FOLLOWING THE TRAIL OF CARINTHIAN INCENTIVES
Weathermen forecast the end of the third summer heat wave, and so following the baking sunshine came the rains that unveil nature’s beauty, refreshing both our senses and the luminous views of the green panoramas offered by the Karavanke mountain range. The slender silhouettes of birches across its horizon tell the stories of a thousand lives and set the scene for a play of relaxed summer freedom and exciting days. Today’s dowsing of mercilessly falling raindrops that clean the magical backdrop of a vacation in the midst of the Alps is rather special and the pine tree in front of our apartment, standing like a summer sentry, is a solitary reminder of last week’s hot summer days.
In any case, I love such rainy summer days more than the idyllic scenes of iconic postcards that can be found in front of every store. It’s on such days that I truly decide if I like a tourist destination or not, and sometimes even if it likes me! Our relationship can swing and evolve from hate at first sight to being long-term lovers. I could go on forever about places in the back of beyond that have either completely affronted me or left me feeling utterly charmed. Summer storms in the Adriatic scare the tourists away and appeal to the more adventurous, and chilled and refreshed tourist destinations can either shine in their true light or else fail miserably. It is when the richness of the offer reveals itself in its completely raw state. I’m also not the kind to be inclined to follow hordes of soaking wet tourists into shopping malls; I want to see the pearls that are usually hidden from the regular tourist’s eye.
When the attractiveness of a destination discloses itself to its very last atom, my mind starts wandering back to my student days, to a time when we talked about the index of touristic appeal with the legendary geographer Professor Jeršič. It’s mostly down to the contact between land and water, green forest borders, imposing peaks and basically everything that you won’t find at home. “Carum rarum” refreshed by the bad weather factor is starting to grow on me more each year. The more it’s out in the sticks, the happier I am, and those destinations are usually the most authentic, far from the seemingly endless tourist traps.
With all this in mind and from a regional meeting planner’s perspective, Carinthia is definitely an overlooked incentive destination, which considering its wide array of teambuilding and fun motivational programmes is rather unfair. I dare say that the geographical triangle between Salzburg, Venice and Ljubljana is the European incentive offer epicentre with the most ideal conditions for further development. The somewhat forgotten Alpe Adria region is home to almost 30 million people and also some of the most successful and high profile European companies.
My last trip to Carinthia was, therefore, a hunt for the best incentive programmes in the region, most of which function successfully on the market with a big focus on individual groups, although the programmes can easily be adapted to suit the more demanding incentive groups. Here are some of my favourite incentive ideas you can find in Carinthia:
1. A rally through scenic Alpine mountain passes
For those who love to step on the gas, the thrill of twisty bends and all in scenes of pristine nature are bound to have a blast on five of the most scenic and fascinating driving roads anywhere in the world, roads that have attracted car launch organisers and have served as backdrops for many popular movies. This can also be a great teambuilding programme that can involve testing out both your driving and geographical skills.
Start off by visiting the Villacher Alpenstrasse that will lead you through green mountain meadows until after 14 kilometres you reach the Dobratsch Natural Park. Your eagerness to explore will probably be kicking in by then and you will want to drive up the Goldeck Panoramstrasse, near Spitall an der Drau, or the Nockalmstrasse near Bad Kleinkircheim. However, the queen of all the alpine roads is undoubtedly the Grossklockner High Alpine Road that nestles into the hills, follows the course of the landscape and wraps around the mountains like a glove.
A rally programme can be spiced up with a treasure hunt at one of the many car museums that aren’t too hard to come by in Carinthia. The programme would require a full two days and the choice of vehicle all depends on how deep your pockets are.
2. Wine tasting in Carinthia?
Believe it or not, Carinthia is well known for its wine production and quality wines. It has been part of the region’s tradition since the middle ages, but became virtually non-existent soon after the first world war. The wine revolution started after 1972 and by the turn of the century Carinthia was already producing some excellent wines.
Most of the winemakers are united under the weinauskarnten.at consortium and will be happy to share information about the region’s terroir and characteristics of the different wines with your incentive group. The predominant varieties are Chardonnay, Weissburgunder, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Traminer and Blauer Burgunder. The main wine region stretches from Eastern Carinthia in Wolfsberg to St. Paul, and in a town called Sitterrsdorf you will even find the oldest wine cellars in Austria. The consortium brings together 25 passionate wine makers who are carrying on the wine making tradition in Carinthia.
3. Tracking down the Carinthian Salmon and Caviar
Karnten Laxn is a salmon trout from the Salmonidae family of ray-finned fish that used to be found in Carinthian lakes. It wasn’t uncommon for the fishermen to catch salmon trout that weighed over 20kg. People accredit the quality of their meat to the crystal-clear water of Carinthian lakes and the fact that there aren’t many fish of this species swimming in them anymore.
One of the oldest fish farms is located by Feld am See and it has been dealing with fish since 1950 – Kärnten Fisch. They also offer incentive programmes, where they will show you how to catch fish and tell you everything you should know about them. You will also be able to try out some of their famous fish products, from fresh fish, smoked and marinated trout to caviar, a culinary delicacy that has no match. After visiting the fish farm, you can test out the quality in one of the famous Carinthian restaurants that prepares the specialty with a lot of heart and passion.
4. Eagle Show Landskron
The remains of Landskron Castle near Villach conceal something quite special – a sanctuary for birds of prey, famous for its spectacular eagle shows. The “eagle arena” is the highest point of the Landskron hill, where beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and Villach have become the backdrop for the show.
Almost three decades ago the bird shelter was the dream of Franz Schüttelkopf, the famous hawker, and today watching the birds swoop past your head, then fly sky high before beginning a sudden and fierce dive for the bait attached to the moving cable system is a truly exciting experience. All of the birds have been raised at the shelter and many of them had to be taught how to fly. The birds have a wing-span of up to 2 metres and Franz always ensures that they return to the starting point, his extended arm, protected by a thick leather glove.
During the show you will learn some interesting facts about the birds, their habits and how they live in the wild. The shelter also takes care of wounded wild birds, so they can be returned to nature. You can combine the experience with some great cuisine at the castle’s restaurant and its medieval spaces with scenic views.
5. Carinthia Slow-Food Journey
The Slow Food Movement strives to keep alive traditional Carinthian dishes and ways of making them, maintaining the native livestock and produce, taking care of the consumer’s health, and generally ensuring a better sense of responsibility for the food industry. Carinthia has long been a “foody” heaven and the best way for your group to infiltrate the culinary heart and soul of the destination is through the slow food programme.
You will follow old fashioned recipes and get a chance to learn how to make bread and cheese, brew your own beer and get familiar with the traditional way of making smoked ham and beekeeping. Carinthia’s cuisine isn’t just a food thing – it’s more of a way of life, a life that supports the local food industry, bio-diversity, native species of animals and plants, traditional produce and dishes, all whilst connecting production with good gastronomy. A dinner that incorporates all of the above will get you closer to the first-class culinary story of Carinthia in a creative and relaxed environment.