Gailtal Valley in East Tyrol & Carinthia:
Alpine Delights in Austria′s South
The Gailtal is a valley that runs through East Tyrol and Carinthia in the south of Austria. The Gailtal was named after the river Gail, which can be found at the base of the valley. Note that "geil" is pronounced the same way and means "horny" or "hot" - an eternal source of bad jokes at the cost of the Gailtal and its residents. The starting point of the Horny Valley is generally assumed to be at Tillach in East Tyrol; it ends at Carinthian Villach, where the Gail flows into the river Drau at Maria Gail ("Horny Mary" - you see where this is taking German speakers with a soft spot for middle school boy sense of humour). The Lesachtal is geographically also an extension of the Gailtal, but not considered so under that name.
The Gailtal is a popular tourist destination for its scenery and excellent opportunities for hiking as well as winter sports. It is a relatively wide valley, yet the mountains surrounding it come with rather impressive cliffs. The northern mountain range comprises of the Lienzer Dolomiten and the Gailtaler Alpen, the southern one of the Karnische Alpen and the Karawanken range. The Carinthian part of the Gailtal is the more famous one and extends over two administrative districts, Hermagor and Villach-Land; the East Tyrolean part belongs to the district of Lienz (obviously, that′s the only district of East Tyrol).
Towns, Sights & Geography of the Gailtal
Hermagor is the commercial and administrative centre. The Nassfeld is a well-known skiing area and even though Carinthia does not offer the greatest slopes of the country, places like the Nassfeld often provide particularly good facilities for families with children or elderly skiers. The "Karnischer Höhenweg" a very popular and scenic hiking route in the Gailtal. Summer tourism is also strong around the lake Ressegger See, where water sports are popular.
The lower part of the Gailtal has an interesting landscape feature: Along a range of approximately 10 kilometres, massive blocks of stone can be seen. They origin from enormous stone avalanches, one went down in prehistoric days, the other in 1348. The valley is generally divided into the lower Unteres Gailtal (Fürnitz to Hermagor, the latter one being a county town), and the upper Oberes Gailtal (Hermagor to Kötschach-Mauthen). Ethnically, not all residents of the Gailtal are German-speaking Austrians: There are several communities with considerable Slovene minorities that still maintain their form of Slovene language. The German-speaking majority speaks an accent typical for Carinthia, only in the Lesachtal the local accent is rather Tyrolean.
The Gailtal has a high percentage of protestants - by Austrian standards, that is: Approximately 20 percent. This is noteworthy especially with respect to the Slovenian population: Whilst the counter-reformation of the 17th century ensured that Slovenia became predominantly Catholic, the Slovenian communities in the Gailtal preserved their protestant communities throughout all attempts to re-convert them. If you happen to be in the Gailtal and you are interested in this aspect of Carinthian history, note the so-called "Toleranzbethaus" of the Slovenian protestants in Watsching.