Murtal Valley, Styria
The Murtal is a valley in Austria and comprises of essentially two section, one in the province of Salzburg (in the Lungau, to be precise), the other one on the Styrian side of the border. The Murtal is somewhat remote, yet densely populated and surprisingly industrial. This is due to the centuries of iron ore mining and processing that emerged from the rich iron deposits in Eisenerz.
The pre-industrial tradition led to the development of an industrial one. Only in the past 25-ish years did the Murtal have a hard time, especially in its bigger communities. Many young people have moved away, the heavy industries are having a difficult time or operate with hugely decreased staff numbers due to the use of more sophisticated technologies; real estate values have dropped accordingly. That being said, don′t expect bleak industrial ruins in the Murtal - the primary impression you get will come from the dense forests, the mountains and the Mur river.
The Murtal is trying to promote itself as a holiday destination, in fact, it is one of Styria′s official tourist destinations - but lags behind more "brandable" regions such as the Thermenland or the Styrian part of the Salzkammergut. The Murtal lacks profile: Lakes, landscape and skiing are better in the Salzkammergut; the mountains are higher in the Salzburg part of the valley; and the cities are more charming and better connected to Graz in the areas further south. In a way, the Murtal is in a similar situation as the region where I am from (northern Salzburg): There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but it is surrounded by regions a tad more interesting in some kind of feature. For those who do spend time in the Murtal, there is plenty to see and to do.
Tourism in the Murtal: Skiing, Sightseeing, other Things to Do
There are several good skiing areas, such as the Murauer Frauenalpe, Krakau or the Lachtal. They are not internationally (if fact, not even nationally) famous and thus considered relatively cheap and family-friendly. In total, there are 58 ski lifts and 150 kilometres of slopes between altitudes of 850 and 2,222 metres in the Murtal. Two thermal spas offer delights on the other end of the temperature scale: The Gesundheitstherme Wildbad was first mentioned in 1500 as a hot spring, although Celtic and Roman people were probably the first to enjoy the hot spring. Today, it is a modern spa; just like the Therme Aqualux, the newest spa of Styria (note that the highest density of spas and the biggest ones can be found in the East of Styria, in the Steirisches Thermenland).
The wood production is a key economic factor in the Murtal, as you will see through the "Steirische Holzstraße" (Styrian Wood Road), a theme road on the topic. The nature reserve of Naturpark Grebenzen is nice for hiking and will provide an opportunity to learn more about the local wildlife. An important sightseeing attraction of the Murtal is the Benedictine monastery of St. Lambrecht. Hiking is best in the Nockberge (the Styrian share of it, although to be honest, they are a tad more exciting on the Carinthian side of the border), the Seckauer Alpen and the Seetaler Alpen mountain ranges. There are hundreds of kilometres of hiking paths, many of them open for mountain bikers.
Important towns of the Murtal are Judenburg, Oberzeiring and Oberwölz, Murau and Bruck an der Mur. Traditional customs such as the Samsonumzug draw locals and tourists alike to the towns near the border to Salzburg. The monastery of Seckau is famous for its Romanesque architecture and unique in Austria. The church is now a cathedral. Leoben, Göss and Eisenerz are good starting points for exploring the industrial heritage of the Murtal; so is the town of Knittelfeld.
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