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The top 13 destinations in Mittelkärnten

We know Oberkärnten (Upper Carinthia) – Großglockner and all the other baddies, wild rivers and an unsettling amount of campsites. Unterkärnten (Lower Carinthia) is also well-known, between the river Drau and the incredible Karawanken. So what is Middle Carinthia all about? Well, it’s like the middle sibling in Carinthia. Everyone knows what the deal with the oldest and the youngest is. The middle one… eh, what was the name again? Well, I’ll show you some top destinations that will cement Mittelkärnten in your memory forever!

I come from this region and while researching for this blog post, I had a hard time even establishing the borders of Mittelkärnten. Some say, it includes the district of Feldkirchen, others are adamant that not even Saualpe belongs to it. To avoid any controversy (as if anyone cares, but still), I’m sticking to this map and points of interest in the district St. Veit an der Glan. Lemme show you the top destinations of my home, Mittelkärnten!

1. Hochosterwitz Castle

Hochosterwitz is undoubtedly the most established tourist attraction in the whole region of Mittelkärnten, and rightly so, if you ask me! Just look at it! Perched 175 metres high on a rock, steep cliffs on every side, in the middle of a field, it looks amazing in every season. That’s not the reason it was built this way of course. Its location ensured that no one could conquer it. To get to the castle, the enemy had to waltz its way through 14 heavily guarded gates. There is a second way in, vertically up the rocks, with the name “fool’s path”. The name probably tells you why you can’t traverse it nowadays. Once you pass the 14 gates, you can relax in the shade of the beautiful conker trees lining the courtyard of the beautiful top castle.

When I was a child, I learned a folktale about the only time someone came close to conquer Hochosterwitz: Margarete Maultasch, a Tyrolean countess, and her troops had laid siege on the castle. They were spread out all around the rock but couldn’t for the life of them get past the gates, so they blocked all entrances for a really long time. The castle dwellers couldn’t get out and slowly ate through all their food. At the end, they had only one ox and a bag of carrots left.

The great con

They decided to slaughter the ox, fill its belly with the carrots and throw it down into the field from the castle to prove to the troops that they had so much food left, they could even afford to throw resources down. Margarete Maultasch believed the con and ordered her troops away. Academically speaking, there isn’t much to back the story up, but does it always have to be accurate?

The entrance is 15 euros for adults and 8 euros for kids. There are special family tickets and discounts, and you can add a ticket for the lift if you’re not able to walk up by yourself. The castle offers special events throughout the year, such as the knight’s festival in summer and a Christmas market during wintertime. You can find all the dates here on their website.

However, the best views of the castle are from the surrounding mountains, hike up to Magdalensberg from Sankt Sebastian or try the mountain by Längsee.

2. Magdalensberg Mountain

Magdalensberg is no secret anymore. It’s one of the best viewing points in all of Mittelkärnten and Carinthia in general. When the fog smoothers the landscape, you’ll be sure to get sunshine up there! The only time the fog covered the top was when I promised Aydin that for once I would get up with him to watch the sunrise together…

What makes it so special, you ask – apart from this brilliant view? The long and windy road snaking up to the top, the super cute Troadkasten, a little wooden hut that farmers used back in the days for storing grains and is now a romantic getaway you can book for your honeymoon, the deer and goats you can feed and the fancy hotel resort with excellent food where you can sit on the patio and bask in the sun. Oh and did we mention the views peering into Italy and Slovenia, with mountains panoramas, castles and gorgeous forests?

Tip: Get there early. It’s rammed on the weekends but completely deserted during sunrise. If you visit during peak times, you’ll have trouble finding a parking spot, so a nice, stress-free alternative is to hike up, starting behind Castle Hochosterwitz. We’ve got all the trail details covered in our post about winter hikes in Carinthia.

