Cycling along the water in southern Austria

In the Alps, the Weißensee makes its way between the mountain tops as a nature boy. The bays of Lake Millstatt are full of legends. There is plenty of bustle on the fashionable Wörthersee with gourmet restaurants and a dolce vita feeling under palm trees. A little further, on Lake Keutschach, the landscape changes. There is silence between reeds, pile houses and shady forests.

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Happy turquoise. Shiny silver. Mysterious night blue. In Carinthia, the lakes dominate the play of colors. The water is always different. Sometimes it is very quiet and the mountains are reflected on the smooth surface. Then it splashes excitedly onto the shore again. It almost seems as if each body of water has its own personality.

Sure, in many regions, lakes are lined up next to each other. But the landscape is rarely as varied as in southern Austria. The Great Carinthian Lakes Loop is a 340-kilometer circular cycle route that takes ten lakes and two rivers in the region. Those who drive the trip first become really aware of the diversity of the lakes.

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Jazz, classical music, organ music, ship sirens, a mad rooster. There is a lot to hear at Ossiach Abbey. The former Benedictine monastery from the 11th century is now home to the “Carinthian summer”. The festival is one of the most important music events in Austria.

The musicians rehearse again and again with the window open. The trip around Lake Ossiach northeast of Villach is worthwhile just because of the baroque monastery.

A little further up the lake at the mouth of the Tiebel you have to get off and push. Cycling on the road through the Bleistätter Moor nature reserve is not allowed. But it does not matter. The many photo motifs on the route would still have given constant stops.

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In 2017, the East Bank was flooded, giving it back its original appearance. The less than 30 kilometers around Lake Ossiach are quickly completed. If it’s too short for you, you can continue cycling to Lake Millstätter See and can jump into Lake Afritz and Lake Brennsee on the way. Does he throw a woman in the water? The statue of Saint Domitian in the middle of Lake Millstatt has a dramatic effect. Around the year 800, he is said to have converted to Christianity as a result of an accident in his family – his son drowned in the lake.

Domitian is said to have thrown thousands of statues, Latin: mille statuae, into the water. The name Millstatt goes back to this legend. However, not a single statue was found in the lake. But there are other treasures to admire in the monastery.

For a long time, Millstatt was the spiritual and cultural center of Upper Carinthia, shaped by Benedictine monks, noble families, knights, and Jesuits. With the Millstätter manuscript, one of the most important works in early Middle High German literature was created here. The bicycles roll through the forest, past flowering meadows. Occasionally there are always small coves where you can get your feet fresh and enjoy the view of the lake.

The connecting route from Lake Millstatt up to Lake Weißensee at 930 meters above sea level can be shortened on holiday. This gives more time to discover the nature park.

The James Bond film “The Living Daylights” made the frozen Weißensee famous in the late 1980s. In the warmer seasons, the region around the lake is a paradise for mountain bikers.

Two thirds are undeveloped. Therefore, there is no continuous road through the valley or around the lake. Cyclists can still circle around the lake – using the Alpenperle, an electric hybrid ship. First it goes to Naggl, from there to Hoffnungskirche in the open air. Sit down, think, look at the landscape. It is one of those places where it does not take much to relax. Only one more intense ascent, then the bikes roll almost by themselves through Gailtal to Pressegger See. Typical of this is the large pipe belt with heath and aquatic plants.

For every kilometer more, the Alps now retreat. The valley widens, the landscape becomes more beautiful. The change of scene is marked by the turquoise Faaker See and the Karawanken mountain range including Mittagskogel, whose pyramid-shaped cone resembles volcanoes. On the 46-kilometer-long castle circuit around Faaker See, people often brake in surprise to pull the camera forward.

A short and steep ascent to Kanzianiberg leads to Finkenstein’s castle ruins. The mighty castle was built in the 12th century. The castle arena is used today for outdoor concerts and is a popular excursion destination. It is currently being renovated and the reopening is scheduled for mid-June.

The castle pub and courtyard with panoramic views are otherwise open to the public. Provided the calves can still handle the steps on the rocks. Four days of cycling leaves its mark. So it’s high time for the flatter east side of the sea loop.

Cycling around Lake Wörthersee is a must. It is, after all, the largest and most famous lake in Carinthia.

The approximately 50 kilometers with a detour to Lake Keutschach, whose pole houses are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, are not difficult thanks to the breaks: Selfie in front of Velden Castle on the west bank, detour to the 70 meter high Pyramidenkogel wooden view tower, then eat ice cream on the promenade in Pörtschach on north shore, lunch break under palm trees in Klagenfurt’s eastern bay, on the way back on the south shore a visit to Maria Wörth pilgrimage church and a sundowner between water lilies.

If you leave your towel at home, you will regret it. Swimsuits are part of the basic equipment for a bike ride on the Great Lakes Loop – whether it is for paddling your toes in the river water or for a swim. In addition to lidos with entrance, there are also smaller public accesses to numerous bathing lakes. They are marked with a yellow sign and a lifebelt and can be used for free for a short dip in the water.

On the last day of our trip, the bikes roll almost by themselves through Rosental. The route is determined by the river Drava. From Villach to Klopeiner See, the route is always easy downhill. On stage you will pass Frög’s Celtic world, an open-air museum from the Hallstatt period (800 to 500 BC).

During the coffee break in Rosegg Castle, a counterfeit coin comes into play. In the 19th century lived Peter Ritter von Bohr, a businessman and inventor. It was not always clear where his money came from. In any case, Bohr printed large-scale banknotes in Rosegg. At one point, he was caught out. He ended up in prison and in the history books – as Austria’s biggest counterfeiter.

Sometimes an intrusive hum can be heard on the side of the road. It is the Carnica bees that have been native here for centuries. There is even a museum dedicated to the bee, located in Ferlach near the Ferlach reservoir. The further south you go, the wider and more sea-like Drauen becomes.

Natural bays alternate with small harbors and picnic areas on the coast. There is a waterfowl observation cabin in Dragositschach Bay next to the bike path. Cranes, swans, herons, ospreys and partridges appear.

The width of the water seems calm. The blue shades are soothing. Deeply relaxed we go to the next lake.

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