The people of the Nockberge Biosphere Reserve in Austria feel rather ignored – and that is just the way they like it. For this is a stunningly beautiful and delightfully peaceful oasis that mass tourism has largely passed by.
Named after the rounded peaks that dominate the region it is a welcome contrast to the rugged Tauern mountains farther north and west. Dotted with lakes and thick with forest this is an area where nature is firmly in control.
Bordering both Italy and Slovenia to the south this is a part of the Carinthia (Karnten) region. As well as lying away from Austria’s east-west axis, where most of the big name destinations seem to sit, it is also far enough from the main north-south artery roads – where through traffic speeds down to the Balkans and the Med – to keep its rural charm.
Once a National Park Nockberge’s status has now been changed to Biosphere Reserve to allow controlled use of the land by the local people. This means sustainable farming with hand reared livestock and organic foods. It also means that development of the local tourist facilities, which include three ski resorts, is in tune with the environment.
The result is that this is a delightful place to spend a holiday. The locals are welcoming, the scenery unspoilt and the hotels and resorts attractive and laid back.
We stayed in a very special group of rustic mountain huts – Das Almdorf (read our review here) – an ingenious hybrid of mountain village and a luxury hotel. In the heart of the Biosphere Reserve this is the perfect base from which to explore what there is to offer. And there is a lot.
Many treat the area as a destination in its own right but it can equally well fit as part of a wider tour. The whole region is within striking distance of historic Salzburg, or like us, you can fly in to Ljubljana in Slovenia, just a couple of hours drive away.
In winter it is just a short drive to any one of three excellent ski resorts. Bad Kleinkirchheim – famously home to national ski hero Franz Klammer – is the biggest of the three. Over 100km of pistes run along the valley-side towards St Oswald with plenty of vertical uplift and nicely varied terrain.
Türrächer Hohe is about half the size with a dozen lifts and 42km of runs – but despite this you get lots of bang for your buck with a very well organised system, delightful rolling runs through the trees, panoramic views and excellent facilities.
The smallest is the absolutely charming family-oriented Falkert Ski Area. This has very successfully rebranded itself closely with the Heidi story – there is a Heidi Alm Hotel and of course Heidi children’s lifts and fun parks.
Advanced skiers will find little – except after fresh snow when they’re likely to get a free run at a giant bowl of virgin powder. The Heidi story is apparently big in Japan and it is amusing to discover that it has also become a must-visit destination for passing coaches.
We visited Nockberge in winter, but its easy to see the attraction of a summer break here. It is a fabulous area for biking and walking – the area lying on part of the long-distance Alpe-Adria Trail, whilst wildlife watchers will discover snow eagles, alpine salamanders and cutesy marmots.
The local villages are picture-postcard whilst a little farther afield in Carinthia there are medieval towns, giant castles or swimming lakes with crystal clear water that is both drinkable and remarkably warm.
We cannot imagine a better area for either an active or relaxing holiday – but please don’t spread the word too far…
For more information visit www.biosphaerenparknockberge.at