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The bells of the beautiful old church of St Mary of the Angels, which sits on a small promontory jutting into the Adriatic, chime at 7am to start the day at one of Italy's most popular seaside resorts, the bustling town of Caorle, 60km north of Venice.

But it's too early for most of the beachgoers, who with their families stroll the promenade and crowded streets of the medieval fishing town, taking in the bars, restaurants, cafes and shops until late.

They then return to the mostly three-star hotels lining the seaside before rising for another day of lounging on deckchairs placed in their seemingly endless rows on strips of private beach owned by the hotels. The sea is barely visible from the hotels, separated by a vast stretch of yellow sand and the ubiquitous umbrellas.

If you don't want to join the throngs on the beach, there's plenty to explore in the surrounding streets. It's a lovely old town, with splendid historic churches, narrow alleyways with shops and stalls, cafes, bars and restaurants serving up reasonably priced local fare including a big range of seafood. The streets buzz with activity, particularly at night.

The 11th century cathedral of St Stephen's is a major drawcard and at night its massive belltower glows with images thrown on to its smooth round walls by a spectacular light show. There are cafes, restaurants and shops scattered around it and just off the square in front is a little shop selling a dazzling array of Murano glass ranging from the exquisite to tourist kitsch.

You will also find plenty of leather goods for sale in the shops and stalls but we found a better-priced alternative at the neighbouring resort of Biblione, a short drive away, where I scored a jacket for 󌍿 ($100) at a stall on the main street.

The towns are popular with German and Austrian tourists as well as Italian families soaking up the sun. It's a very different experience from the Australian beach scene but there's lots about the town to like.

We took the three-hour drive there across the Italian border from our base in Klagenfurt, Austria's sixth-biggest city and capital of the province of Carinthia.

Klagenfurt is a pretty city with a lovely medieval centre just three hours drive from Venice and sits by the shores of the sapphire-blue Woerthe See lake. The town of 90,000 people is close to the Alps and Italian, Croatian and Slovenian borders, three hours drive from Vienna as well as Venice and the seaside resorts.

On the spectacular drive back to Klagenfurt from Caorle we called into the picture-postcard Italian alpine town of Tarvisio, near the border, known for its snowfields and a leather goods market with a maze of stalls offering a vast range of goods.

Klagenfurt has many charms of its own including historic castles and churches, and dates back to Roman times. You can still see remainders of Roman activity, including ancient mine sites.

We were welcomed back to Klagenfurt by the sight of the majestic mountains surrounding the city dusted with autumn snow lit up by the setting sun so they glowed as if they had been set on fire.

At the centre of the town is a picturesque square with a 16th century statue of its famous symbol the lindwurm, a winged dragon which was slain, according to legend, by a young local hero, ending its career of kidnapping and consuming unfortunate virgins.

Nowadays, of course, Austria is famous for its fabulous cakes and pastries, and you can't visit Klagenfurt without having coffee and a slice of sumptuous torte in one of its warm and elegant cafes.

Summer or winter the spectacular lake is a central attraction, lined with elegant hotels and private homes as well as a casino which sits on its shores like something out of a James Bond movie.

But you don't have to gamble away your holiday funds to get a great view of the lake, a roadside stop just out of the city has a hotel with a great restaurant where you can get very good local fare at a very reasonable price and sits high above the lake.

In summer the lake is popular for swimming and boating and in winter its frozen waters are used for skating. By the lake is the amazing world of Minimundus, a manicured park where you can find more than 150 of the globe's most famous buildings reproduced in miniature, including the Sydney Opera House.

The mountainous countryside around Klagenfurt is spectacularly beautiful in any season and you can take a leisurely drive to any number of charming villages and towns.

One such drive along breathtakingly steep and winding mountain roads will take you to the sunniest spot in Carinthia, the pretty little town of Diex. It sums up the warmth and charm of rural Austria which is easily accessible if you decide to venture out of the splendours of Vienna.

Another short drive takes you to the splendours of Maria Saal Dom, a onetime cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary and originally built in the ninth century incorporating ancient Roman stonework. It has a radiant gold altarpiece featuring the Madonna and Child - and something of a devilish reputation. Outside, high on one wall, juts a stone head which tradition says is that of the devil. Every year, so the story goes, it inches forward to the eventual fateful day when it will move out so far from its spot that it will crash to the ground and the world will come crashing to an end with it. In truth it probably is a representation of the church's builder which has not moved since it was placed there.

The sea is barely visible from the hotels, separated by a vast stretch of yellow sand and the ubiquitous umbrellas.