3. Längsee Lake

Carinthia, land of the thousand lakes. Unfortunately, Längsee belongs to the ones that are barely ever mentioned, even though it’s great in every season! It’s the go-to lake for everyone who lives around St. Veit and boasts two public beaches, the peasant one for 4.80 euros a day and the Stiftsbad which weirdly costs the same but is nicer and has a banging coffeeshop and bakery (Taupes Genussschmiede im Stiftsbad).

Even when the weather isn’t overly inviting for swimming anymore, there are plenty of other options. Once it’s cold enough and the lake has frozen, you can go ice-skating. And in any season (and pretty much any weather), there’s a beautiful hike to do around the lake, starting at Stift St. Georgen (which is also a pretty neat place to spend the night). You can park next to the monastery and begin the two hour long walk from there.

Head along the road lined with pines and pass some stunning old farmhouses. After 15-20 minutes walking you will pass by a farm and beautiful palace estate called Rottenstein. Shortly after passing the estate you will enter the forests where you will stay until you emerge in the back of the village Drasendorf. From there you will take the road Kirchbergweg to Töplach. Once you reach the main road, cross to the other side and follow the trail. It ascends into a forest before heading back down to the public beach. The final stretch follows the road back to the monastery.

More lakes? Here you go!

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4. Hörzendorf Village

So, not really Hörzendorf but rather the view on it! One of the many cute villages throughout Mittelkärnten. The mountainous backdrop consisting of the Karawanken is just amazing, especially during sunrise and sunset. It’s a nice and easy cycle from St. Veit center along the Glan river. You can stop at the Radlerstop along the way for a cold beverage (In winter you can ice-skate there but I wouldn’t recommend going by bike in this season). Hörzendorf is a typical pretty and sleepy Carinthian village. Visit the wine tavern Buschenschank Krassnitzer for some tasty cider or wine and then head to the lake.

Either continue on the road to have a look at Tanzenberg, a posh school that strongly reminds us of Harrry Potter, take the first right after the lake, direction Projern, and explore the ruins of Castle Karlsberg. The former mighty complex consisted of an upper and a lower castle and was inhabited until the 16th century. After that, the former farm building which is situated a bit lower was converted into the new castle, and it looks super pretty. You can get some photo impressions here. Continue your journey further to Zweikirchen for the next castle ruins, Burgruine Hardegg (I know, I know, the name…), or head right back to the main road 94 and finish your journey at the restaurant Glantalerhof, a firm favourite among the people of St. Veit.

For views like the ones pictured above, you’ll need to head a little higher up. Some photos are from near Essleggerhof holiday home, on the Tatschnigteich lake Loop hike, which we describe in this post. The others were taken from some fields in nearby Treffelsdorf.

5. Kraigerschlösser Castle Ruins

This is one of my absolute favourites and definitely one of the top destinations in Mittelkärnten because the trail is lovely and the castle ruins beyond cool! The Kraiger Schlösser have been built in a way that you can view all the other castles in the area, functioning as a medieval alarm system. If one castle spotted attackers, it would light a fire in the tower so that the other castles would see it.

Start at Schloss Frauenstein, a beautiful disney castle which unfortunately is private but opens a couple of times a year for events. Walk along the lakes through the forest (and stay away from the evil swans) until you see a path branching off to the left. From here it gets quite steep, taking you past Hochkraig and the Turmburg, the highest of the Kraiger towers. Built in the 11th century, this one has been really nicely renovated and most likely wasn’t used as a defensive tower but rather to live in.

The trail continues and loops around high up before taking you lower down again. Once you get to the bottom, you can either continue to Kraiger See, another lake, or complete the castle route by turning right. You’ll walk beneath and aqueduct and soon see Niederkraig (the lower castle) and the beautiful little St. Johan church on top of a steep hill.

History on display

From here you also have a chance to view Hochkraig tower, which has a controversial history. In 1934, nazis painted a huge swastika on the side of the tower which was consequently painted over after World War II. Trees started to grow in front of it and everyone conveniently forgot it was ever there, until the owner started renovations and felled the trees some year ago. This revealed the swastika again – the paint job did not hold.

