Lesachtal: Remote Carinthia for Insiders
Lesachtal is a village that includes the western two-thirds of the valley of the same name. Lesachtal (or "the" Lesachtal if you refer to the valley) can be found in Carinthia, in the border area to East Tyrol. "Les" means "wood" in Slovenian and hints at the close ties between Carinthia and Slovenia both in terms of culture/history and geography. Slavic tribes settled in the Lesachtal very early, they arrived here around 600 A.D. The people of the Lesachtal speak an accent that is a variation mostly of East Tyrolean, with traces of a Carinthian dialect.
Lesachtal has approximately 1,500 residents, spread out over various settlements. The main villages or hamlets of the Lesachtal are called Liesing, Maria Luggau (known for its church of pilgrimage), Birnbaum, St. Jakob and St. Lorenzen. All these villages except St. Jakob are part of the municipality Lesachtal. For years, the population of the valley is gradually decreasing. The Lesachtal is a very remote corner of the province and transportation can be challenging.
Even though the Lesachtal is far from being a top-tourist destination (many other areas in Carinthia are), recent years saw a steady increase in visitors that spent a vacation in the valley. In terms of scenery, it is a beautiful place and not crowded by whatever means. Tourists come to the Lesachtal all year round, but the summer season is the most popular time. Recent years saw a little boom in white water rafting, for which the river Gail at the bottom of the valley′s gorge provides perfect conditions. Otherwise, hiking and winter sports are selling points of the Lesachtal, alongside with the cultural aspects that come with very remote Alpine areas.
Geography, History & Tourism of the Lesachtal
The Lesachtal is 20 kilometres long and oriented in a west-east direction; its course runs in parallel to the border between Austria and Italy. The centre of the valley comprises of a gorge that get up to 200 metres deep. The villages listed above can be found above this gorge, along the highest parts of the mountains that frame the Lesachtal. This had consequences for the way roads could be built: In parts, they are very narrow and come with steep curves.
Historically, the Lesachtal has never been very important. Throughout the middle ages, it belonged to varying landlords, often in the rank of counts. First to the Counts of Görz-Tyrol, then to the Duke of Carinthia, later to the Counts of Ortenburg. For each of them, it was probably little more than a source of wood and a meagre income from taxes. After 1380, the Lesachtal was under jurisdiction of the castle Burg Pittersberg. Administrative reforms in 1848 (big leap forward in history, I know, but this only shows that nothing significant was going in the Lesachtal for centuries) led to the constitution of three municipalities: Luggau, St. Lorenzen and Liesing. Birnbaum and St. Jakob followed in 1882.
Suddenly, in the course of WWI, the age of tranquillity ended: The frontline between Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire ran along the Karnische Alpen, a mountain range that includes the Lesachtal. Until today, hikers and mountaineers can see old fortifications and hideouts that were built by the troops, mostly between 1915 and 1918. After the war, all was quiet again in the Lesachtal and remained so pretty much until today. Speaking of connections to Italy: The wood of which the gondolas of Venice are made is grown in the Lesachtal. Following the course of the river Gail, you enter the pleasant Gailtal Valley. The county town of Hermagor is also within reach.