Villach Region: Winter holidays for every taste

Hardly a winter sports region has as much to offer as Villach: ski areas on Gerlitzen Alpe and Dreiländereck, perfect conditions for ski touring and cross-country skiing in the Dobratsch nature park and, as the icing on the cake, thermal springs with leisure centres in both Warmbad-Villach and Bad Bleiberg.

Foto: Region Villach / Franz Gerdl

Foto: Region Villach / Franz Gerdl

Once round the mountain on Gerlitzen Alpe

Gerlitzen Alpe boasts a 60 kilometre network of ski slopes. The best way to explore the mountain is to follow the signs for the Stella Ronda, a combination of lifts and downhill runs that covers most of the ski area. If you want to, you can register your time for the Stella Ronda and take part in the Snow Challenge. A local celebrity will also do the circuit and the registered time closest to it at the end of the season will win. There are great prizes up for grabs, including a car.

Snow machines ensure reliable snow cover on all the slopes. In addition, cooling towers chill the water so that they can start making snow as early as possible. Before the last winter season, a new parking level was opened at the cable car base station in Annenheim. There is now a total of 3,600 parking spaces available at the access points to the ski area – Annenheim, Klösterle and on the mountain. Another bonus: the Gerlitzen cable car starts operating at 8.15am. This winter, the ski season on Gerlitzen Alpe officially opens on 6 December.

Special quality seal for beginners. Gerlitzen Alpe has an excellent reputation for the standard of its runs, which led the operators to apply for the Welcome Beginners seal of quality. Experts from the Cable Car Association then checked whether the ski area is actually suitable for beginners and returners to the sport. Gerlitzen Alpe was Carinthia’s only ski area to meet the stringent audit requirements.

Hotels and restaurants. What would a ski day be without stopping for refreshments? No problem on Gerlitzen with its twelve chalet restaurants. Unlike many of the very large ski areas, they do not cater for the masses but attach importance to serving good food. Here you will find local specialities prepared in the kitchens and not ready-cooked meals from wholesalers. You are also spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation with modern hotels located right on the mountain.

Dreiländereck: three-country corner

If you stand at the summit of Dreiländereck, you will be in Austria, Italy and Slovenia at the same time. The cross is located exactly on the border between the three countries. To get up to the summit cross and 17 kilometres of runs, you can take the Jet chairlift. Protected by a bubble shield, the ride only takes eight minutes. Ski clubs and sports groups appreciate the fact that Dreiländereck is not only easily accessible from the motorway but also provides ideal training conditions. For refreshments on the mountain there is Dreiländertreff and Dreiländereckhütte. The children’s ski courses are reasonably priced, while the ski kindergarten is free. If alpine skiing is not for you, alternatives include an 8.4-km-long natural toboggan run and free snow shoe walks organised once a week.

Popular Warmbad-Villach: spa, fun & fitness

It is now over a year since the KärntenTherme leisure centre opened its doors in Warmbad Villach. In the Fun zone (total water area covering 1,140 sq m), the kids and thrill-seeking young at heart are in their element. Attractions include the Crazy River with uphill section, two enclosed slides and wavy wide slide. Not forgetting the 25 metre training pool, thermal hot tub and outdoor leisure pool. Those who go to the new thermal baths less for fun and more for exercise will feel at home in the gym (700 sq m).

The new Spa zone (2,000 sq m) has saunas, hammam, special ladies’ area, inviting relaxation rooms and a separate thermal water pool. In the treatment rooms you can lie back and enjoy the latest in massage and beauty treatments. Developed by leading medical and health professionals, the Energy Cube for example combines five effective methods to achieve wellbeing: light for strengthening the immune system, aromatherapy for your inner balance, music and suggestion therapy for relaxation and deep heat to relieve muscle tension.

Healing with water. In addition to fun and leisure at the new thermal baths, the Warmbad-Villach resort still focuses on therapy. At 29.9C, the warm thermal water has a pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect making it ideal for treating musculoskeletal system complaints. A special feature in Warmbad is the thermal spring pool with warm thermal water constantly bubbling up through the floor. As a result, the water is changed naturally every three hours.

