foot
Carinthia is one of Austria’s sunniest spots, with average temperatures reaching around 25˚c in summer. This reliably balmy climate provides the perfect conditions to explore the region. There are plenty of well-marked routes in the surrounding Gurktal Alps, with many of the routes being suitable for all abilities; and around Sankt Veit an der Glan, there are 40 excellent circular routes, of varying levels of challenge. Many are themed and provide good insight into different aspects of the area.
There are a number of vineyard trails to explore, and along the vast majority of walking paths in the area, visitors can expect to enjoy some really remarkable views, particularly as the soaring peaks of the high Alps provide a permanent backdrop to the surrounding area.
The area around St Georgen am Längsee is a particular highlight for walkers. It’s home to Lake Längsee, a really picturesque lake that lies approximately 560m above sea level, and which is surrounded by dense forests. There are also a number of easy rambling trails in this region; and since the 12th century, the area has been synonymous with wine production.
Things to Do in Central Carinthia
There are plenty of things to do in Central Carinthia, in addition to the exceptional walking.
Sankt Veit an der Glan is a real highlight during a visit to the area, and is highly recommended for those looking to experience some of the culture and history of the area. The town, which used to be the regional capital until 1518, still has many buildings dating back to Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque times; and the Rathaus (City Hall), Hauptplatz (Central Square) and Parish Church are all unmissable. The local Museum of Transport is also well worth a look, particularly if you are a train enthusiast.
Likewise, the ancient walled town of Friesach is well deserving of a visit. It’s the oldest recorded town in the region (dating back to 860) and is full of ruins from the Middle Ages. Guided tours are on offer in the town, and provide intriguing glimpses into the history of the town, plus a visit to the site where the castle is currently being reconstructed.
Castle Hochosterwitz is one of Central Carinthia’s most notable landmarks, and is often considered one of the finest castles in Austria. Perched dramatically on a craggy rock, it lies just east of Sankt Veit an der Glan and has a history that spans over 1150 years. Inside, visitors can see the impressive weapons collection and view some of the photos, which detail the history of the castle itself. There is also an excellent restaurant on site offering traditional Carinthian cuisine. The castle hosts many concerts, exhibitions and festivals held at the castle, so it’s worth checking what’s on during the time of your visit.
On a rainy day, you have the option of heading to the Heinrich Harrer Museum; which provides extensive information on the intrepid mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer, and others like him. Harrer was, of course, famous for writing ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, and there is a whole section about Tibet in the museum, including a Buddhist prayer room, consecrated by the XIV Dalai Lama himself.
How to Get to Central Carinthia
The closest airport is at Klagenfurt, which connects with a range of other European cities, including Hamburg, Berlin and Vienna. This is only 30 minutes’ drive away. However, for those looking to fly direct from the UK, the closest international airports are at Munich, Vienna, Venice and Zagreb. All are approximately 3 hours from Central Carinthia by car.
There is a train service running from Sankt Veit an der Glan to Klagenfurt, which takes between 40-50 minutes (2 changes) and the area is well signposted if you are travelling by car.