Years of arguing ensued – how to remove it, it couldn’t be removed, the tower would collapse, who would pay for it, in the end it’s still a forbidden symbol, and so on. In the meantime it had become a meeting point for neo nazis. Finally, the important people made a decision in 2019 to change the symbol and turn it into a different one bearing no meaning. I guess, in some years all will be forgotten once again…

To get a feel for the former grandness of the ruins, check out this super cool drawing.

6. Steinbichl & Zammelsberg Villages

In the not spoken about mountains behind Sankt Veit in Mittelkärnten you will find many beautiful villages which barely anyone realise exist. In a quest to avoid busy roads and explore the local landscape we’ve come across a few treats and one of them is Steinbichl, impressively situated on the side of a sloping mountain. Towering behind, you will find the Nockberge mountains with the hair raising Nockalmstrasse high alpine road (not open in winter) and many hiking trails.

Closer to Steinbichl you will find Goggausee, a nice lake, sheltered from wind, in the valley. There is a small campsite there and you can swim in the lake during summer. In winter the lake freezes. There is a very nice mountain road which traverses behind Lorenziberg, past Dreifaltigkeit (a beautiful medieval church with a stunning interior), to Steinbichl. In the summer it’s possible to drive from Steinbichl to Goggausee via a tiny dirt road. We wouldn’t recommend it in the winter though!

From Goggausee there are a number of other cute villages and roads worth driving to and visiting, head south to Steuerberg and north, over a high mountain pass to Zammelsberg and Dolz, the view of Zammelsberg from the high mountain road is absolutely gorgeous and on clear days the views of the Karawanken mountains are impressive.

There is a nice herb hiking trail around Zammelsberg leading in to the Gurk valley and the village of Weitensfeld. Check it out.

7. Sörg Village

Sörg! I’ve got family there so I might be biased. In any case it’s a beautiful little village with a great view on the Karawanken. This view really is one of the biggest bonuses of living in the mountains around St. Veit and Mittelkärnten! Right from the village center a trail starts that will lead you past some nice old farms in the direction of Reichenau. Continue upwards through the forest and after a while you will reach Tatschnigteich, some really pretty ponds hidden away in the forest.

Past the ponds, you can either take the trail that goes off to the left to explore the ruins of castle Nussberg and then walk up Lorenziberg for another lovely view, pretty mountaintop church and a break at the pub, then walk down direction Fachau, or shorten the hike and go directly to Fachau. I absolutely recommend the first option, even if it takes longer. From Fachau, walk down and through to Essleggerhof farm and head through the fields back in direction Sörg. The trail splits again at a nice, old wooden house. Go right to go to Sörg, or choose the left to look at another gorgeous farm and the spectacular ruins of castle Liebenfels to which you’ll find all the details right below.

Keep reading for more beautiful destinations in walking distance from Sörg!

8. Liebenfels ruin & Hohenstein Castle

Mittelkärnten is full of castles but this is one of the most impressive. A great addition to the hike described above is a visit to Burgruine Liebenfels. It has proper Game of Thrones vibes and as of 2021, you can actually visit it! Before that, it had been closed for years due to renovation work. It’s on it’s best way to become a tourist attraction now, with a sky walk and and escape room, if that’s your sort of thing. It closes over winter, so during the cold season you have to marvel at it from the outside, which in all honesty is a spectacle by itself – just look at that photo!

From the hillside around Waggendorf you might also be able to spot another pretty sight named Schloss Hohenstein. Walk down through the lovely village Pulst and continue towards the 94 main road. You can’t miss the castle, situated on a hill in the middle of the field. This hill has had settlements on it since the ancient times! Altough you can’t visit the castle since it’s private, it’s definitely one of the coolest ones in the area. When you’re there, peek around towards the left and see if you can spot another castle hidden in a corner of the mountain side…

9. Wasserweg Hiking Trail

I just love walking here, I always find something new. The Wasserweg takes you into the forest, alongside streams and little gorges, through meadows to the final point: the waterfall. It’s about 4 kilometers with some up bits and it’s a great trail to escape from hot summer days. Although it looks especially beautiful in the winter time, please be mindful if you visit during this season. The trail is accessible but officially closed in winter, and it’s very slippy and icy so come back in warmer times if you’re not fit, experienced and prepared. Someone attempted to climb the waterfall, fell and is now permanently disabled.

