Powerful places full of energy. As well as the odd, revolutionary spirit among its people. Such is our welcome to the Upper Gailtal valley in southern Carinthia. The steep mountain summits to the south already breathe in the fresh, southern air, as do the people whose spirits soar at least as high as the surrounding mountains: It is nothing less than the best of two worlds that are married here, in local foodie terms called “Alpe Adria Kärnten“. As of recent, this name has become synonymous with the world’s first “Slow Food Travel” destination, whose culinary epicentre is located in a small town by the name of Kötschach-Mauthen. Intrigued to find out more? Here is where your next Austrian foodie trip should lead you.
Our (road) trip to Kötschach-Mauthen is well over 400km from Lower Austria. Fortunately for us, it is a stellar “Slow Food Dinner” we are welcomed to here …
… at the “origin of good taste” and the “tastiest corner of Carinthia” (yes, they do know their marketing jargon out here). The locals we meet are proud, but not the kind of pride that equals arrogance. Much rather, it is a sense of pride that comes from working tirelessly in order to receive critical, and interested, travellers like us.
The fresh trout served with wild garlic and home-made bread? Caught at the fish farm Zankl in Weidenburg and baked at the bakery Matitz in Kötschach. The “Camemberg” soup with “Waldstaudenkracker” (don’t ask me to translate that;)? Spiced up and served with a refreshing pint of local Loncium craft beer. The fried Carinthian “Kasnudl” (a kind of ravioli filled with cheese) served with salad? Its ingredients delivered by the Baierlehof Goderschach farm estate in Grünwald as well as the veggie farm Kollmitzer in Würmlach. You see, all the food we eat here, their ways of transport and our art of eating it, is about the celebration of slow.
Breakfast too, of course, is slow. Taken either straight from the Hansbauernhof farm or at the local gourmet restaurant Sissy Sonnleitner in Kötschach-Mauthen.
My favourite meal in the day is breakfast. You can win my heart by preparing me a truly lavish breakfast brunch! The Kärntner Gailtal valley therefore has me fall for it at least two times: Once after a morning run with my friends Jürgen & Lucia (phew!), and on the day after at the “Land Of Plenty Breakfast” at the top gourmet restaurant of Sissy & Stefanie Sonnleitner. Mmmh …
More food? Impossible. That’s why, in between, we actually did do some “work”. Preparing a special type of white corn, that is: A tough, hands-on job. Repackaged and branded as “creative travel” – yes!
Sepp Brandstätter, who we are meeting here, is a true local character. He did sue and has already been sued. “It’s part of the game, if you want to stand up against the industry”, he shrugs and smiles defiantly. Standing amid his fields, he talks to us about preparing the soil, about what “organic” really means and how much work it is to look at each one of his famous, white country corn grains separately. “You see, among hundreds of pieces of single corn grains, there’s the odd dark ones in here. These have to go. We sort it all out by hand, no machine is as meticulous as we are. A winter’s work, but it’s worth it – for the quality we have.” And adds, ironically: “Earlier on, our ancestors in fact knew everything they had to know for delivering good quality and still protecting the soil they worked with. It is us who need to learn and listen again.”
We continue our journey to meet yet another, “creative bullhead”: Herwig Ertl & his super well-stocked gourmet food shop in Kötschach-Mauthen. That’s one high quality product per each of the 2.000 inhabitants here.
“This will never work … Who should be buying all of this?!” Visionaries such as Herwig Ertl, who stand in row with more advocates of high cuisine in Austria, like Josef Zotter or Johannes Gutmann, always have to hear first why their ideas just can’t work. “You really have to be a little crazy in order to go different ways. To be different from the rest of the pack”, Herwig tells us with a smile, before breaking into a theatrical pose: After acting a manifest for good taste, he happily welcomes us to his top gourmet food shop, which of course is much more than just a shop. A foodlover’s heaven is more like it. So many different sights, sounds and scents, it is hard to equal what Herwig Ertl has managed to pull up in a matter of only a few years. Check this out.
Only a few kilometres away, we find our ultimate resting place: “Biohotel Daberer”. I know from its powerful, and peaceful atmosphere, that I shall make it back here one day. Soon, I hope.
A fascinating spot, quietly tucked away at the foothills of the surrounding mountain forests, whereas the rooms of the hotel open up towards the broadening Gailtal valley to the East. Oh, to see the morning sun rise through the valley … In the evening, as we take a seat over our last “Slow Food Travel menu“, the feeling of being in this place, together with my friends, and welcomed by such a lovely family, is just perfect. Now all that’s missing is to repeat my barefoot forest walk, and a yoga session as I see myself coming back soon …
Here is what my friends and fellow travel writers have published about our trip:
- Corinna & Florian (TravelPins.at): “Slow Food Travel im Lesachtal: Ursprünglichkeit im naturbelassensten Tal der Alpen” & “Slow Food Travel im Gailtal: Zu Gast im köstlichsten Eck Kärntens“
- Gudrun Krinzinger (Reisebloggerin.at): “Slow Food Travel Alpe Adria” & “Der Mühlenweg in Maria Luggau“
- Angelika Mandler (Wiederunterwegs.com): “Als Vorkosterin unterwegs: Slow Food Travel in Kärnten“
- Anita Arneitz (AnitaAufReisen.at): “Wenn des, wos da is, zur Marke wird: Slow-Food-Travel im Gailtal und Lesachtal” & “Kulinarische Schätze in Kärnten erleben“
- Christina Leutner (CitySeaCountry.com): “(Vegan) Unterwegs in der weltweit 1. Slow Food Travel Region | Im köstlichsten Eck von Kärnten“
- Lucia Täubler (DieKremserinOnTheGo): “Traum einer Kunsthistorikerin: Maria Loggau” & “SlowFood Travel im Aufbruch: vom Feinsten“
- Melanie & Jürgen Schlotze (LifeTravellerz.com): “Auszeit in Kärnten – Ein Plädoyer für echtes Essen!“
Disclaimer: We have been invited by the Nassfeld-Lesachtal-Weissensee destination in order to explore “Carinthia’s tastiest corner” as part of our annual Austrian Travel Blogger Meet-up. All opinions are my own.