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Swanning around the Austrian lakes: a trip to Carinthia | Austria holidays

Map of Austria lake district

The lake was perfectly still, larch trees reflected in its glassy surface, hills folding into each other in the distance. I thought about swimming across it – a distance of about 1km – but once I was immersed in the cool, tranquil water, front-crawling through it with my head down lost its appeal. This was a moment to stop and take in the beauty of my surroundings.

Bordering Italy and Slovenia, Carinthia is Austria’s southernmost region, a sparsely populated land of gentle mountain peaks – the Nockberge. But its bigger claim to fame is its 1,200 lakes, of which 200 are swimmable. Each has its own highlight: Wörthersee – on which the regional capital, Klagenfurt, sits – is the largest, at 10 miles long, and known for the 100m-high Pyramidenkogel viewing platform; Klopeiner See is one of the warmest lakes in Europe; Faaker See is Austria’s answer to the Everglades, thanks to the reed beds visitors can glide through on Canadian canoes. But they all have one thing in common – clear, clean water that’s pure enough to drink. This alone is worth travelling for if you live in the UK, land of polluted rivers, lakes and sea, where even the tap water can make you sick.

Surprisingly, the cult of cold water swimming that has gripped the UK has not taken hold to the same degree in Carinthia.

Most Austrians stick to July and August, when the water temperature can reach 25C – or they take the briefest of dips to cool down after a sauna. Thanks to its thermal waters, Carinthia became a hotspot for bathhouses in the late 19th century when the railways brought tourists from Vienna. Today there are a number of bathhouses in the region, with saunas, steam rooms, pools and treatments, and many hotels with similar facilities.

Ours, the Brennseehof, had three saunas, including the Seekino (lake cinema), so called because of the floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of Brennsee, one of the region’s smaller lakes. The sauna was huge, but for most guests the highlight of the Seekino was the “infusion” sessions where sauna master Claudio played rousing music while wafting a towel around to circulate the 90C air, or throwing balls of ice onto the coals with a dramatic flourish. During my first session I had to suppress my giggles as Claudio’s towel waving became increasingly theatrical. But no one else was laughing; they sat with eyes closed,…

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