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Salzburg: Its Hills Are Alive With More than Music

Salzburg's Kapitelplatz.
Salzburg’s Kapitelplatz.

by Bobbie Leigh

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart changed the world. He still “owns”  the Austrian city of  Salzburg where he was born, lived, and performed.  Mozart Week  in January as well as the Salzburg Festival  are  like Wagner’s  Bayreuth, a must on any music lover’s  list.   The  Hollywood film, “Sound of Music,”  didn’t change the world, but like  Mozart,  it  put Salzburg on the contemporary  traveler’s  horizon  as it is generally agreed to be one of the most beautiful backdrops for a film worldwide.

The singing von Trapp family in SOM  is a “tourism engine”  for the city,  never more  popular  than now as  the five-Oscar film is celebrating its 50th anniversary.  About 300,000 visitors arrive each year to seek out the sites  where the real Trapp family lived and the  film locations for the movie, where they did not. (The movie is mostly fiction. See below.)

What defines Salzburg aside from Mozart and  SOM, is the stunningly wonderful setting – elegant  19th century buildings in the New Town,  ancient, narrow pedestrian streets and cobbled squares in the Old.

Here are some suggestions for  enjoying your stay in this beguiling city:

The view from M32
The view from M32


Café Tomaselli, a 300-year-old coffee house —and yes, where Mozart “probably enjoyed his almond milk.”   Must haves: strudel or schnecke (nut pastry), homemade gluehwein, or a cup of mélange Tomaselli (mocha with milk and whipped cream).

M32 perched on top of  the  steep cliff of Moesnchberg Mountain, adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art.  Go for lunch on  the terrace to relish the spectacular views of the Old Town.  You can hike up or take an elevator.  The Museum is well worth a visit. Currently and through February 2015, the works of feminist artist Carolee Schneemann are on view.

K+K Restaurant  am Waagplatz is in the heart of the Old Town, located in a restored medieval townhouse. Good for local specialties.

S’Herzl  has the look and feel of a country inn.  Located  on the main pedestrian street of the Old Town,  the food is hearty, authentic Austrian… save room for the pastries which are a triumph.

Probably the best chocolates in the Old Town are at Confiserie Berger.


“Kunst in Salzburg” is the name of   a gallery and museum guide  to exhibitions, especially  to modern and contemporary art. Get a copy from your concierge as you might need translations.

The Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg
The Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg

Where to Wander

Fortress Hohensalzburg, built in 1077, the  time of Holy Roman Empire. Enlarged and  fortified,  it  served as  home to various prince-archbishops  until  Napoleon took it over in 1803.

Hellbrunn Palace,  a 1612 Renaissance  pleasure palace  where an archbishop with a bizarre sense of play created water-driven jets that would arbitrarily spray his guests seated for an alfresco  meal.  The guests got  soaked; only the archbishop remained as he was.  Secret gardens, mythical fountains and grottoes, and  water-powered  figures are bound to appeal to kids and adults with a sense of  whimsy. The mechanical theater, built in 1750,  represents a small town of 200 hand-carved figures plying their trades. By some miracle, they are still industrious thanks to some ingenious  water-powering.

Mirabell  Palace and  Garden, next to the Sheraton Hotel (not a bad choice – clean, efficient, and mid-priced). A farmers’ market is held every Thursday at nearby Mirabell Square.

The  Dom Quartier, opened in 2014,  is a mini-Versailles where you circumnavigate  state rooms, royal residences, and even  a  cabinet of curiosities.  The unexpected light and spacious Baroque interior of the  Salzburg Cathedral   with its  magnificent  pipe organ is one of the gems of the city.  Salt, mined nearby,  and gold made the  Prince-Archbishops’ diocese  rich and  provided  the funds for this grand Baroque palace complex, built to rival  the papal estates  of Rome.

Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg
Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg

Upscale Lodging

Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron,  an 18th  rococo palace, meticulously restored  and now a hotel,  has a tranquil setting  on a small lake surrounded by gardens.  Rooms have artifacts and historic photographs of the Salzburg Festivals.   The 55-room hotel is a 30-minute walk to the center of town. (The palace was another Salzburg location for SOM.)

Two other high-end choices are the Hotel Bristol and Hotel Sacher  in the New Town and  the Goldener Hirsch  in the Old.  The latter is as Austrian  as it gets.

Salzburger Marionetten Theatre,  playing of course SOM, as well as some Shakespeare and Mozart classics. Best Bet is “Magic Flute.”

The hills are alive, though the reality was a bit diferent
The hills are alive, though the reality was a bit diferent

Separating fact from fiction: Tweaking Geography and  Chronology

Baron Georg von Trapp( 1880-1947)  had seven children with Agathe Whitehead whom he married in 1911. During WWI, he was an Austrian U-boat and  submarine commander. His first  wife died in 1922 and the family moved from Vienna to Salzburg.  Maria Augusta von Kutschera, (1905-1987) was a novice at the Nonnberg Convent in the Old City. She was hired as a governess to the  Baron’s seven motherless children. According to  her autobiography, she was angry about getting married as she really wanted to be a nun  “I liked him, but  didn’t  love him.  However, I loved the children,” she wrote.
Maria married von Trapp in Salzburg in 1927, not at the church shown in the film.  Two more daughters were born.  In 1935, the family faced financial problems  and moved to a villa outside of the city which during WWII became  Heinrich Himmler’s headquarters.  Not mentioned  in the film, but the person responsible for the children’s musical education was Dr. Franz Wasner,  an Austrian priest,  who  gave  the family music lessons. Under his guidance, the  family choir won first place in a choral contest held during the Salzburg Festival in  1935.  (They did not  sing “Edelweiss” which was a Rodgers & Hammerstein  show tune).  Unlike the film, they left some three years after  the festival.

Hollywood  also added a bit of fantasy to their escape  plans from Austria.  In the film,  they  “climb every mountain”  and depart from  what is now Schloss Leopoldskron  and  walk  over the mountains to Switzerland.  In fact,  when  you walk over the mountain  at the Schloss, you end up at the Eagles Nest,  Hitler’s retreat  in Germany,  not the Swiss Alps.  In reality,  the family —except for one son who was in medical school – took the train in 1938 to Italy and then  emigrated to the U.S.  The youngest child, Johannes, was born in the U.S and now, together with his daughter, runs the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont.

Guided City

Visiting  Salzburg with a guide who is knowledgeable about history, art, architecture, cuisine  and shopping is an excellent option. Michaela Muhr, a licensed guide with impeccable English, is a best bet. She can be reached at info@salzburg-experience.at.

With its many reconfigured and reconstructed  historic buildings, Salzburg  remains linked  to its princely archbishopric past.  Art and musical historical references abound.  Yet  the city is still  taking small steps into the 21st century with contemporary culture, couture,  and cuisine.

For more information: Salzburg Travel Guide

Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.
Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.
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