After a thrilling visit to Graz the day before, we were preparing an even bigger adventure today: a day trip to the so-called Dreiländerecke. There, one can get from Austria to Italy and Slovenia in just a couple of hours! And you don’t even need to look for cheap flights, you can just go by car.
The charm of Central Europe is its variety of scenery and its short distances, and within a few hours of traveling through the Austrian province of Carinthia, we arrived in Val Canale, a place where the three countries meet. (By the way, this is also the only place where Germanic, Romance, and Slavic language families come together right next to each other!)
From Austria to Italy and Slovenia by car
We left early in the morning with the intention to travel from Austria to Italy, then to Slovenia. We began with a drive from my home province of Styria along the A2 motorway to the Austrian province of Carinthia. The trip through the western mountains of Styria is particularly beautiful and the picturesque city of Carinthia (Krnten, in German) offers really nice views.
The province of Carinthia is the southernmost province of Austria. It is almost 280 km long, but only 45-50 km wide in some regions. The western part of the region is characterized by the Austrian High Alps, while the eastern part is distinguished by broad valleys and medium-altitude mountains.
Carinthia is an incredibly popular tourist destination. Its scenic lakes (e.g. Wörthersee, Ossiacher See, Millstätter See, Weissensee, and many others) are a major tourist attraction in summer, and in winter this province has several excellent ski resorts for those interested in skiing in Austria.
When we left from Austria to Italy and Slovenia, we were heading to the Mangart Mountain, which is located in the latter of the three countries. With a height of 2,679 meters, it is the fourth highest mountain in the Julian Alps. (This section of the Alps extends from north-eastern Italy to Slovenia and was named after Julius Cesar.) The primary mineral in this range is the limestone, creating several prominent and jagged mountain peaks.
The peak of Mangart Mountain is most easily reached from the Italian side, so we crossed the Austrian-Italian border at Thorl-Maglern. Since these countries are both EU Member States, we didn’t even have to give our passports when crossing from Austria to Italy. We just went to the border town of Tarvisio and turned left into a mountain river valley that would lead us to our destination.
Our drive from Austria to Italy took us through picturesque mountain villages that seemed very isolated and secluded, and less than half an hour from Tarvis we reached the stunning Lago del Predil (Predil Lake), a magnificent lake with green and turquoise waters, framed by a spectacular mountain panorama.
We stopped for a brief photo break and continued our ascent of the Julian Alps past various switchbacks and remnants of fortifications dating back to World War I.
Many mountains in this area were actually scenes of the mountain warfare that characterized the First World War. Big combat operations took place in this area up in the high mountains between the start of 1915 and the end of 1917, and more than 300,000 Austro-Hungarian and Italian troops were killed in those battles. So therețs plenty to see as you go by car from Austria to Italy and Slovenia.
In the end, our drive from Austria to Italy and Slovenia took us to the Italian-Slovenian border. We proceeded on the flanks of the Mangart Range, but our vehicle began to overheat. My brother stopped to have a look, and we started to suspect that the engine cooling fan was not working. As a result, we could not continue climbing the steep roads and had to turn back to the valley.
We were all a little sad that we could not continue our drive from Austria to Italy and Slovenia as planned, but we were fast on our feet and determined to think of an alternate place to explore. My brother suggested going back to the Tarvisio region of Italy and getting the cable car to Monte San Lussari. Since the route was mostly downhill, our car was able to cool down and we were able to continue our journey there.
Going up on the Monte Lussari cable car in Italy
We continued our trip from Austria to Italy and back by going south of Tarvisio through the village of Camporosso, whose name is said to go back to the red toads that were said to populate the area. We arrived at the base station of the Monte Lussari cable car, and then the three of us took a ride in one of its 91 cabins.
We were also able to take my brother’s dog with us on the eleven-minute ride up the mountain. As we climbed, the mountain views became more and more spectacular. When we got off the ride, I was surprised to see a small mountain village on top of the mountain.
This village we discovered during our trip from Austria to Italy has actually been a popular pilgrimage spot for more than 600 years, though.
Legend has it that in 1360 a farmer was searching for stray sheep and found them standing beside a shrub, and, when he came closer, he saw that there was a wooden portrait of Mother Mary with the Baby Jesus there. He picked up the wooden icon and took it down to the village to give it to the priest of the parish. The next day, however, the portrait was again on the mountain, surrounded by sheep again. The miraculous occurrence was observed for the third time, so a senior church official gave an order to build a church at the site where the icon was discovered.
Several buildings surround this church, and almost all of them are houses, restaurants or retail stores where you can pick up souvenirs and religious objects. Several restaurants have outdoor terraces or balconies with unforgettable views. We then went across the small market area and walked up a few meters to the peak of Monte Lussari, where we admired a stunning 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountains.
