Malta Alpin Road and Kölnbrein Dam
Dr. Birgit Stegbauer
Measured by the number of tourists, this is one of Carinthia's top attractions. There is, therefore, an obvious advantage to visiting it during the off-peak season: you share the road with fewer drivers and bikers. What can you expect when visiting the place? A narrow valley with brooks and waterfalls along it, a street with many bends and tunnels and finally the Kölbrein reservoir with Austria's highest dam. Malta Alpine Road is open to visitors until the 26th of October (inclusive).
'Valley of the cascading waters' - this nickname was given to Malta valley by the writer Dr. Gustav Renker in the year 1930. Nowadays the slogan is used by tourism officials to advertise the Malta valley. Before arriving at the beginning of the toll road you pass Fallbach, Carinthia's highest free falling waterfall with a drop of 200 m. In front of the Fallbach is a children's playground (admission fee!) with many water-play stations and also an adjacent climbing area.
Just as scenic - and included in the toll fee for Malta Alpine Road - are the Malteiner Wasserspiele, a short drive beyond the toll station. The shorter of the two hikes takes only about half an hour and you'll stop at some most impressive water formed and filled landscapes, such as Faller Tümpfe (pools), Hochstegklamm (a small gorge) and Melnik waterfall.
Malta Alpine Road crosses various brooks and you'll see some other waterfalls on your way. In certain sections the road has been built up spectacularly against the rock. One drives through unlit tunnels, carved several hundred metres into the hard granite-gneiss. Where the road is too narrow for vehicles to pass, traffic lights control the flow. Certainly the middle section of the road with its many curvy bends and steeps is a great experience for every driver.
Built in the years 1971-74, Malta Alpine Road was the necessary prerequisite for the construction of the Malta upper stage storage power plant. Part of this power plant is Kölbrein reservoir and dam, situated 1,902 m above sea level. There is a fantastic view to the reservoir and the dam when leaving Mitterkar-tunnel. With a height of 200m Kölbrein dam is Austria's highest dam, the view from the skywalk into the depths will test your nerves.
The dam with its double curvature is a masterpiece of engineering. Its 30 vertical elements tense and shorten in reaction to differing water pressures caused by the Kölbrein reservoir's changing water levels. The reservoir fills up during the summer months to cover additional power demands during the winter months. Full load is reached in October when the reservoir contains an unimaginable 200 million m/3 of water, that is equivalent to 1.4 billion bathtubs full of water. But be warned: do not even think about bathing in Kölbrein reservoir; the water of this 4,5 km long lake, with a maximum width of 800 m, has a temperature of only 3 degrees Celsius!
You should walk the dam's 600m long wall and marvel at this wonder of technical engineering. You can gain more insight if you join the guided dam tour, where you will walk through the dam's first horizontal inspection gallery and watch two short movies (with English and Italian subtitles) about the construction of the Malta power storage plant and about hydroelectric power in general. The significant, round Berghotel Malta used to be a purely functional building for the construction managers and the power plant's labs. It has recently been transformed into a stylish (and expensive) hotel and restaurant with a huge terrace. From the car park you can set off along a number of hiking trails into the surrounding mountains.
It's good to know:
Verbund Tourismus GmbH
Tel: +43 (0) 47 33 296
Toll for cars: 19 EUR, free with Kärnten Card
Guided dam tour: Adults 7 EUR, children (aged 6-15) 3,50 EUR
From 10:00-17:00, every hour on the hour, duration about one hour, please wear warm clothing (temp. in the dam is only 7 degrees Celsius).