St. Veit An Der Glan
The capital of Carinthia from 1170 until 1518, St. Veit an der Glan was where the dukes of Carinthia held power when the province was an imperial duchy. In the 15th century, high walls were built to fortify the city. To reach the town from Klagenfurt, drive 14km (9 miles) north on Route 83.
In the rectangular Hauptplatz (Main Square) at the center of town is a Trinity Column dating from 1715, erected to mark the town's deliverance from the plague. Also in this square is the fountain called Schüsselbrunnen. It is believed that the bottom part of this fountain was excavated at the old Roman city of Virunum. A bronze statue crowning the fountain depicts a 16th-century miner, which St. Veit has adopted as its symbol.
The Rathaus (Town Hall) has a baroque exterior, although the building dates from 1468, and an arcaded courtyard. Guided tours are conducted through the great hall Thursday to Tuesday 8am to noon and 1 to 4pm, and on Wednesday 8am to noon (closed Sat-Sun Nov-Apr).
St. Veit an der Glan stands at the center of the most castle-rich section of Austria, with more than a dozen of the fortress complexes lying within a 10km (6 1/2-mile) radius of St. Veit. The best-known and most visited is Hochosterwitz Castle in Laundsdorf-Hochosterwitz (tel. 04213/2020), about 10km (6 1/4 miles) to the east of St. Veit. The castle was first mentioned in documents of 860; in 1209, the ruling Spanheims made the Osterwitz family hereditary royal cupbearers and gave them Hochosterwitz as a fiefdom. When the last of that line was a victim of a Turkish invasion, the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III, who bestowed it upon the area's governor, Christof Khevenhuller. In 1570, Baron Georg Khevenhuller, also the governor, purchased the citadel and fortified it against the Turks, providing it with an armory and adding the gates, a task completed in 1586. Since that time, the castle has been the property of the Khevenhuller family, as shown on a marble plate in the yard dated 1576.
The castle -- the most striking in the country -- stands in a scenic spot on a lonely, isolated hilltop 160m (525 ft.) above the valley. From the castle, you get an eagle's-eye view of the surrounding area, and to reach it you go up a 16th-century approach ramp and through a total of 14 fortified gates. You can look at the armor collection, visit a number of rooms, and wander through the portrait gallery.
Hochosterwitz Castle is open only Easter to October daily 8am to 6pm. Admission is 7.50€ ($12) for adults and 4.50€ ($7.20) for ages 6 to 18. A regional cafe and restaurant are located in the inner courtyard.
The Excavations at Magdalensberg
You can also strike out from St. Veit and head south, back to Klagenfurt, on Route 83. If you turn left after 6km (4 miles) on a road marked MAGDALENSBERG and travel east, you'll reach the Ausgrabungen (Excavations) at Magdalensberg (tel. 04224/2255). About 14km (9 miles) from St. Veit, Magdalensberg was a Celto-Roman settlement site and the oldest Roman habitation north of the Alps. The Romans built a town here when they came to trade in the final century before the birth of Christ. In 1502, a farmer made the first discovery of a settlement here when he found a bronze statue, now called the Magdalensberg Youth (on display in Vienna).
However, it was not until the late 19th century that excavation work began, and even then, collectors were mainly interested in discovering valuable Roman art objects. Serious archaeologists began to work the site during the Allied occupation of Austria after World War II.
As you explore the ruins, you can see the foundations of a temple, as well as public baths and some mosaics. Tours are conducted only May to October daily 9am to 7pm. Admission is 5€ ($8) for adults and 3€ ($4.80) for children under 16.
A celebrated ritual (which has pagan origins), the "Four Hills Pilgrimage," starts from here every April. Participants race over four hills with burning torches, and must complete the run within 24 hours.
At the summit of the mountain, the Austrians have erected a shrine honoring two saints: Mary Magdalene and Helen. From it, a panoramic view of the encircling mountain range and the Klagenfurt basin unfolds.
