The hills are alive with the sound of the southern Austrian tourism industry getting ready for an influx of Israeli holidaymakers this summer. This Israeli invasion will be welcomed with an outpouring of locally made schnapps, apfelstrudel and, of course, stunning Alpine scenery and inviting lakes.
Israeli families – grandparents, parents and kids – are a new target market for the Carinthia and SalzburgerLand regions in southern Austria, to accompany their traditional German, Dutch and Italian visitors. With hotel rooms and holiday apartments of different sizes and prices to accommodate varying budgets and self-catering requirements, this area of Austria is an ideal destination for those seeking greenery in the midst of an Israeli summer.
For families with young children (3 to 12 years old), Katschberg in the Carinthia region, bordering SalzburgerLand, is a perfect spot, as the mountains here are more gentle and rounded than the intimidating Alpine cliffs of SalzburgerLand to the north. With outdoor activities ranging from llama trekking to horse-riding or e-bike and mountain-bike tours; from adventure playgrounds to rafting or the more gentle leisure pursuit of fishing, there is plenty to keep youngsters busy throughout the day.
If you want to stay inside for a few hours, there’s also a workshop at the Kaserei Ainkehr, where you can learn to make traditional Austrian soft cheese and then take it back to your hotel or apartment to have the next day with breakfast. Crucially, and to make your holiday easier, these activities are arranged daily by the tourist office in the center of Katschberg and most are free for families staying in this small village.
For adults, there’s the Stamperl restaurant/ pizzeria with its own brewery, the highest-altitude brewery in Austria at 1,670 meters. The handcrafted Katsch beer certainly goes down well after a day in the hills and is only available at the restaurant as the brew master has only enough space to satisfy his thirsty on-site customers.
Almost immediately below Katschberg in the valley (and already in SalzburgerLand) is the charming village of Sankt Michael (St. Michael) im Lungau, which has its own folk traditions, including an annual summer parade of giant (six-meter) dolls meant to represent the biblical figure of Samson.
Just quite what the connection is between Samson and this small village is something I never fully figured out.
But for me, the main attraction of St. Michael was the superior four-star Eggerwirt Spa & VitalRestort. With a 12,500 square-meter spa complex, including indoor and outdoor swimming pool, various types of saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools and saline floating pools, this hotel provided a much-needed treat after a couple of days of more physical activities in the mountains above at Katschberg. The hotel is in the process of building a women- only spa, which will be appreciated by Israeli tourists. Austrians, as I discovered in the midst of a steam bath, have a more open approach to mixed nudity within a spa setting.
Not far away (around a 20-minute drive) from the hotel is the Silberbergwerk at Ramingstein, an old silver mine that was first active back in the 15th century. For a period of more than 350 years, Ramingstein was one of the most important mining areas in the Alps, and a local association of mining-historians and other interested parties, have turned one of the old mines into a showpiece.
This is a great two-hour outing for families (providing no one is claustrophobic) looking for something different. Wearing protective coats, lamps and helmets (absolutely vital, as I kept banging my head on the mine’s low ceiling), you enter the mine at an unassuming entrance on the side of a cliff. Unlike other types of mines I’ve visited, there is no descent to the seam; instead the silver miners hacked their way through the mountain, searching for the veins of silver in the rock. The tour is guided, with explanations about the minerals, history of mining and what the miners’ lives were like. With a constant temperature of 8º centigrade inside the mountain, it will provide a welcome respite from the summer heat as well as a fun experience.
An advantage of Carinthia, as our hosts repeatedly told us, is the easy road access it provides to Venice on the Adriatic coast, Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, and Munich in Germany, as well as, of course, to the famous Austrian city of Salzburg. All these locations are within a two-hour drive, so a hotel in Carinithia can be used as a base for wider sightseeing and day trips. We arrived in the region via a connecting flight from Vienna to Karnten Airport in Klagenfurt am Worthersee, but for the region to really take off for Israeli summer vacationers, direct charter flights between Tel Aviv and Klagenfurt must become the order of the day.
FORTUNATELY, IN the summer there will be direct weekly charters between Ben Gurion Airport and Salzburg, operated by Israir, which makes traveling to SalzburgLand easily accessible. But rather than spend the whole week in the city of Salzburg, beautiful as it may be, it makes more sense to rent a holiday apartment or hotel room in the nearby villages of Golling or Abtenau, and then take a cheap train ride from Golling into Salzburg for sightseeing. If nothing else, this will solve the problem of finding city parking in the busy summer months.
The Israeli travel firm Noya Holidays, which organized my press trip to the area, has block-booked a number of apartment homes in this area for the summer months, so if you travel with them, you shouldn’t be surprised to find you’re sharing your holiday home with other Israeli families. According to Dov Kalmann, Noya Holidays CEO, Israelis prefer this, as it increases the chances of children finding friends to play with during their stay.
The countryside around Golling and Abtenau is simply stunning, with hiking and cycling trails to suit all levels of physical fitness. With 60 clear Alpine lakes for summer swimming, the Gollinger waterfall and Bluntau Valley to experience and medieval castles to visit, including one in the center of Golling with a museum and watch exhibition, there is plenty to do and see. Steam locomotive fans can also experience Austria’s highest narrow-gauge railway, which runs through the Taurach Valley. And if you want to see how schnapps is made (and tastes), then a trip to the Buchegger fruit farm and distillery in Abtenau should definitely be on the itinerary.
Then there is the picturesque city of Salzburg itself, the birthplace of Mozart, which demands an article on its own. Theodor Herzl also lived in the city for a period, and there’s a plaque in Mozart Square commemorating this, containing a quote which also hints at the history of Austria-Jewish relations: “In Salzburg, I spent some of the happiest hours of my life. I would have liked to have stayed in this beautiful city, but as a Jew, I would never have been promoted to the position of a judge. Therefore, I took my leave of Salzburg and juridical studies.”
If you are spending a week in this region, then it’s definitely worth buying a six-day LungauCard, which provides a variety of free and discounted activities at excursion destinations, natural attractions and museums as well as transport throughout the city and wider area.
Other nearby attractions include the famous Hallein Salt Mine with its underwater lake or the Eagle’s Nest just across the border in Bavaria, a Third Reich-era building on the summit of the Kehlstein, given to Hitler as a 50th birthday present and used by the Nazis for government and social meetings.
Due to lack of time on our tour, we didn’t visit the salt mine or Eagle’s Nest; instead we did something you probably haven’t heard of but which is definitely worth doing: The Flying Fox.
A 900-meter zip-line suspended high above the River Salzach, you speed down the river gorge, with the wind whistling around your face and thrilling scenery all around you. Although the ride only lasts for a minute, it’s an absolutely unforgettable experience, for all ages. According to the guides who accompanied us, the youngest person to travel the zip-wire was a nine-month-old baby, while the oldest was a sprightly 87-year-old.
The Flying Fox is situated near the Pass Lueg Hotel and Gasthof on the outskirts of Golling, a very impressive three-star bed and breakfast hotel run by a young, friendly couple, Stefanie and David Kurz. Stefanie’s home-made apfelstrudel, it has to be said, is legendary and a well-deserved reward for braving the zip-line.
The writer travelled to Austria as a guest of Karnten Airport (Klagenfurt am Worthersee) and the Tourism Offices of Katschberg, Golling and Abtenau and the trip was arranged by Noya Holidays (www.noyaholidays.com). The writer stayed at the following hotels: Alpenhaus Katschberg, Hotel Larchenhof Katschberg, Eggerwirt Spa & VitalResort and the Hotel Golingen.