No Austrian province has more water than Carinthia. So it comes as no surprise that any architectural tour of the region invariably leads to the pictureque shores of a lake.
While other lakes may be more bucolic or romantic, the undisputed star among the bathing lakes in Carinthia is Lake Wörth, the "Wörthersee". But the popularity of this body of water as meeting place for the rich and famous is nothing new. It was a popular upper-class resort as early as the beginning of the twentieth century, as attested to by a host of splendid lakeside villas dating from that period. The best preserved of these turn-of-the-century villas can be found on the lake’s northern shore, in Pörtschach. An especially beautiful estate is The Parkvilla Wörth with its whimsical, Neo-Renaissance loggias, terraces, gables and corner towers.
Magnificent villas wherever one looks
The importance of these villas as status symbols is illustrated by Schlossvilla Miralago. Here, the structure’s façade, which faces the lake, is elaborately ornamented with two symmetrical oriel windows at the corners. A romantic touch is provided by the villa’s wooden boathouse with its octagonal, pavilion-like superstructure – a lovely example of the fine woodwork practised at the time. The boathouse of Villa Schnür, on the other hand, is remarkable for its lavish two-storey design as well as its picturesque setting: it rests on pilings above the lake and is connected to land by a wooden jetty.
The best way to experience the charm of the Wörthersee villas is from the water, leisurely floating past these grand buildings in a boat. If you have time, you can dock at the city of Klagenfurt and take a stroll to some of the most important buildings. An absolute must-see is the Jugendstil Stadttheater.
Historic ambience in and around the palace hotels
A good way to gain a sense of the history of the region is to spend the night in one of the historic palace hotels dotting the lakeside. Hotel Schloss Leonstain was built in Pörtschach in 1492, making it one of the oldest buildings on the lake.
The idyllic setting of Schlosshotel Velden, familiar to many visitors from a popular Austrian television series, makes it a favourite venue for weddings and other events. It's hardly surprising that the spectacular three-storey Neo-Renaissance hotel with its four corner towers sometimes made more of an impression on viewers than the actors did!
One of Austria’s most unusual buildings
The shores of Lake Ossiach are another place where one can not only enjoy crystal-clear water for bathing, but also to discover architectural gems. In 2009 Ossiach Abbey underwent a comprehensive renovation and expansion project. During the cultural events held each summer, the semi-transparent façade can now be illuminated from behind to create spectacular visual effects.
Across the lake there is an architectural treasure that was long a source of great controversy among the locals because of its bizarre appearance. Günter Domenig’s Steinhaus in Steindorf is one of Austria’s most unusual structures and is considered a key work of deconstructivist architecture. Its jagged jumble of steel, glass and concrete mimics the formations of the surrounding mountains and cliffs, as well as referring to the crumbling buildings of the local rural area.
History is revived by artists
A mere thirty-minute drive from Steindorf is picturesque Lake Millstatt. In addition to Millstatt Abbey, with historic confines that are frequently used as a venue for cultural events, Porcia Castle in Spittal an der Drau is particularly worthy of mention, as this sixteenth-century castle is among the most beautiful Renaissance structures north of the Alps. Nearby, the medieval Artists’ Town of Gmünd has a very special attraction in store. During the summer visitors can experience international artists enlivening the historic buildings, squares and streets with their art.
Friesach, Carinthia’s oldest city, is another spot where one can still bask in the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. The well-preserved historic structures, such as the old fortifications with their water-filled moat, provide the perfect backdrop for events like the "Burghofspiele" theatre festival, held in the castle courtyard. Friesach, by the way, is situated on the Metnitz River, and Gmünd on the Malta and Lieser Rivers. So it is true: here, in Carinthia, you are never far from water.