A Trip to Wörthersee

Come for the Volkswagen models, stay for the view: A European festival gathers thousands of VW fans (and some super cool cars, too).

About the author: Jamie Orr is an ardent enthusiast of the Volkswagen brand. He is a professional parts and car importer and a freelance automotive journalist. When not driving, finding, restoring, or writing stories about Volkswagen cars, he enjoys cycling, traveling, and spending time with his family and rescued animals. Jamie was compensated by Volkswagen of America for this article. The opinions expressed are his alone. 

The famous entry gate, and granite VW Golf statue, at the GTI Treffen.

Nestled in the Austrian Alps, the GTI Treffen in Wörthersee just might have one of the most beautiful settings in the world for a car gathering. Started in the early 1980s and running continuously since, the event attracts well over 100,000 visitors each year to a beautiful lake, located about 3 hours south of Munich, Germany, and only an hour’s drive away from Italy and Slovenia via wonderfully twisty roads.

The USA group, posing on the VW stage. The car is a 1993 VW Fox from Pennsylvania.

Enthusiastic owners bring their watercooled VW models (which include the Golf, Jetta, Scirocco, Passat, and most other VW models made after 1974) from all across Europe, with many fans also traveling from North America, Africa, and similarly farther afield. A group of friends and I traveled as a small group, transporting our own cars from the U.S. to Germany for this year’s event. Using the same ships that the VW logistics team uses to move new cars from their production location in Germany to local dealerships in the U.S., we sent a 1999 New Beetle and a 1993 Fox from Rhode Island to the VW Emden port in Germany.


A Stop in Wolfsburg

The Volkswagen Autostadt, in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The port that receives the gigantic multi-story vessels was fascinating, but once the cars arrived we headed to another Volkswagen location: the headquarters and factory located in Wolfsburg. The facility is a huge, active production site surrounded by beautiful landscaping and fantastically designed buildings. For about $20, you can access the entire AutoStadt campus. It contains the ZeitHaus car museum, which not only has significant Volkswagen cars but also a range of models deemed important in automotive history. (A tip for the dedicated VW enthusiast: Make time to visit the smaller, jam-packed VW Stiftung Auto Museum, located a mile or so away, which houses many prototype and milestone cars.)

VW Golf Country in the ZeitHaus Museum, Wolfsburg, Germany.

Our full day in Wolfsburg included the must-see factory tour and ended with a very special trip up one of the two Car Towers, used to store new cars to be collected on-site by their owners. At around 200 feet tall, each tower can hold up to 400 vehicles, with one parking spot near the top reserved for guests to take photos. Our group didn’t miss out on this great attraction, but things got better when we were invited to exit the ride and climb to the roof of the towers for a special view over the imposing factory.

The two USA cars, posing in front of the automatic car delivery towers.

A behind-the-scenes view, looking down inside the Car Towers.

On to Wörthersee

Leaving Wolfsburg, we headed south through farmlands, cities, and rolling hills, covering more than 400 miles on the German Autobahn before heading into the Alps towards Austria. There were plenty of vistas and historic locations along the way. Then, finally, the long, strikingly turquoise Lake Wörth came into view.

For a couple of weeks each spring, this popular year-long tourist destination fills with VW models and owners in every parking lot, fuel station, and local attraction. Old and new friends meet to talk about cars and to relax in a world of automotive escapism.

Picturesque views from a Autobahn fuel station in Austria.
The hybrid Golf GTI First Decade prototype was unveiled at the Austria event.

To reach the epicenter of the Wörthersee event and the site of the official VW stage in the small town of Reifnitz, you can either drive on a wonderful waterfront road or take the undulating hilly roads from the south. Wildflowers scent the air and snow-capped peaks dot the horizon in this tranquil area. It’s a perfect contrast with thousands of tuned and modified Volkswagen vehicles.

The Volkswagen GTI Treffen in Reifnitz hosted a large display area to unveil the latest performance models and design prototypes. Our own cars were proudly displayed on the stage each day next to the VW Apprentice Cars. Apprentice Cars are two new models built each year by a group of young apprentices, using their own design ideas with full access to the parts department. The first car this year was a Golf GTE Variant impulsE, which in English means a modified Golf SportWagen powered by a Golf GTE drivetrain with double the electrical capacity. The second car, the Golf GTI First Decade, offered an exciting glimpse into an imagined future: a 2.0-liter turbocharged motor for the front wheels, and a great big electrical motor for the rears, both able to work simultaneously or independently based on speed or energy-saving needs.

The Pyramidenkogel, in Reifnitz, Austria—the world’s tallest wooden lookout tower that’s well worth the walk (or elevator ride) to the top.

There were hundreds of other vehicles at the event and plenty of ways to continue the entertainment in the evenings. We took a boat at sunset that roamed the lake long into the night. One of our favorite activities was visiting the top of the Pyramidenkogel, a large hilltop tower with a spectacular 360-degree view of the lake and one of Europe’s longest slides. There are also a huge variety of local cafes, waterfront restaurants, casinos, and more in the small towns nearby. We thoroughly enjoyed this year’s event, and I hope to return again—and I hope to see more U.S. VW enthusiasts, too.

Read more about the author’s previous visits to Wörthersee and his advice for making the most of the event.

To Visit: The GTI Treffen is held in late April or May each year in Reifnitz, Kärnten, Austria, depending on the German holiday calendar. The Autostadt is open almost year-round, but check for factory tour availability.