Let Salzburg’s size not deceive you. Mozart and The Sound of Music permeate every corner of this tiny Austrian town, says Riaan Jacob George
“Now this is what I call a room with a view,” I think to myself, as I draw open the blinds of my opulent room at the historic Hotel Sacher Salzburg. Spread out before me is a fairytale town, with a skyline comprising steeples, domes, rooftops, a giant fortress and the breathtaking Austrian Alps. The Sacher Salzburg, dating back to 1865, is arguably the city’s plushest address, home to the world-famous Sacher-Torte pastry.
Across the street from my hotel is the Mozart- Wohnhaus, where the famed musician once lived. A stone’s throw away is an upscale shopping district selling everything from Swarovski jewellery and Tod’s loafers to traditional lederhosen and touristy bric-a-brac. Further on are the impeccably manicured Mirabell Gardens, where the famous Do Re Mi song from The Sound of Music (1965) film was shot. This is Salzburg in the 21st century – ancient history and heritage thriving alongside a culture of modern luxury, art and retail.
For many, Salzburg has an instant association – images of a sprightly Maria von Trapp, played by Julie Andrews, running through plush Alpine meadows in the opening credits of the The Sound of Music. The film, one of the highest grossing in history, has immortalised certain parts of this quaint, fairytale city. But in the context of Salzburg’s music scene, Hollywood is a mere upstart. For Salzburg is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who, way back in the 1700s, put Salzburg on the world music page. Today, all these elements come together to form what is easily one of Europe’s most dynamic and culturally rich cities.
Tracing Mozart’s footsteps
In the heart of Salzburg’s luxury shopping district, at No 9 Getreidegasse, stands a relatively inconspicuous building. The Hagenauer House is possibly the most significant landmark in town. It was here, in 1756, that Mozart was born. Today, Mozart’s birthplace, or Geburtshaus, houses a museum, where you can visit the family rooms and see documents, mementoes and even musical instruments dating back to Mozart’s time. Across the Salzach river, on Market Place, is the Mozart-Wohnhaus, his residence, which is also a museum showcasing different aspects of his life. The original residence suffered great damage during the Second World War but was reconstructed and then reopened in 1996. From the official Mozart museums, the imposing statue on Mozart Place, to the slew of street musicians clad in Mozart’s Baroque outfits, and even the countless souvenir shops selling absolutely anything Mozart, the musician’s legacy lives on.
Edible souvenirs – Mozartkugel
While it is easy to get swept away by the flotsam of touristy souvenirs in Salzburg, nothing is as charming as the famous Mozartkugel, or the Mozart chocolate. These unmistakable ball-shaped chocolates, made of marzipan, nougat and dark chocolate, have been the town’s most loved export since the confectioner Paul Fürst started selling them in 1884. While there are many chocolatiers who claim to sell the original Mozartkugel, I recommend the Fürst Café for the real deal, whose chocolates are instantly recognisable by the silver foil cover.
The Sound of Music tour
“It’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower,” says my guide Peter, who welcomes me on board a coach, with oversized images of the Von Trapp kids plastered on the sides. The original The Sound of Music tour, conducted by Panorama Tours, is an unmissable attraction of the city. The four-hour tour takes you in and around Salzburg to show you the different locations where the film was shot – the famous fountains of the Mirabell Gardens, the lake into which the children fall when they are boating, the Von Trapp mansion (where all the exterior shots were filmed), the riverfront promenade where the kids dance during their picnic, and even the Nonnberg Abbey, which was not used in the film but which was where the original Maria von Trapp stayed. One of the highlights of this tour is the famous glass gazebo, where the song I Am Sixteen, Going On Seventeen was shot. The gazebo, specially built for the film, has now been relocated to the garden of the Helbrunn alace, south of Salzburg. The final leg of the tour includes a picturesque drive to the quaint lake town of Mondsee, where you will find the Baroque cathedral of Mondsee. This is where the memorable wedding scene in the film was shot.
While Salzburg’s streets may be teeming with faux Mozart buskers, travellers are spoilt for choice. The historic centre of Salzburg is lined with grandiose Baroque buildings and their famous wrought-iron signboards. Stately palaces, government buildings, grand squares and massive fountains dot the historic centre. The larger-than-life Salzburg Cathedral, with its remarkable Baroque design, is an architectural marvel. The lofty Hohensalzburg fortress offers stunning views of the town and takes you back in time to an era where Salzburg was ruled by a Prince-Archbishop.