As it was already lunchtime, we decided to relax on one of the balconies looking south to the Italian Alps and take a longer break from our drive from Austria to Italy. On that beautiful clear day, we admired Cima di Cacciatore (Hunters Mountain) while the fresh Alpine breeze excited our appetite. We each ordered a dish called Tris which consisted of three types of pasta served with porcini mushrooms and local sheep cheese.
After that, we decided to walk a little further down the hill then take the cable car down into the valley. Once at the base, we went to Tarvisio, where we stopped for about an hour to scope out the local market. Of course, my brother picked up some Italian delicatessen for later!
Tarvisio is the main town in the Val Canale region of Italy, a very special location because it is the only place where major European language groups come together in a rare cluster. Tarvisio itself was part of Austria-Hungary until 1918, and the town used to be mostly German-speaking. It has been an important market town for many years and has benefited from border trade with Austria and the former Yugoslavia and, nowadays, Slovenia. There is still a significant amount of retail activity going on the weekends to the present day, so you could do some serious shopping when you travel from Austria to Italy.
Monte Lussari cable car
Normally open between 09.00 and 16.00. Between 1 June and 29 September, the cable car runs from Monday to Saturday between 09.00 and 17.15, and on Sunday between 08.30 and 18.30.
The Monte Lussari cable car is also open at night until 22.45 on 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30 August.
Tickets cost 14.00 for adults and 10.50 for children and teens. Children up to 8 years can ride for free.
Address: 33018 Tarvisio, Province of Udine, Italy | See on map
Tel. +39 0428 653915
Traveling back from Italy to Austria
As the afternoon was passing by fast, we decided to start our journey back to the eastern part of Austria, which was about three hours. Next to the Carinthian town of Klagenfurt, however, we had a traffic jam on the highway and the persistent stop and go movement took our car next to overheating again.
So before starting the climb into the mountains between Carinthia and Styria, we headed to a parking lot to let the car cool down. We had finally reached our hometown of Weiz in the late afternoon, and my brother and sister-in-law were looking forward to resting after our exhausting trip.
After going from Austria to Italy & back, I wasn’t done!
To be honest, I had a little snooze in my car seat, so I was able to go on exploring. So I hopped back into my rental car and decided to continue with a visit near the city.
I rode across the picturesque Weiz Gorge along the Weiz River to the highlands of the mountains that surround my hometown. I went up to the area of Sommeralm, a terrain marked by high altitude alpine meadows, situated at about 1,200 meters. Most of the fields are above the tree line and cows graze freely there in the wide, open spaces. I saw a local farmer feed his cows while I continued to drive along the narrow road that connects the Sommeralm with the adjacent Teichalm region (the word Alm refers to an Alpine meadow or pasture).
Some years ago, seven small local municipalities joined together to create the region called Almenland, which simply means the Alpine meadow country. The Sommeralm-Teichalm Tourism Area is the highest contiguous high-altitude alpine meadow in Europe. It is a protected natural park area that provides opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing, and admiring beautiful mountain views. Several restaurants and bed and breakfasts provide excellent Austrian cuisine and lodging, and travelers can go paddle boating on the nearby lake.
I parked my car at the Teichwirt, a big local restaurant, and began walking around the lake.
At the southern end of the lake, there is an enormous statue of the Alpine Ox, a sign of the successful local free-grazing livestock enterprise that markets its goods to various restaurants in the area. Every summer more than 4,000 Alpine oxen graze in this area and apparently the meat they produce is the most popular brand in Austria.
I walked past a very rustic restaurant and local entertainment center called Latschenhütte, a place that features Alpine disco parties every Tuesday. They also have culinary-themed weeks, open-air concerts, a summer running trophy, the Advent market in winter and many more. Typical Styrian live music is also offered on a regular basis and this complex of wooden structures is a popular entertainment destination for people from the surrounding area.
Just next to it, I stopped to watch another herd of cows grazing, and I was fascinated by a pair of them that were horsing around (or should it be cowing around?) with each other. They snuggled together, occasionally one tried to playfully jump the other, and all in all, they seemed to be having a good time.
The sun was setting and the air was getting cold, and I was ready to end my trip through Austria and Italy for the day. So I began my drive home past the mountain villages of Fladnitz and Passail. These are two places in the Passail Basin, a high-altitude plateau that is surrounded by mountainous terrain on all sides.
I’ve had an amazing day, starting with the trip from Austria to Italy and Slovenia and back and finishing with yet another visit near my hometown Weiz. And tired as I was, I was already dreaming of going from Austria to Italy again or taking some new challenges the next day!
Alternative to travel from Austria to Italy and Slovenia: take the train!
You can also take the night train for Italy and Slovenia to see the Dreiländerecke region in Europe.
Sarah Grossman was born in Austria but moved to Canada after college. She is an avid and savvy planner and organizer of worldwide travel and enjoys sharing her personal stories to encourage, inspire, and help other travelers.
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