Thermal spa resort for centuries. The Warmbad-Villach spa resort looks back on a long history: the Celts soothed away their aches and pains in the hot springs, as did the Romans who conquered the Celts around 15 BC. It was not until about 1,000 years later that Warmbad springs first appeared in records under the name of Fontes Salinarum. The next mention dates back to the end of the Middle Ages when a pool was built to contain the water from the springs. At that time there was also a house for giving visitors food and lodging. In the 18th century Napoleon himself heard about the Warmbad springs and even planned to turn them into international baths. Today the Napoleon Meadows, the starting point for many walks and jogging trails, are still a reminder of his time here.

Bad Bleiberg: valley of thermal springs

In the Bleiberg Valley, about half an hour’s drive from Villach, mining went on for centuries until miners drilled into a thermal spring in 1951. The accident turned out to be a stroke of luck, as the mining village soon became a spa resort with public thermal baths.

Bad Bleiberg’s therapy centre opened in 2003. Patients suffering from poor circulation and respiratory diseases or who have problems with their musculoskeletal system find relief here.

A unique feature of Bad Bleiberg is its two health galleries, a reminder of the village’s history as a mining centre. The air in the galleries is a constant 8 degrees Celsius at 99 per cent relative humidity. This and the fact they are absolutely dust and pollen free make them ideal for people with respiratory disorders and rheumatic complaints.

More sun in Dobratsch nature park

On average, 45 days of sunshine are registered on Dobratsch between November and January. This makes the mountain one of the areas in Austria where the sun shines most frequently.

Up until a few years ago you could ski here, but it has now been turned into a nature park that is more famous for eco-tourism. The Villach Alpine Road takes you as far as the Rosstratte car park at 1,732 metres above sea level. From there you can easily reach the summit of Dobratsch on foot at an altitude of 2,166 metres. The footpath is not very steep and you are rewarded at the end with breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains. Right under the summit cross there is a new restaurant, which was built a few years ago according to the latest passive house guidelines.

If you want to explore the nature park away from the winter trails, you should hire snowshoes. The more energetic may prefer to head for car park 6 on the road beside the alpine rock garden where the 5.4 km cross-country ski trail starts. Children are well catered for at Rosstratte. There is a winter playground for them there with a tobogganing hill.

The ski touring mountain. As ski touring has become increasingly popular, Dobratsch – a former ski area – has also gained in importance. Tourers of all abilities are now to be seen on the mountain. It is advisable for beginners to attempt the summit from the Rosstratte car park initially. The 430 metre elevation gain takes a good hour. More proficient skiers can start in Heiligengeist and climb up the old ski run with skins fixed to their skis. It is a scenic route and guaranteed avalanche free. You do however need to be reasonably fit, as the elevation gain of 1,180 metres up to the summit is not for the faint hearted.

In addition to the Dobratsch summit restaurant mentioned above, there is also Aichingerhütte just below Rosstratte. The Rosstrattenstüberl is also renowned for its regional specialities. Its owner Andrea Riedel is particularly proud of her Carinthian-style ravioli.

Ski jumping centre. At the foot of Dobratsch there is Villach’s Alpen Arena (www.villacheralpenarena.at). The Nordic ski centre with its 90, 60, 30 and 15 metre jumps is open all year round. Local ski jumping heroes such as Thomas Morgenstern and Martin Koch also come here every now and again to train.

The Nordic facilities at the Arena include a 5 km cross-country ski trail. Of it, 3 km are a race track homologated by FIS that can be served by snow machines and floodlit.

Festive Villach

This year Villach’s Christmas market, which is located throughout the historic centre, will open on 22 November. The traditional part of the market with its wooden huts forms a circle around the main parish church, the stalls selling food and drinks are located on the main square and the craft market is in the grounds of the Parkhotel.

At the end of November, the square beside the town hall is also turned into an ice rink. Pets’ corner, pony rides and puppet shows round off the programme for children. The run-up to Christmas would not be complete without the parade of masked devils and demons on 29 November. Originally intended to drive out winter, the dark figures with shaggy coats and loud bells add to the local colour. You can also watch carvers at work making the masks.

Christ Child brings gifts. Three days before Christmas, on 22 December, Villach’s Bauerngman (a charitable organisation run by local businessmen) will stage an Advent event for the third time. Arriving on a River Drau cruise boat, the Christ Child together with the Three Wise Men and a host of angels will land in Villach. The shepherds (local children) will then escort the Baby Jesus in a festive procession to the square beside the town hall. There it will hand over presents to the Bauerngman who will give them to needy children.

