Villach 2023

For us, Austria has always meant Vienna and, of course, Salzburg for its famous music festival, but what about Villach on the Drava River in the far south of the country near the Slovenian and Italian borders?

Villach on the Drava

Kay and I knew nothing of this small city except that it was near where we had just spent two weeks among the Slovenes. We were prompted to go there for the opportunity of a rare rendezvous with our Australian friends Tim and Jan, with whom we had formed a great rapport when they occupied a flat for a couple years in our building in Istanbul. This summer they had been touring Southern France and Austria’s alps for several weeks on electric bikes and would be staying in Villach at the end of July when we would be nearby.

Boutique Hotel Goldenes Lamm

So it was that we rode a Flix bus less than two hours from Ljubljana to Villach station and dragged our cases two hundred meters to the Boutique Hotel Goldenes Lamm (Golden Lamb) where we would spend the next four nights. The hotel is conveniently located just at the north end of Hauptplatz, the wide square where only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed.

As luck would have it, our first impressions were of a celebratory afternoon with hordes of locals, especially children, entertained by the polished physicality of three women who appeared to be buskers (street performers). They performed separately in different spots along the square, and each was surrounded with a large group of spectators.

One woman was a gymnast working with a large orange ball while another dealt elegantly with flaming torches. The third was a mine, working with a young girl, and both were in costume.

On the fringes, other sights caught our eyes like the two men on stilts dressed as Catholic nuns.

St Jacob

Skirting this activity, Kay and I went as far as the large church of St. Jacob then headed back as the sky threatened rain. To escape the impending downpour, we ducked into a noisy bar with the name Anna Neumann and drank a couple of gin-and-tonics. In our ignorance, we thought the bar must be named after its owner. It was not long after, when noticing a room in our hotel named similarly, that we realized that Anna Neumann was a personage with some claim to fame. The hotel receptionist was no help, and an internet search turned up information but only in German. We kept asking until finally we learned that the woman had been born in the 16th century and inherited the estate of her wealthy father that she shrewdly increased during a long lifetime. She married six times, the last at age 80 to a man decades younger.

The following morning, while I waited for Kay in the lobby, I posed questions to the young man at reception who spoke English well. I learned that the buskers we had encountered yesterday were preparing the city for the 78th annual Villacher Kirchtag or Day of the Church, a local festival where residents wear traditional dress, the women in dirndl skirts and the men in lederhosen. It would begin officially on Sunday, the day we leave.

Things returned to normal, and during the next couple of days, as we explored on foot, we realized that Villach was well-to-do. We passed vitrines with beautiful and expensive clothing for women. I’m always in the market for t-shirts, and in one store I found a couple of plain ones of good quality. We went into a supermarket just to check out its specialties and bought a few small items.

Kay with Our Friends Jan and Tim

The highlights of our time in Villach were the three evenings we spent in restaurants with Tim and Jan. They rode during the day, but were in good form and up for fun in the evenings. What a good time we had!  The large restaurant on the ground floor of our hotel might have been the best in town. It served traditional Austrian dishes, and the schnitzel and bratwurst were excellent, as was the service.

As the city prepared for its annual festival, it dawned on us that it would not be a small affair. As an example, in an open space adjacent to the city center, an entire amusement park was being installed, comprising many of the customary rides and attractions. These arrived as trailers of eighteen-wheelers, which were laboriously moved into position with the help of local workmen. Kay and I discovered a currywurst stand named Franzi’s Imbiss where we enjoyed sausage and beer while watching the rides being set up.

Since our ride on Sunday to Ljubljana airport wouldn’t leave until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we had the morning to witness the opening of the festival. It recalled Munich’s Octoberfest with all the local beer being consumed.

What I found most interesting were the costumes. Traditional dress was the order of the day, and it was accessorized in a variety of ways.

From St Jacob’s there emerged a kind of parade with a marching band and the city fathers dressed to the nines according to tradition. The Day of the Church indeed!

The rest of that long day was an anticlimax: the airport, the plane trip, and the taxi to Moda. It was the wee hours when we finally got home.