East Tyrol (known as Östtirol in German) is not geographically connected to North Tyrol. When South Tyrol was ceded to Italy in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, East Tyrol was cut off from the rest of the province by a narrow projection of Italian land that borders Land Salzburg.
Italy, including what used to be South Tyrol, lies to the south and west, with Land Salzburg to the north and Carinthia to the east. The little subprovince, of which Lienz is the capital, is cut off from its neighbors on the north by seemingly impenetrable Alps.
Because of its isolated position, East Tyrol tends to be neglected by the average North American tourist, which is a shame. The grandeur of its scenery and the warm hospitality of its people make it worth visiting. It's crowned by the towering peaks of the Lienz Dolomites, which invite exploration. The scenery along the Drau and the Isel valleys is spectacular. These two main valleys have many little side hollows worth exploring, especially the Virgental. You'll see alpine pastureland, meadows, relatively undiscovered valleys, and beautiful lakes.
The Romans occupied East Tyrol in ancient times. Later the Slavs moved into the area as settlers and made it a section of Carinthia. It has known many rulers, from the Bavarians to the French. Even Great Britain had a hand in running things here, when the Allies made East Tyrol a part of the British-occupied sector of Austria from 1945 to 1955.
Since 1967, it has been possible to reach East Tyrol by taking the 5km-long (3-mile) Felbertauern Tunnel, a western route through the Alps. If you're driving, you can come from the east or the west. From the Grossglockner Road, you take the Felbertauern Road and the tunnel. If you're driving from the north to Lienz, East Tyrol's capital, you can take the Felbertauern Road from Land Salzburg, passing through the tunnel. In summer, you might want to take the Grossglockner Road and the Iselberg Pass. This road runs along the boundary between East Tyrol and Carinthia.
It's also possible to take a train from Italy to East Tyrol. Corridor trains operate between Innsbruck and Lienz as well. As you pass through Italy on this trip, the trains are locked and you don't have to show your passport or clear Italian Customs.
Woodcarving, long a pursuit in East Tyrol, is still practiced in tranquil chalets during the long winter months. You might want to shop for some pieces while you're here.
Don't confuse this city with Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. This Lienz, with an e, is the capital of East Tyrol. It sits at the junction of three valleys -- the Isel to the northwest, the Puster to the west, and the Drau to the east. The old town of Lienz stretches along the banks of the Isel River, with Liebburg Palace, a 16th-century building, now the seat of local government, overshadowing Hauptplatz (Main Square).