Renaissance-style town. The many Renaissance-style buildings in the historic centre of Villach help to give it a Mediterranean atmosphere. When visiting the Christmas markets, a stroll through the back streets where the typical cafés and bars are often tucked away is also a must. And naturally also the shops. If you prefer a roof over your head when browsing, you can head for the ATRIO shopping centre a few kilometres south of the town centre. It covers an area of 28,000 sq m with over 80 shops, cafés and restaurants and 2,000 parking spaces catering for even the largest crowds. Perfect for parents: the Lollipop play area, 600 sq m in size, where time passes quickly for the little ones while the grown-ups do their shopping in peace.

“Lei lei” is the local Carnival Guild’s traditional greeting and often heard during their cabaret shows staged at Villach congress centre. The highlights of the shows are televised throughout Austria on Shrove Tuesday. If you want to see how the locals celebrate the period before Lent, the best time is Carnival Saturday (1 March 2014) where everyone, no matter what age, is out on the streets in fancy dress for Villach’s colourful parade. The Sunday after is reportedly one of the quietest days in Villach…

Winter camping

If you are a serious camper, you are hardly likely to be put off by sub-zero temperatures. Many campsite operators are responding to increased demand here and remaining open all year round.

The site and beach in Annenheim on Lake Ossiach, for example, welcomed winter campers for the first time last year and was pleased with results. This year it will be open from 20 December 2013 until 30 March 2014. Catering and sanitary facilities are naturally suitable for winter. Amenities include heated ski boot racks, a drier for ski suits and lockable ski racks. The free ski shuttle to the Gerlitzen cable car stops at the door.

In addition, four other campsites in the region are open at least for part of the winter season.

Getting to the ski area without a car

The Gerlitzen Alpe ski bus service operates between all the resorts on Lake Ossiach (Ossiach, Steindorf, Bodensdorf, Sattendorf and Annenheim), the Villach area and the Kanzelbahn lift station. What’s more, it’s free of charge! Another free ski bus service takes holidaymakers from Lake Faak to the Dreiländereck ski area. And then there are the post buses (tickets required) that take ski touring freaks, cross-country skiers and winter walkers up to Dobratsch, and the train services to Annenheim where the railway station is only a few steps away from the Gerlitzen Alpe lift station.

A map gives you all the information you need on the ski buses with details of routes and times. It is available from the local tourist offices or can be downloaded at www.region-villach.at.

 For your diary

  • 22 Nov – 24 Dec 2013: Villach Advent
  • 29 Nov – 1 Dec, 6-8 Dec, 13-15 Dec and 20-22 Dec 2013: Christmas market at Ferien Idyll Landgut Lindenhof in Bodensdorf
  • 6 Dec 2013: Gerlitzen ski season opening
  • 7 Dec 2013: Dreiländereck ski season opening (depending on snow conditions)
  • 15 Dec 2013: ski school’s free ski test (Elan, Blizzard) on Gerlitzen Alpe
  • 20/21 Dec 2013: Sport Falle’s free ski test (Atomic, Fischer, Head) on Gerlitzen Alpe
  • 22 Dec 2013: Bauerngman Advent in Villach
  • 23 Dec 2013: start of the Stella Ronda Snow Challenge on Gerlitzen Alpe
  • 24 Dec 2013: Christmas Eve ski day on Gerlitzen Alpe – children (born in 1999-2007) go free
  • 26-31 Dec 2013: New Year’s market in Villach’s historic centre
  • 31 Dec 2013: various New Year’s Eve parties in Villach and the region
  • 3-6 Jan 2014: 25th Int’l Lake Ossiach Ice Hockey Cup at the Ossiach indoor rink
  • 10 Jan – 22 Feb 2014: Villach Carnival Guild’s cabaret shows
  • 13 Jan 2014: Epiphany market in Villach
  • 1 Mar 2014: carnival parade in Villach
  • 16 Mar 2014: Dreiländereck end of season race
  • 4-6 Apr and 11-13 Apr 2014: Easter market at Ferien Idyll Landgut Lindenhof in Bodensdorf
  • 6 Apr 2014: Goodbye winter, Gerlitzen season finale
  • 10-19 Apr 2014: Villach Easter market

Information and bookings:

Villach-Warmbad • Faaker See • Ossiacher See Tourismus

Töbringer Str. 1 • 9523 Villach-Landskron, Austria

Tel: +43 4242 42000–56 • Fax ext: 42

E-mail: meissnitzer@region-villach.atwww.region-villach.at

You can find our digital picture archive at www.region-villach.at.

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