Returning once more to St. Veit, you can head northeast along Route 83, which becomes the E7. When you reach the junction with Route 93, turn west along the upper Gurk Valley road, passing through the hamlet of Strassburg, which was a walled town in the Middle Ages. There is a Gothic Pfarrkirche (Parish Church) here, and the Heilig-Geist-Spital Church, dating from the 13th century, has some well-preserved frescoes. Dominating the village is a castle built in 1147, but it's changed over the centuries. This once was the headquarters of the powerful prince-bishops of Gurk. It has been turned into a local museum.
The Cathedral of Gurk
A major pilgrimage site lies 3km (2 miles) to the west of Strassburg: the Cathedral of Gurk Pfarramt Gurk (tel. 04266/8236). The cathedral is the principal feature of the little market town of Gurk, and from 1072 until 1787, this area was the bishop's see. The dom (cathedral) is a three-aisled basilica erected between the mid-12th and early 13th centuries, and it's one of the best examples of Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture in the country. A set of towers with onion-shape domes rises nearly 43m (140 ft.).
The cathedral is rich in artwork, including the Samson doorway, an excellent example of Romanesque sculpture dating from 1180. Some 16th-century carved panels tell the story of St. Emma, an 11th-century countess who was canonized in 1938. The main 17th-century altar has dozens of statues, and there's a 1740 baroque pulpit. In the bishop's chapel you can see Romanesque murals -- other than the main altar, these are the most important art objects in the cathedral.
The cathedral is open daily 9am to 6pm. You can take a guided tour in English of both the cathedral and the crypt for 4.60€ ($7.40). For 6.20€ ($9.90), you can include a visit to the bishop's chambers. Guided tours are conducted at 10:30am, 1:30, and 3pm daily.
After visiting the Cathedral of Gurk, you can take the same road east, back through Strassburg. Back on the E7, and depending on your time and interest, you can either turn north to visit the town of Friesach or else travel south again, passing through St. Veit en route to Klagenfurt.
If you opt for the Friesach detour, you'll find an interesting old town worth exploring. If you came from Vienna, Friesach might be your gateway to Carinthia. This is an ancient town whose first mention in historic annals occurred in the mid-9th century. The town once belonged to the prince-archbishops of Salzburg, who held on to it until the beginning of the 19th century. Lying in the broad Valley of Melnitz, this was once a major stopover for traders between Venice and Austria's capital.
In the historic center of town, you can see part of the 12th-century town walls and the remains of a water-filled moat. The Romanesque Stadtpfarrkirche (Town Parish Church), Wiener Strasse, was constructed in the 13th century and is noted for its stained glass in the choir. The town has a number of other interesting buildings, including a Dominican monastery from 1673, built on the site of a much older structure and containing a 14th-century church. The monastery lies north of the moat, and in summer, open-air plays are performed here. You can also visit the 13th-century Heiligblutkirche (Church of the Holy Blood) south of Hauptplatz.
West of Friesach, a 1.5km-long (1-mile) road or footpath takes you to the hill Petersberg, where the 10th-century Church of St. Peter stands. Here you can visit a watchtower to see 12th-century frescoes, and you can also see the ruins of a castle that belonged to the prince-archbishops of Salzburg. North of the town, on Geiersberg, is a second 12th-century castle, partially reconstructed but still mostly in ruins.
Just outside of Klagenfurt, you can visit the pilgrimage church of Maria Saal, on a hill overlooking the Zollfeld Plain, some 10km (6 1/4 miles) north of the provincial capital along Route 83.
Maria Saal was first built by Bishop Modestus around the mid-8th century. The present church, which dominates the valley with its twin towers made of volcanic stone, dates from the early part of the 15th century, when a defensive wall was constructed to ward off attacks from the east. In the latter part of that century, the Magyars tried to take the fortress-church, but, like the Turks in later years, they were unable to conquer it.
One of the church's most outstanding features is a "lantern of the dead" in the late-Gothic style. There are some marble Gothic tombstones on the church grounds, and there's the karner (charnel house), an octagonal Romanesque building with two tiers of galleries. The church has many objets d'art, but it's the 1425 image of the Virgin that has made it a pilgrimage site.
