SALZBURG, Nov 20 — “The hills are alive... with the sound of music...”
As a child, I would watch a videotape of The Sound of Music repeatedly until I nearly wore it out. I knew the lyrics to songs such as “My Favourite Things” and “So Long, Farewell” by heart. So you can imagine visiting Salzburg, the Austrian city where many scenes from the musical were filmed, was a dream come true.
With dramatic views of the Alps, Salzburg sits on the Bavarian border, making it a perfect destination for a day trip, be it from Munich or Vienna. One can spend days or even weeks here, of course, but even a single day may have you yodelling like the von Trapp family.
After arriving at the train station, you’d want to cross the Salzach River to get to the left bank, where the Altstadt (or “Old Town”) is situated. Here you will find the well-preserved medieval buildings and baroque architecture that earned Salzburg’s Old Town its Unesco World Heritage Site status.
There are several bridges you can use to cross the Salzach River but my favourite is the Makartsteg. This modern pedestrian bridge may look, well, pedestrian from a distance. Once you get closer you will realise it’s always Valentine’s Day on the bridge thanks to thousands of padlocks attached to the both sides of the bridge.
The inspiration for this “river of love locks” is Italian author Federico Moccia’s novel Ho Voglia di Te (“I Want You”) where a young couple attached a padlock — engraved with their names, naturally — on the Ponte Milvio in Rome before throwing the key into the river, a sign of their eternal love. Of course, now hundreds of lovestruck tourists do the same here.
After crossing the river, Salzburg’s most famous landmark beckons — the Hohensalzburg Fortress, known locally as the Festung (literally “the Fortress”). Sitting atop the hill Festungsberg, the fortress was constructed at the behest of Prince-Archbishop Gebhard in 1077 and is one of Europe’s largest medieval castles. You could spend hours marvelling at the Festung’s intricate furnishings: medieval paintings, ornamental frescos, Gothic engravings and plenty of opulent gold leaf as part of its décor. These were the symbols of wealth and power of Salzburg’s prince-bishops, still resonant after all the centuries.
Deep within the Festung’s cellars is a magical realm waiting to be discovered — the Marionette Museum, where a world of puppets comes alive. These historical marionettes hail from the world-acclaimed Salzburg Marionette Theatre. Watch scenes from The Sound of Music re-enacted by puppets; be entertained by Papageno and Papagena from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute).
Feeling hungry after all that walking? Enjoy a traditional Austrian meal at Gablerbräu, a pub brewery that has been around as far back as the year 1408. Little wonder, then, that this restaurant has a quaint museum-like ambience with neo-Gothic architecture, medieval carvings and stained-glass windows.
Gablerbräu’s kitchen is run by Chef Andre Woblack who dishes up classics such as Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese-style veal escalope with parsley potatoes and cranberries) and Rindersaftgulasch mit Semmelknödel (beef goulash with bread dumplings). Light eaters can easily do with a hearty bowl of Gulaschsuppe, mopping up the paprika-heavy goulash soup with generous chunks of bread.
Have a sweet ending with Topfenknödel mit Marillenröster which are rustic, homemade curd cheese dumplings with stewed apricots. For something truly sinful, the apple strudel with whipped cream can’t be beaten. Of course, wash it all down with a stein (or more) of their own Gabler Zwickl beer.
Time to burn off those calories with some retail therapy. The crowds all flock to Getreidegasse, a bustling shopping street in the Altstadt. Many come here simply to gaze upon the house at Getreidegasse 9, famed as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (and his home till the age of 17).
But there is so much more to Getreidegasse, which was originally known as Trabegasse. Traben means “to trot” while gasse means “alley” — perhaps a nod to its distant past when horse carriages were the norm. Shoppers will be spoilt for choice: perfumes, jewellery, antiques, handicraft, delicatessen delights and, best of all, traditional Austrian costumes known as Trachten for those who like their fashion to be more historical.
As you wander from shop to shop, ornate arcades to flowering courtyards, do not forget to look up. Yes, look up as the signature feature of Getreidegasse are the elaborate wrought-iron guild signs hanging above each shop. Each one is different, elegant in its own way, and a proud proclamation of the skilful craftsmanship that went into its creation.
Wandering around in the Altstadt, you will inevitably come across the Salzburg Residenz, a palace where the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg resided for centuries. You might recognise the Residenz Fountain in front of the palace; this was where Maria sang “I Have Confidence” while splashing the water in The Sound of Music.
Not far away, there is a lively atmosphere at Kapitelplatz, a large square that used to be the site of the Cathedral Abbey until 1803. Today the square is a buzzing hub of activity, from old men playing chess with super-sized pieces to the iconic Sphaera, a golden globe-like sculpture by artist Stephan Balkenhol.
If you need a little pick-me-up, drop by one of Salzburg’s many Kaffeehäuser or coffee houses such as Kaffee-Alchemie, a café along the Salzach River. Founded by John Arild Stubberud, a former judge of the World Barista Championship, Kaffee-Alchemie uses single-origin beans for all their coffees, be it espresso-based or filter-brewed.
There is a bohemian vibe to the café that draws many locals rather than tourists so you may be assured of a quiet space to catch your breath. For something special, try asking the barista to make you an Einspänner, a strong black coffee topped with whipped cream and served with powdered sugar on the side, just the way Austrians like it.
There’s just enough time for one final stop, on the way back to the train station for your return trip: the Mirabell Palace and Gardens. It began with love. In 1606 the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau built the palace Schloss Altenau, named after his royal mistress, Salome Alt.
The palace was later renamed Schloss Mirabell, from the Italian words mirabile (“admirable”) and bella (“beautiful”). A fitting homage to its harmoniously designed gardens, arranged in a geometrical pattern and adorned with mythic figures such as Hercules and Pluto by Italian sculptor Ottavio Mosto.
From the ornamental Rose Garden to the Pegasus Fountain by Austrian sculptor Kaspar Gras, everyone has their own beloved area of this Baroque-style garden. But the one section no one misses? The verdant trellis arches where Maria and the von Trapp children sang “Do-Re-Mi” as they hopped, skipped and ran – as you no doubt will observe many visitors replicating.
In fact, you might be one of them, dancing and laughing as you sing, “Doe, a deer, a female deer...”
Residenzplatz 1, Salzburg, Austria
Open daily (except Tue closed) 10am-5pm
Tel: +43-662-8042 2690
Mönchsberg 34, Salzburg, Austria
Open daily 9:30am-5pm
Tel: +43-662-8424 3011
Mönchsberg 34, Salzburg, Austria (inside Festung Hohensalzburg)
Open daily October-April 9:30am-5pm and May-September 9am-7pm
Tel: +43-662-849 555
Linzer Gasse 9, Salzburg, Austria
Open daily 10am-12am
Tel: +43-662-88 965
Rudolfskai 38, Salzburg, Austria
Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-6pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Tel: +43-681-2017 3143
Mirabell Palace and Gardens
Mirabellplatz 4, Salzburg, Austria
Open daily 8am-6pm
Tel: +43-662-80 720