Salzburg, Austria's second most visited city, is known for its classical music concerts and "The Sound of Music" tours. The birthplace of Mozart, a visit to the Mozart Residence, and an evening concert at Baroque Hall of St. Peter are a must for Mozart fans. Adding day-tours to the stunning Hallstatt village or Berchtesgaden salt mine will further make an exciting itinerary. One of the most walkable cities, Salzburg is a sheer delight to explore and experience.
I am in Salzburg, eagerly waiting to explore the city whose alluring charm cast a spell on the world with “The Sound of Music” film. My room on the fourth floor of “Sheraton Grand” gives me a lovely view of the Mirabell Gardens. I see people cycling and walking their dogs under the green canopies. Soon my guide Ms. Ilse joins me and we walk up to Mirabell Palace. We enter the familiar wrought iron gate and climb down the steps on which the concluding part of “Do-Re-Mi” was shot: the film starts rolling in front of my eyes. I am tempted to do the musical drill the Von Trapp family kids did on the steps, but I restrain myself out of modesty.
Then the famous Pegasus fountain in front of the grand palace comes into view: a wave of nostalgia sweeps over me. In the Dwarf Garden, I find interesting dwarf figurines sculpted from Untersberg marble, each telling a unique story. It is said that originally there were 28 dwarfs but in the early 19th century they were banned from Mirabell Gardens and were auctioned off. After nearly a century their value to art history was recognized and in 1919, they were brought back from various gardens across Austria. The 17 that were recovered no longer stand in the original Dwarf Garden, but rather in the neighbouring Small Bastion Garden.
Considered one of the most beautiful concert halls in Salzburg, the baroque marble hall of Mirabell Palace (dating from the 17th century) is where the Mozart family once played music for the Salzburg Archbishops. The city’s musical tradition is still carried on today as intimate chamber-music concerts are held here in the same Marble Hall, a lavish blend of stucco, marble, and frescoes. We see two couples getting ready to take their vows at this grand venue while one wedding is already in progress. It looked like a much-coveted wedding spot!
As we enter the nearby Marionette Theatre I am transported into a different world: a world of childhood, innocence, and mirthful laughter as characters from the most treasured fairy tales come alive. Each puppet on the string narrates a tale that we all loved and grew up with. Founded in 1913 by Professor Anton Aicher, it is one of the oldest continuing marionette theatres in the world, performing a large repertoire of operas, ballets and productions for both children and adults using marionettes. While going through the programme schedule mentions that weekend’s attraction- “The Sound of Music” (1 hour 45 minute puppet show).
I am tempted to postpone my trip to Vienna.
Salzburg is a delightfully walkable city and all the attractions are close to each other. Within a short time, we reach Altstadt, a part of the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of the City that boasts a dazzling collection of churches, palaces and gardens.
No visitor to Salzburg ever wants to miss an opportunity to see Mozart memorabilia and I am no exception. We walk up to house No 9, Getreidegasse where Mozart was born in 1756: he was the seventh child of Leopold Mozart who was a musician of the Salzburg Royal Chamber. It is now a museum depicting the early life of Mozart, his first musical instruments, etc. The third floor exhibits Mozart’s childhood violin, and harpsichord, as well as portraits, documents, family letters and early editions of his music, and the second floor is devoted to Mozart’s passionate interest in opera and includes the clavichord on which he composed “The Magic Flute”. The first floor replicates the living conditions in Mozart’s day with period furniture. Original documents and paintings illustrate his life in Salzburg.
Then we move to another Mozart museum close by, called ‘Mozart Residence’ where the family lived from 1773 to 1780 in the dance master’s house. Exhibits relating to the life of the Mozart family are displayed here along with the history of the building. In Alter Markt, we visit Café Tomaselli, whose origins can be traced back to the 1700s. This is where Mozart used to frequent and have his favourite almond milk. We stop briefly to have coffee and Tomaselli’s famous cakes.
The Domquartier includes the baroque Residence, where art by Rembrandt and Rubens are displayed and the domed Salzburg Cathedral. With a 1,300-year-old history and imposing architecture, the Salzburg Cathedral boasts seven organs that provide a profoundly moving musical experience. At the entrance three heavy bronze doors illustrate the divine virtues - faith, hope and love. The bronze baptismal font, the oldest object in the cathedral is where Mozart was baptised. The high dome of 64 metres creates an impressive play of light in the morning light. Artwork at the high altar and the rich stuccowork are particularly noteworthy.
The nearby St Peter’s Cathedral displays a blend of architectural styles inside the abbey church; the basilica’s three aisles reflect its Romanesque architecture but it is the ornate Rococo decoration of the 1770s that dominates. Some of the art treasures in the church include altar paintings, the ‘Salzburg Madonna’ from the early 15th century the ‘Flight into Egypt’ and the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’.
I am quite thrilled to see the famous St. Peter’s Cemetery on the grounds of the Abbey, the scene when Nazis were searching for the von Trapps and the family was hiding behind the tombstones: soon Ilse disenchants me by saying that it was rebuilt in the Hollywood studios for the shoot! Next to the Abbey is the legendary St. Peter Stiftskeller, founded a thousand years ago by the abbey’s monks. It serves traditional Austrian food and hosts Mozart Dinner Concerts- my tickets are already booked for that evening.
Our next stop: Salzburg's oldest bakery right next to the mystical St Peter's cemetery that dates back to the 12th century. At that time, a tunnel for the Almkanal was cut through the Mönchsberg to supply the city with water. Directly at the exit of the canal from the mountain, the monastery built a grain mill and also the bakery that is still appreciated today as St Peter's Abbey Bakery. With its historic vaults, the Abbey Bakery presents itself as a relic from times long past. I am told the extremely popular wood-fired bread made from pure natural sourdough is still baked in the original wood-fired oven. The bread keeps well and pairs equally well with butter and jam as it does with cheese and ham. Other classics of the traditional bakery are mini brioches and Vintschgerl [aromatic rye and wheat bread from South Tyrol]. I see an old man with freshly baked bread loaves and he willingly poses for me with an adorable beaming smile. The mill wheel at the Almkanal was rebuilt according to old models making the bakery’s setting charmingly medieval: no wonder it is a distinctive landmark in Salzburg!
Through a steep path, riding in the oldest funicular in Austria (built in 1892) we reach Hohensalzburg Fortress: Central Europe’s largest, completely preserved fortress dating from the 11th century. It houses the royal apartments and museums. The spectacular view from the top captures the whole beauty of Salzburg in one frame with the majestic Alps in the backdrop. I can hear coming from yonder, the echoing strains of “The hills are alive with the sound of music…” Is that Maria singing?