Salzburg gave birth to two of history’s greatest musical phenomena – one from the world of classical music, the other from the much more modern world of film. They were, of course, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and The Sound of Music, which changed the face of film musicals and forever etched itself into the minds of millions of people.
The hills are alive in Salzburg, with stunning views, grand palaces, baroque gardens, lively café-lined squares and a rich history. So rich, indeed, that the city is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
When you first lay eyes on Salzburg, you immediately notice the big castle on top of the hill – the Hohensalzburg fortress, dating back to 1077. Easily accessed by funicular, the views from the castle walls are fantastic, not to mention the many interesting artefacts and exhibits inside at the Rainer and Fortress Museums. It is the most castle-y of castles. Think knights in armour, swords and cannons.
Down in the old town, stroll along the Getreidegasse, one of the prettiest streets in Europe, with colourful buildings and olde-worlde wrought-iron signage all along the cobbled street. Don’t miss the bright yellow house at number 9, where Mozart was born in 1756. It now houses a museum showing how the family lived and contains a wealth of Mozart memorabilia, including his concert violin, handwritten scores and family portraits.
While in the old town, see Residenz Square, where Mozart gave his first performance at the tender age of six. It is here you can hop aboard a fiaker (a horse-drawn carriage) – and go for a trot around the city in style. They were originally used as the official and personal means of transport for the prince archbishops so are very traditional.
The fountain featuring Poseidon and other legends from Greek mythology is worth a look. Other highlights are St Peter’s, the Horse Pond, shopping in Linzergasse, Winkler Terrace and the incredible view from Untersberg, which is a mountain out of town.
The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music is a great story. It is a love story, and to think we would not have known about the incredible talents of the von Trapp family had it not been for a book, a stage show and the movie that followed. That movie, The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, is one of the most loved movies of all time, won five Oscars, and created a tourism boom to Salzburg that has continued over many decades. The movie, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, premiered in New York City on 2 March 1965, changing the lives of the von Trapps, the actors that played them and the city of Salzburg, for ever more.
Australians are among the top 10 foreign visitors to Salzburg, an amazing statistic when you consider how far away we are.
In Salzburg itself, see the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where Maria and the children sang Do Re Mi. See St Peter’s Cemetery, the inspiration for the scene in the movie where the family hides from the Nazis behind headstones. Established in 1627, the cemetery is tucked up against, and even in, the sheer rock of the Mönschberg, with the well-to-do of Salzburg buried here – including relatives of Mozart and the composer Haydn. Venture into the catacombs here, with stairways in the rock leading to old crypts and altars. These catacombs date back to 215 AD.
While in the vicinity have a peep inside Salzburg Cathedral and then onto Residenz Square, where Maria strutted her stuff singing I Have Confidence in Me.
Try and book in for a performance at the Felsenreitschule (Rock Riding School), which was carved into the rock of the Mönschberg in 1693. It was built as the stables for the cavalry of Salzburg′s Prince Archbishop. The Horse Pond nearby is the well that was used for the horses. The School was first used as a stage in 1926. It’s beautiful rock arcades and the stage with its pleasing acoustics was where the family sang at the Salzburg Festival in the movie, before making their escape. The family did in fact perform at this incredible performance space at the Salzburg Festival – and did win. The 2021 Salzburg Festival did take place in 2021 – check out some highlights here. The Felsenreitschule is one of the major venues of the Festival.
Do a tour of Leopoldskron, with its lake. The back of the house and the lake were used as the von Trapp’s home. One memorable scene was when the kids and Maria were in a rowboat before they all fell in. Apparently the water was freezing on the day it was filmed and Kym Karath, the actress who played Gretl, couldn’t swim. Another property, Frohnburg, was also used as the von Trapp house. In reality, the family lived at Villa Trapp. The good news is that you can actually stay at the Villa in the very rooms the family lived.
Out of town, Hellbrunn Palace has one of the favourite locations – the gazebo where Leisl and Rolf sang, I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen, and where the Captain and Maria sang Something Good. But there’s much more to Hellbrun than the rotunda. The ruler who built the palace, Markus Sitticus, had a weird sense of humour, and hid water jets all over the place to squirt his guests. He even had jets hidden in the dining chairs. There are beautiful park lands in which to stroll, and you can tour the palace itself.
Visit the beautiful village of Werfen and wander The Sound of Music Trail. The trail will take you above the town to the beautiful green meadow where Maria and the children had a picnic and also where the first scenes of Do Re Mi were filmed. It is a spectacular place with views to the 900 year old Hohenwerfen fortress. In the little village, book ahead for lunch at the outstanding Obauer Restaurant.
A visit to St Michael’s church at Mondsee is well worth it. In the movie it is where the wedding was filmed. In real life the Captain and Maria married in Nonnberg Abbey, but the producers were not given permission to film in there so St Michael’s was a wonderful replacement. The little gift shop has postcards showing the cast and crew on site and sells the book that started this global phenomenon: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, written by Maria Augusta Trapp in 1949. I bought a copy and it is well used.
Nonnberg Abbey is where Maria was a nun. Nonnberg actually means – ‘nun mountain’. It was built in 714 (yes that’s right 714!) by St. Rupert the patron saint of Salzburg, – the Benedictine convent is the oldest continuously existing nunnery in the German-speaking world. A good tip if you do find yourself in Salzburg – the nuns sing Gregorian chants every morning at 6.45. You can do tours of the Abbey.
A good way to see all the Sound of Music sights without having to worry about getting lost is to join the Original Sound of Music Tour conducted by Panorama Tours. It is a four hour tour that will take you to several of the locations, and the commentary along the way will no doubt increase your knowledge of all things Sound of Music. Yes, there will be singing. This tour was voted the number one tour in Austria on Trip Advisor – again – in 2020.
If you want some exercise while seeing the sights sign up for Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours. The tours go for about three and half hours and even if you don’t really like the Sound of Music the scenery is stunning.
Whether or not you are a Sound of Music fan, there is no doubt that you will be reluctant to say, “So long, farewell”, to this beautiful, most elegant of cities.
The von Trapps in Vermont
Interesting fact – after fleeing Austria and leaving their estate and all their possession behind, the von Trapps were accepted as refugees in the USA. After settling in Philadelphia initially, and then saving money bu travelling the world as the Trapp Family Singers, they bought in Stowe, Vermont. They built an Austrian style lodge. A new lodge was built in 1980 after a fire severely damaged the original. Trapp Family Lodge is still run by members of the family, including Johannes – the youngest son of Georg and Maria von Trapp, his son Sam and daughter Kristina.
The Trapp Family Lodge is a beautiful mountain resort featuring Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations. There are many different activities available, depending on the season, including cross country skiing, horse-drawn carriage rides, golf, hiking, mountain biking. You can see how maple syrup is made at the Lodge’s Sugarhouse, and also sip on ales made on site at the von Trapp Brewery. There is an Austrian-style Kaffeehaus, a Bierhall and . There are tours around the property, covering the family’s remarkable history.
Georg von Trapp died in 1947, while Maria died in 1987.
Stay at the Hotel Sacher, where Julie Andrews and Christopher stayed while filming the movie.