An excursion to take from Maria Saal is to the Herzogstuhl, or Carinthian Ducal Throne, 1.5km (1 mile) to the north. A double throne on this ancient site was constructed from stones found at the Roman city of Virunum. The dukes of Carinthia used the throne to grant fiefs in medieval days.
The Vellach Valley
Southeast of Klagenfurt, the Vellach Valley leads to the Slovenian border, and your fellow visitors here are likely to be Slovenians. Eisenkappel is the major stopover in the valley. This town is surrounded by centuries-old forests and mineral springs, and because of its position as a frontier town only 15km (10 miles) from the Austro-Slovenian border's Jezersko Pass, it also offers many cultural and historical attractions.
The southernmost of all Austria's market villages, Eisenkappel, also known as Selezna Kapla, its Slovenian name, is home to a large Slovenian ethnic population. It lies at the foot of Karawanken, 39km (24 miles) from Klagenfurt (or Celovec, as you're likely to hear it called in this valley).
From Klagenfurt, drive south along Route 91 to the junction with Route 85. Cut east until you reach the junction with Route 82, and then head south to Eisenkappel.
There are many sky-blue lakes and white mountain peaks near Eisenkappel. Lake Klopeiner (below), to the north of this town, is the warmest lake in Carinthia, and 8km (5 miles) to the southwest you'll see Trögerner Gorge.
Surrounded by woodlands and shaped like an amphitheater, Lake Klopeiner lies south of the market town of Volkermarkt. To get there, drive east along Route 70.
The lake's waters sometimes reach 82°F (28°C) in summer, and the lake is fairly small -- only 2km (1 1/2 miles) long and less than a kilometer (about 1/2 mile) wide at its broadest point. In summer, it's flooded with fun-loving Austrians. To keep the sky-blue water free of pollution, the government does not permit motor-powered craft on the lake. The resorts that ring the lake are part of the community of St. Kanzian.
Follow Route 95 northwest of Klagenfurt, passing through Moosburg and Feldkirchen to reach Ossiacher See (Lake Ossiacher). This body of water, some 11km (7 miles) long, is the province's third-largest lake. Its water temperature during the summer is only slightly cooler than that of Lake Wörther -- a comfortable 79°F (26°C).
The lake is ringed with little villages that have become resorts by attracting summer visitors, mainly Austrians, who come to enjoy the sun and the water.
Our first stop, Feldkirchen, is an old town that once belonged to the Bamberg bishops. Located at a major crossroads, Feldkirchen grew and prospered from traders passing through the area, and pieces of the Middle Ages live on here, especially in the patrician houses and narrow streets. Visit the old quarter to see the Biedermeier facades that were added in the first part of the 19th century. The village has a Romanesque Pfarrkirche (Parish Church) with a Gothic choir and frescoes from the 13th century. Some small lakes near the town are worth visiting, if time permits.
Ossiach, a resort on the lake's south side, is small (pop. 650), but it's still the biggest settlement on the Ossiacher See. Ossiach has an 11th-century Benedictine abbey that was reconstructed in the 1500s. The monastery was dissolved a century or so ago, and Carinthian Summer Festival special events take place here.
On the lake's north shore are the Sattendorf and Treffen resorts, which are open year-round. Here you can breathe the pure mountain air and wander across alpine meadows deep into the forest. Vacationers can splash around in Ossiacher See or in indoor pools.
From the lake, you can make several easy excursions; take the Kanzelbahn cable car (10 min. from the resort) or drive to either Italy or Slovenia (20 min. to either destination). You can also make day trips to Klagenfurt or Villach.
The little lakeside resort of Annenheim is on the north side of the Ossiacher See, near the end of the lake. From here, a cable car, the Kanzelbahn, takes you to Kanzelhöhe at 1,488m (4,882 ft.), where an observatory tower offers a panoramic view of the surrounding country.
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