From jet setters to families, Carinthia’s Wörthersee is the waterfront escape Austrians keep coming back to
The Alps have no shortage of glitzy winter resorts, but when it comes to summer getaways none can top the Wörthersee for glamour: the largest of the 1,270 lakes dotting scenic Carinthia, it has long been synonymous with luxury and high society, making an indelible impression on Austria’s popular psyche. With numerous millionaires residing on its pristine shores, it remains a popular setting for domestic romantic comedies and soap operas like the saccharine Ein Schloss am Wörthersee (Castle on the Wörthersee).
Flanked to the north and south by the snow capped and densely forested Gurktal Alps and Karawanks range respectively, the Wörthersee boasts dreamy blue-green waters that reach enjoyable temperatures during summer; unsurprisingly, it became a popular and exclusive summer retreat for the wealthy bourgeoisie and nobility after the Austrian Southern Railway line (Südbahn) reached Klagenfurt in 1863.
In the subsequent decades, summer retreats sprang up like mushrooms along the lakeshore, built in a distinctive style called Wörthersee architecture, an eclectic mix of Art Nouveau, regional romanticism and English country house chic. Prominent in the posh towns of Velden and Villach, these playful spires, mock rustic touches and colorful facades have earned the region the nickname “Austria’s Monte Carlo,” with Velden’s famous casino emphasizing the similarity.
Recent decades have been somewhat less kind, with cheap long-range flights luring many tourists overseas and the rough charm of Carinthians struggling to adapt to the new exigencies of the modern service economy. But the Wörthersee’s allure continues unabated, and in a time where upheaval abroad and climate change encourage us to rethink our habits, we may rediscover the joys of staying close to home.
With Italy and the Adriatic just over the Alps, the Wörthersee maintains an easygoing, Mediterranean flair, with the lake always nearby. However, some towns may be more appropriate, depending on your plans: On the north shore, Krumpendorf, Pörtschach and Velden are densely populated and offer tons of distraction and a certain debonair atmosphere. Conversely, the southern shore is quieter, with the small villages of Maria Wörth (the lake’s namesake) and Reifnitz providing lovely retreats and natural beauty. Finally, the capital Klagenfurt on the eastern shore is a perfect destination for boat trips and an evening in a more urban setting.
The lake’s azure Wossa (water, as the Carinthians pronounce it) is perfect for swimming and water sports abound, with paddle boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding and parasailing all popular activities. The Wörthersee’s two islands, the Kapuzinerinsel and the Blumeninsel (the third one, Maria Loretto, became a peninsula when the water level fell around 1770) are great for short excursions and close enough to swim to – if you possess the stamina. Never fear though, boat rentals are readily available. Additionally, Blumeninsel (Flower Island) is also connected to the mainland via a 100-m-long wooden bridge.
To take in the region in all its beauty, take a bike tour around the lake or head up the Pyramidenkogel for a stunning view from the observation tower at the summit. If you’re vacationing with children, pay a visit to Minimundus in Klagenfurt, a miniature wonderland of famous buildings and landmarks from around the world that makes you feel like Gulliver in Lilliput.
Turn up the fun
A plethora of events, parties and festivals all year round further entices visitors to enjoy lakeside life: This month, there’s the Veldener Herbstfest, a culinary autumn festival boasting regional delicacies, to look forward to – but the annual beach volleyball grand slam in Klagenfurt is the most prominent. While Vienna grabbed the spotlight this year by hosting the World Championships (see “Sand and Deliver,”Met Jul/Aug 2017), Klagenfurt remains Austria’s beach volleyball capital. Other annual fixtures are the culinary festival SeeEssSpiele in April and Velden’s swanky Fête Blanche in July, the open air concert Starnacht am Wörthersee and the Pink Lake Festival in August, to name but a few.
If you’re staying for several nights, make sure to ask for a Wörthersee Plus Card – it’s free and gives you a wide range of significant rebates (between 20 – 50 per cent) on things like boat rides, entry to local landmarks and museums as well as discounts at local shops.
The Wörthersee’s charm has always been hard to escape: According to legend, the lake was created by a supernatural deluge summoned to punish a wasteful town that wouldn’t interrupt their debauchery even during Holy Week, dancing, drinking and carousing on the eve of Easter. Supposedly, the ruins of that sacrilegious community are still at the bottom of the lake, its wealthy inhabitants transformed into fish; on certain nights, you might see strange lights from the depths or even hear the church bell pealing under water. If you’re not careful, you may never leave too.
Gives a great overview of all things lakeside (especially events). In German, English and Italian.
WÖRTHERSEE PLUS CARD
Provides discounts from 20–50% on various services. Should be provided by your hotel, ask your receptionist!
An app with everything you might want to know about your holidays on the lakeside. In German only. For iOS and Android.
A miniature theme park with over 150 scale models of famous buildings from around the world. €10-19; proceeds go to the charity Save the Children.
Take in a stunning panorama from the observation deck on this nearby mountain. 20% discount with the Wörthersee Plus Card.
Various small craft, charter boats and ferries are readily available. Prices vary, discounts available with the Wörthersee Plus Card.
KLAGENFURT CITY CENTER
Small but picturesque, Carinthia’s capital has numerous charming shops and restaurants; the central square boasts a statue of the infamous Lindwurm (dragon) that used to terrorize the area, according to legend.
A culinary festival focusing on beers and wine from Carinthia and neighboring Italy and Slovenia, accompanied by local delicacies. Sep 15-17, Velden.
WATER SPORTS AND GEAR RENTALS
Pamperlallee 35-38, 9201
Krumpendorf am Wörthersee
Seecorso 11, 9220
Velden am Wörthersee
Rental stations are placed all around the lake, along with signposted routes. Wide variety available, from e-bikes to mountainbikes.