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Food - Klagenfurt, Carinthia

Savouring the South

(First published in The Observer - 'Escape!' Austria travel supplement)

Don't let Klagenfurt's legendary black dragon stop you from taking the culinary tour through the bakeries, produce markets, beer houses and restaurants that characterise this lakeside town

As I stare into the nostrils of an enormous drooling black dragon, I realise this visit to Carinthia is going to be quite different from my last. I won't be riding around the lake on a Harley Davidson with a leathered, tasselled, tattooed escort. Neither will I be hurtling uncontrollably down a hillside on a mountain bike. No, this visit will be far more sedate, despite the dragon. I'm here to explore Klagenfurt and sample its cuisine.

Klagenfurt, capital of Austria's southernmost province of Carinthia, is located 60km from the Italian border. The region apparently enjoys around 2,000 sunshine hours a year and boasts a number of crystal clear lakes clean enough to drink.

On my way to Klagenfurt's main square and its 'Lindwurm' fountain, the aforementioned black dragon sculptured from slate in 1593, I notice that the town has a definite Italian flair. In fact, 16th- and 17th-century Italian master architects are behind the town's appearance, and also responsible for around 50 courtyards scattered through the town. I wonder if Carinthian cuisine has been influenced by its Mediterranean neighbour.

In the main square, I am welcomed by the appetising smell of freshly baked cakes wafting from a baker's market shop, Der Bäcker Legat. Here a batch of reindling, a traditional cake filled with cinnamon, sugar and raisins, is being prepared. As I sink my teeth into a traditionally sugar-coated reindling promptly followed by a slice of nut-whirl reindling, I watch the baker's hands swiftly rolling up another batch of sweet, spiced dough stuffed with raisins.

Dragging myself away from the sweet aromas, I discover at the tourist office that the town's emblem, the dragon, now sitting in stony silence in Neuer Platz, once ate anything and anybody who dared wander into his doman. Eventually tempted out of his dark swamp, the dragon was slaughtered by courageous farmhands and in celebration, on that spot, a peaceful village was founded.

Leaving Klagenfurt's heraldic beast to peacefully spurt water, I wander through the market only to be drawn to Ferdinand Cimzar's stall stacked high with strawberries, bananas and grapes, all coated in chocolate. After devouring a succulent chocolate-covered pineapple slice, I stroll into the pedestrian precinct of Kramergasse to be greeted by the 'little man' of Wörthersee statue holding a barrel of water which, when opened, as legend has it, flooded farmlands and created Lake Wörthersee: all because the villagers wouldn't go to church.

I detour past frescoed and Germanic buildings into Alter Platz - where reputedly one in four shops is a coffee shop - with its 17th-century buildings, monuments and Renaissance arcaded courtyards. The Landhaus building, built 1574-1594, can be found here, with its remarkable hall painted with 665 coats of arms. As I climb 225 steps up the tower of St Egyde church on Pfarrplatz for a panoramic view over Klagenfurt to Lake Wörthersee, I hope it will stand me in good stead for my evening meal.

A brief rest-stop at my hotel and I'm ready to tackle any Carinthian speciality, no matter what size the sausage, schnitzel, or dumpling. So, sitting in the thick atmosphere of crowded Bierhaus Augustin, in Pfarrhofgasse, I tuck into some kasnudeln (cheese ravioli), followed by a dish of boiled topside of beef served in the pan, with apple-horseradish, chive sauce and Lyonnaise potatoes; finishing with apple strudel (although tempted by topfenstrudel, made with ricotta-type cheese), and washed down with Augustin Wirtshausbier beer.

By choice, breakfast the next morning isn't a big affair but I'm tempted into tasting a creamy cheese 'spread' only found in Carinthia: Gelundener creme spezial. It's a white cheese left to ferment for three to four days, then heated, cumin added, and poured into a pot.

Off on my culinary trail again I'm introduced to Manfred Rotter, on Herrengasse, where salami, sausages, 'bacon' (like Parma ham but smoked), ham and meat dumplings, cram his shop. He offers me some leberkäse (a spongy paté) with creamy senf (mustard) to taste, smiling as he explains that leberkäse means 'liver-cheese' but has neither ingredient in it; it's made of pork, beef and ice (to keep it cool when blending).

The market in Benediktiner Platz beckons, where I find stalls stacked high with Carinthian goodies: white and black breads made with different corns; cheeses such as Drautaler (like emmental), Gelundener (soft/creamy), rolls of goat's cheese flavoured with chives, paprika, or pumpkin seeds; schnapps, brandy and liquors made from different fruits, nuts and berries.

There are schmankalan (snack shops) which sell traditional soup with sliced pancakes or with liver dumplings in it (at Andrea Morak's); cheese dumplings (a mix of mint, potatoes, onions and topfen cheese), and stuffed peppers.

Around 30 to 40 farmers sell at the market, but to enjoy farm produce at its very best eat at buschenschänke, farms serving only home-produced fare. There are several around picturesque Lake Wörthersee where a platter of cheese, ham, salami, salad and cider costs next-to-nothing (try Jost, Selpritsch, or Velden).

This culinary tour is thirsty work, so I pop into Pumpe, on Lidmanskygasse, a traditional inn which proves to be a good watering hole where chief executives and farmers drink happily side by side. As I down a large Puntigamer beer (they're not so keen on serving small ones), I reflect on whether Carinthian food does have an Italian influence. True, there are pasta, polenta, and ravioli-type dishes, but are they more Italian than Carinthian? There's only one answer... I'll have to return and check it out.

Getting around:

Rail or rail/bus connects Klagenfurt with larger towns in Carintha ( Bike hire/routes: details from Klagenfurt Tourist Office, Neuer Plaz (0043 4635 3722 23, The Kärten card (€35 from the tourist office or hotels) gives free admission to over 100 attractions, pleasure boats and mountain lifts. Other activities in the region include golfing, mountaineering and wellness holidays.

For more information on special offers, discounts on accommodation and car hire hire, contact Carinthia tourism, telephone 0043 4274 52100,



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Little Man

Chocolate Easter eggs

reindling preparation

Chocolate and fruit sweets

Soup dumplings

Sausages and dumplings at Fleischhauer Ratter

Strudel cakes baker

Edel Karntner

Chocolate covered fruit


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