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10. Hoch St. Paul church

Such a peaceful place! Past St. Urban, down a tiny road, you will find this beautiful little treasure at 1176M altitude. It was first mentioned in 1285 and therefore bears a lot of history, so much so that it’s under preservation order now. There is of course a beautiful farmer’s pub next to it (Wednesday is dumpling day!).

The best thing up there is to enjoy the magnificent view. It’s so quiet and seems so far removed from everything, although it’s close to Simonhöhe ski resort. We’ve walked around in the area and enjoyed the view and the forests. You can also get to Sörg from there, or do a 13k round hike around the top of the Wimitzer Berge.

11. Straßburg Castle & Village

Straßburg is a very small town in the Gurktal valley that I remember best for rock festivals that took place in the castle when I was younger. I don’t think they’re still going but the castle definitely is! Don’t drive there on the normy route via the Gurktal Straße. It’s much better to connect this with a trip to Gunzenberg (see below) and then drive over the mountain pass via Gunzenbergstraße to Straßburg. The reason for this is the magnificent view on the castle that opens up when you descend from Schattseite into Straßburg. Another reason is that mountain roads are simply more fun to drive!

Straßburg used to be a very important town as it was the center of the bishops of Gurk. It was first mentioned in the 12th century and had already then been unusually big for a castle at that time. From the 1950’s onwards, it was painstakingly renovated and is open for the public nowadays. Head to Gurk afterwards to visit the famous Dom church, another important religious site in Mittelkärnten or drive over the next set of mountains, to Grades via Prekover Landesstraße.

12. Gunzenberg Mountain

Another village on a mountain that simply hasn’t been heard of outside of our area. Austria and Mittelkärnten has so many that are never mentioned. In my opinion, all pretty villages deserve attention! Gunzenberg is beautiful, quiet and peaceful, situated there in the sun, sprawled over the hillside. It has super nice views along the road and even two designated viewpoints marked on Google Maps. Fun fact about Google Maps: When we clocked on to the pictures of Gunzenberg, photos of a young man kept coming up, so that we spun the theory that he might be a famous Gunzenberg personality – maybe the number 1 firefighter? Or an Eisstockschießen talent?

While we were walking around Gunzenberg on a sleepy Sunday, we actually couldn’t believe our eyes; the only person we encountered while strolling around was him! We still wish we would have been brave enough to talk to him. Anyway. Past the village, there are trails starting, for example to Krapfenkogel or Hintere Bartlhöhe. If you walk past the church and continue into the forest, there are nice and easy trails that you can do even when there’s snow. When you’re done here, head to Straßburg!

13. Friesach Medieval Town

It blows my mind that Friesach isn’t a lot more famous. It’s one of the most medieval towns in Austria that I can think of, consisting of castle Petersberg towering over the settlement, five churches plus a supercool one that’s in ruins on Virgilienberg, old walls and a MOAT. You heard me. Very fitting for the oldest town in Carinthia and one of the top destinations of Mittelkärnten!

The town center is wonderful, with wonky old buildings everywhere, nice parks to relax and the famous chocolatier and patisserie Craigher. Go there, eat everything and thank me later. Seriously though, I can’t stress enough how beautiful this town is. Photos don’t do it justice and can’t replace the feeling you get wandering around villas and rows of small, medieval buildings. Or when you marvel at the huge Heiligenblutkirche, which bears its name because of an apparent miraculous bleeding relic that took place during a mass in 1238 where wine turned into blood. It’s stories like this that linger everywhere in Friesach and make your visit special and fascinating.

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