My sleepy eyes drank in the Austrian countryside as the overnight train from Venice moved closer to Salzburg. The glorious green hills were a refreshing change from the equally stunning but distinct Italian scenery. I could easily see why Julie Andrews felt inspired to twirl around and burst into song.
Salzburg is one of those cities that appeals to the romantic imagination, to the dreamer in all of us. It is an enchanting city of Baroque architecture nestled amidst the hills of Sound of Music fame. These mountains provide a marvelous setting that Vienna and its imposing, majestic palaces cannot match. With its history, culture and stunning natural surroundings, Salzburg offers you a quintessential European experience.
It is, above everything, a city of music. The ghost of Mozart hangs over this town in a palpable way. Geburtshaus, the house where the genius composer was born in 1756, is a popular tourist attraction. Letters and artifacts from the composer’s personal collection, as well as a creepy doll (presumably depicting the composer), are on display.
The Mozart Festival is held annually around his birthday of January 27. Several concerts and opera performances are presented. Check out the lineup for next year’s festival at mozarteum.at/en. Unfortunately, if you don’t have tickets, it may be too late to attend in 2011. The festival is so popular that those interested in attending are advised to make reservations a year in advance.
If you can’t make the festival, you can still sample the Mozartkugels, little chocolate delicacies dedicated to the composer. Be careful where you buy them, though – they’re expensive in tourist areas (considerably cheaper in the supermarket or airport).
The central square, Mozartplatz, has a statue of the composer. In this town, if you’re a Mozart (or a Julie Andrews) fan, you’ll be clicking aplenty. In July, the Salzburg Festival presents operas, concerts, and classic to contemporary theater throughout the city. The Sound of Music tour is popular with tourists partial to the 60s musical, and visits sites connected to the movie.
The city is filled with enchanting churches, castles and palaces. Shops and restaurants are also captivating, but can be expensive. Festung Hohensalzburg, the most famous landmark of Salzburg, is Central Europe’s largest intact fortress and overlooks the city center. The climb up the hill is rewarded by fantastic views of the city. Pause and enjoy the panoramic view and a reflective moment as church bells ring through the city. In the fortress you can also view the torture instruments and medieval weaponry that mark its history.
The Stiftskiller at St. Peter’s Abbey, serving satisfied customers since 803, claims to be the oldest restaurant in Europe. With its historic setting, this is a worthwhile place to have lunch before making the climb up to the fortress.
Salzburg’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the finest in Europe, with the Salzburg Cathedral (sometimes called the Salzburg Dom) the main attraction. Getreidegasse, the longest street in Salzburg, runs parallel to the river and has a bevy of interesting, but touristy and overpriced shops. Poke around but check the price tags before you buy.
There are plenty of additional attractions in Salzburg to justify an extended stay, no matter the time of year. Salzburg is enchanting in winter and stunning in summer. The surrounding scenic hillsides, lakes and green subalpine pine forests are worth exploring and hiking. During winter months, check out the largest ice cave in the world just south of Salzburg in Werfen.
Mirabell Gardens in Mirabell Castle, near the fortress, is a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy a picnic. Considered one of Europe’s most lovely Baroque gardens, Mirabell is dotted with statues and a reflecting pool and, best of all, it’s free. The castle was built in 1606 for the Archbishop Wolf Dietrich and is now the site of the mayor’s office.
The Schloss Hellbrun Palace, a palatial Baroque villa south of Salzburg, was once the weekend home of Austrian archbishops. It’s now open to tourists. The Water Gardens with their trick fountains are of particular interest here.
Other worthy destinations in and around Salzburg include:
(1) St Peter’s Monastery, the oldest monastery in the German-speaking area of Europe. The Benedictine Abbey was founded in 700 and Mozart premiered his Mass in C minor here in 1783.
(2) The Toy Museum – very popular with the younger set.
(3) Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in the Bavarian Alps is a worthwhile destination for WWII buffs.
(4) Hallstatt, a small, scenic village town, nestled by a lake with the same name, is a worthwhile day trip. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can get there by a bus or train/boat combination. The trip takes about two hours and is worthwhile but requires some advance planning for the most efficient connections.
visit-salzburg.net provides insider and local information on events and activities in Salzburg.