Villacher Alpe - the Dobratsch
The 2.167-m high Villacher Alpe, commonly known as 'Dobratsch', is situated just next to Villach and can be conveniently reached all year round thanks to the Villach Alpine Road. In spring and summer it is a popular hiking destination; in fall it is your sunny place to escape the fog sitting deep in the valley; and in winter it is an ideal base for sledding, snow shoe hikes, cross country skiing and ski tours.
Along the 16.5 km long Villach Alpine Road you pass a couple of viewpoints over the Villach Basin, the Karawanken and the Julian Alps. In any case the 'Rote Wand' (= Red Wall) viewing platform, where you stand just on top of the imposing, sharply sloping southern flank of the Dobratsch, is worth a stop. The drive takes you up as far as the Rosstratte, situated at 1.732 m of altitude, with its big parking lot. Kids usually love Rosstratte: In winter it's the best sledding hill far and wide with guaranteed snow; for the rest of the year a wonderful theme-based playground is the main attraction. There is a geological trail and relaxing loungers. The panoramic view is fantastic. And last but not least, this is the point of departure for hiking trails to the summit.
There are only 400 m of altitude to cope with until you reach the top of the Dobratsch, which you can do easily within 1.5 hours, even with snowshoes. Always remember to bring along warm, windproof clothes - even if the drive from Villach took you only 15 minutes, you are in a high mountain region! Close to the top you will pass the ORF's TV/radio tower, a few steps further above is the Villach's OeAV section's new, modern Ludwig-Walter-Haus, which opened its doors in 2011. Right on the summit of the Dobratsch you can pay a visit to the eastern Alps' two highest churches, both erected in the late 17th century, the 'German Church' and the 'Windische (=Slovenian) Church'.
The unique, sensitive plant and animal life on this particular mountain was the reason why the Dobratsch was converted into a Nature Park in 2002. The mountain, the most eastern peak of the Gailtal Alps, consists of limestone that has been eroded by water for millions of year already. Water seeps away in the underground karst, which is why you will look in vain for a water-source on the mountain itself. Nevertheless, the Dobratsch is the most important fresh water provider for the region of Villach. Plus, the Dobratsch lies above a tectonic fault and thermal water from its depths breaks through the surface at Warmbad, known and appreciated for its warm springs since the Roman Age.
The sharply sloping southern flank of the Dobratsch was indirectly shaped by water, too, as an after-effect of erosion. Water and ice loosened up the rock to such an extent that it gave way when two major earthquakes struck the region, the first one about 8,000 years ago and the second one in 1348. These massive landslides created an enormous boulder field, burying 530 million cubic metres of stones and rocks, causing a back up of the river Gail and transforming its course. This area is better known as 'Schütt' - come and visit it as well!
Information in English (or Italian) is available here.
There is no charge for cars from mid-November to mid-April.