Discover Salzburg and The Sound of Music

When it is summertime in Salzburg prepare for the hills to come alive with the Sound of Music.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the musical The Sound of Music and of course Salzburg Austria was both the setting and the outdoor set for the Hollywood film because the real von Trapp family singers hail from here.

Each summer it is possible to take one of several Sound of Music tours (guided or self-guided) or catch the Sound of Salzburg dinner show. However, if you are a serious fan in October 17 2015 there’s a gala concert at the Felsenreitschule where the concluding concert in the film was performed. As the name suggests it was once a riding school.

Mozart lived here
While many locals have great distain for The Sound of Music and the pilgrims it has produced in the half century since, they have much more pride in another musical export: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was born here and it was here that his talent first bloomed. Again, there are numerous summer concerts and events around the Mozart heritage.

But Salzburg is no time-warp where Mozart-like fops and singing nuns coincide. In fact, history has left Salzburg as a very pleasant contemporary city. Contrary to all one hears it is not necessary to go from church to castle to museum to get anything out of the city. It’s more revealing to go from coffee house to bakery to pub – all of which are in infinite more abundance than historic sites.

At least, that’s true if one excludes the houses in which Mozart lived – those appear to outnumber the stars in the sky (and more about them soon). The composer was a man who moved often to avoid his creditors. A more contemporary reference point for Salzburg is Red Bull that has its headquarters in the small town of Fuschl that is close to Salzburg. There’s a museum there (with F1 cars, aircraft and a restaurant suspended high above), as well as a sports stadium and an airstrip with lots of Red Bull aircraft coming and going.

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Fantastic coffee houses
Salzburg is dominated by the millennium-old Hohensalzburg fortress so it’s a modern city in an ancient setting. In the old part of town, aptly named Alt Markt you find Café Tomaselli that has been a coffee house since 1705, almost 70 years before Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay. It has the infinitely hospitable Austrian custom of having a large supply of newspapers to browse over a coffee or two. Just across the square one finds Alt f.e. Hof-Apotheke – a pharmacy that is still in full rococo style. While at number 9 on the suitably-named Brodgasse is Bakerie Holztrattner. There has been a bakery on this site since 1350 and Mozart was born nearby at Getreidegasse 9.

The famed Austrian physicist and mathematician Chistian Doppler was born in 1803 on the other side of the river – near the Landestheater. His birth place is near Mozart Platz – you may start to notice the Mozart-themed pattern to any exploration of Salzburg. Doppler developed the eponymous theory of the Doppler effect that explains the red shift on stars that are heading towards us – and accounts for the rising note on cars that head towards us and descending notes on ones heading away.

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Best ever chocolate indulgence
For those more interested in hotels with five stars than stars exhibiting a frequency shift, the Hotel Sacher is in this part of town. The hotel group, of course, is the home of perhaps the most condensed chocolatey calorific intake: the Sacher torte, which is well worth every bite.

Outside town stands Hellbrunn Palace, a Baroque masterpiece. It was built by Archbishop Marcus Sitticus in 1615 and its gardens are littered with water features such as an intricate, water-powered mechanical theatre of tiny models locked in endless repetition. That, and the fountains are charming – and Marcus’ idea of a trough in the middle of the stone outdoor dining table to keep the wine cool is ingenious.

On the soggy drive back from Hellbrunn, I passed a wall that seemed familiar. Then I realised that the last time I saw it actress Julie Andrews was walking in front, swinging a suitcase and expressing that she had “confidence in me”. Thanks Julie.

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Indulge in The Sound of Music
Even if you come to Salzburg hoping to avoid all reference to the film, you’ll find scenes that are strangely familiar. A gazebo in the city was the scene for Liesl singing and dancing Sixteen going on seventeen. Leopoldskron Palace provided the front for the von Trapp family home (the interiors were shot in Hollywood). At the foot of the cliff below the fortress are the most picturesque crypts in the world. These were the setting where the von Trapps hid from the Nazis after escaping the final concert. If you take a tour or arrive from a river cruise vessel you’re certain to stop at St Michael’s Church in Mondsee where Maria married the captain – it has a beautiful interior.

Salzburg is a very pleasant city that is small enough to be manageable and still has plenty to do. It’s a great gateway to a wealth of outdoor opportunities, particularly in the nearby Zell am See region. Snowcapped peaks can be seen from the city, even in summer, and in winter it draws skiers and snowboarders from around the world. In summer the city offers countless chances to sit outside and have a beer or a coffee in the sunshine looking up at the fortress, as people have been doing for centuries. You’re quite likely to find yourself humming “These are a few of my favourite things”. And rightly so.

If you are planning on seeing many of the sights – or just moving around the city a lot – then it’s worth considering buying a Salzburg Card. It provides free entry to all the sights of the city and free public transport. It is available for one two and three days.

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For information on Austria, call the Austrian National Tourist Office, 36 Carrington St, Sydney, NSW 2000, Tel (02) 9299 362 or click here. For information on Salzburg click here.

Have you ever been to Salzburg? Is it on your bucket list? Join our conversation below…