Commentary

Klagenfurt

Updated: May 15, 2008, 7:09 PM ET
By Nick Bidwell | Special to ESPN SportsTravel


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With its sunny climate, Italian-architectural style, laid-back vibe and proximity to the beautiful Lake Worther (Worthersee), the intriguing southern Austrian city of Klagenfurt has more than a hint of the Mediterranean about it.

Just for one summer, the thousands of holidaymakers who annually flock to the Carinthian region will be joined by huge numbers of German, Croat and Polish football fans reveling in the Euro 2008 jamboree.

The local organizing committee estimates each of the three Euro 2008 match days will bring 120,000 supporters into Klagenfurt. And their first port of call will be the Fan Zones on the grounds of the exhibition center (Messegelande) to the south of town and Neuer Platz, the square in front of the city hall (Rathaus). Expect the usual major tournament activities: big screens for all the live action, food and drink stalls, tourist information, rock music and all manner of soccer-related events.

Getting to and around this smallish of conurbations could not be easier. The bus and train stations are on the southern fringes (Sudbahngurtel), and from here it's a 10-minute walk down Bahnhofstrasse to the town center. Alternatively, you can hop on a No. 40 or No. 41 bus and save energy.

Klagenfurt boasts a punctual and comprehensive bus service, with the hub of the network located at Heiligengeistplatz, a long punt west of Neuer Platz. Tickets can be purchased from the driver or at Tabak stores, but remember that a match ducat entitles the holder to free, public transport in that locality.

Klagenfurt and its mix of tree-lined avenues framed by Alpine peaks, outdoor cafes and Renaissance courtyards really does come alive as the temperature rises, as do the resorts of the Worther See. The lakefront is less than 2 miles west of the middle of town and buses 10, 11 or 12 take you there from Heiligengeistplatz. Then it's up to you.

Whether it's sunbathing, water sports, people watching in a stylish, open-air cafe or simply a pleasant stroll, it's all waiting for you. The nearby Europapark is home to one of Austria's premier tourist draws, the Minimundus, which features small-scale replicas of the world's most-famous buildings. Scenic cruises on the lake are available, too, and connect Klagenfurt with Velden on the opposite shore five times a day. Incidentally, there will be an unofficial Fan Zone in the Europapark.

Also in the vicinity is the Euro 2008 arena, the Worthersee Stadium, a new multifunctional arena that was opened only last autumn and already is winning awards for its use of green energy sources. Shuttle buses from the main railway station will ferry fans to the 32,000 capacity ground on match days.

Head and shoulders above all the other regional dishes are the much-loved Kasnudl, a sort of Carinthian ravioli-filled with cheese. Trout, pike and carp from the Worthersee are commonplace on menus, as are Austrian culinary mainstays such as schnitzel, Schweinsbraten (roast pork) and Tafelspitz (boiled beef).

Inexpensive eateries are the norm here, and among the best is the Rathausstuberl on Alterplatz, hidden away on a cobblestone street by the Pfarr Church. Chill out on its outdoor terrace and tuck into cheese noodles with a green salad or its terrific schnitzel. The Bahnhofstrasse is awash with pizza and kebab takeaways. For a more upmarket Italian eating experience, head to Da Luigi on Khevenhullerstrasse northwest of the center. The most famous place in Klagenfurt for coffee and a cake is Cafe Musli on Oktoberstrasse.

Those needing liquid refreshment should seek out the bars in Pfarrplatz and Herrengasse. Try Spektakel (Pfarrplatz), which as well as having an intimate bar offers seating in a nice courtyard. Bierhaus Zum Augustin is another good place to sample a tasty beer. Look out, as well, for the ales of independent Klagenfurt brewery Schleppe.

Kramergasse is Klagenfurt's principal shopping street. Not only does it have a great mix of boutiques, cafes, groceries and department stores, it also is the city's oldest road and the first pedestrianized zone in Austria. Benediktinerplatz is filled with wooden stands showcasing fresh fruit and vegetables.

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