Known as ‘the heart in the heart of Europe’, Salzburg’s had everything going its way for quite a while now. If being Mozart’s birthplace and the locale for the filming of the smash-hit ‘Sound of Music’ has enhanced its cultural value, a superb scenic backdrop hasn’t harmed its interests one bit.
By Inder Raj Ahluwalia
Bathed by the morning sunshine that gave it a golden coat, the Salzach river and the majestic period buildings that flank it seemed part of a portrait. Courtesy the superb weather, it seemed the whole city was outdoors. Being something of a ‘peoples’ person’ myself, this suited me just fine.
For local origins, go back to 696, when Bishop Rupert of Worms received the desolate Roman city ‘Juvavum’, as a gift from the Bavarian Duke Theodo. Lavished by revenues from the Reichenhall salt mines – courtesy the Bavarian Dukes – Salzburg owes not just its wealth but also its name to the salt revenues. Buoyed by the wealth, the Prince Archbishops shaped the city after their dreams, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The city presents a picture-book type of scene. Hemmed in on three sides by wooded hills, Salzburg’s houses aren’t aligned in straight rows, but in fact, ramble along the Salzach River. Narrow lanes curve around stately sacred buildings, flow into spacious squares, and then squeeze again between century-old burgher mansions!
It’s a formula designed for success, as the statistics show. Millions of visitors annually flock here to savour the scenery, climate, culture, and exceptional festive celebrations. The rich cultural event choice includes the Summer Festival, Salzburg Culture Days, Mozart Week, the Easter Festival, Advent Singing, Pentecost Concerts, the Palace Concerts, the famous Salzburg Festival that celebrates Mozart’s works, and ‘Szene’, a fine example of the traditional and modern co-existing in harmony. A theatre-dance festival, the ‘Szene’ provides a dramatic counterpoint to the ‘Salzburg Festival’.
Years ago, the Bee Gees and Herbert Gronemeyer turned the city into a natural backdrop for their open-air concerts, and Tina Turner went a step further and used the whole city as a stage. But if Mozart’s city was animated enough to start with, a huge publicity bonus came courtesy of the locally filmed, internationally famous Oscar-winning film, ‘The Sound of Music’.
The spirit and essence of the film live on in the city. In the Mirabell Gardens, you see it all. A baroque museum, statue groups depicting Greek mythology, marble vases designed by Fischer von Erlach, a hedge theatre, and a baroque dwarf garden on the bastions. You see the fountains where Maria sang ‘Confidence is me’. With its baroque monumental stairways with pictures by GR Donner, Mirabell Palace is a grand structure. The Marble Hall here is the mayor’s home and also a popular concerts and weddings venue. Minutes away is the Hotel Bristol which Christopher Plummer made his home during the film’s shooting.
A thousand years is a long time to nestle snugly in the shadow of a fortress, but that’s exactly what Salzburg has done, and continues doing. With its Late Gothic Church of St. George, Castle Courtyard, and museum, the hill-perched Hohensalzburg Fortress – the largest completely preserved fortress in Central Europe – dominates the region’s skyline. Just for the record, Maria stayed in its monastery.
Considered the most impressive baroque building north of the Alps, the Cathedral is another prominent local landmark featuring two cathedral museums and a magnificent marble façade.
Duly impressed by all this romantic grandeur, I was in the right frame of mind to appreciate the myriad charms of the Old City that has been tempered over several centuries.
You jostle with thousands of tourists, walk narrow streets, stop at little cafes for steaming coffee, and talk to old-timers. Linger on in Getreidegasse, the most famous street, discover lovely inner courtyards and lanes, and admire wrought – iron and gilded shop and firm signs with medieval graphics. And then arrive at No 9, Mozart’s birthplace and family residence, a typical old Salzburg burgher’s house with an in-built museum stocked with the famous composer’s letters, music and portraits.
Allow yourself a little indulgence. Stop by at the glittering jeweller’s shops and smart boutiques that stock traditional local costumes alongside eccentric creations from Europe’s fashion capitals. If you’re serious about shopping, succumb to the temptations of over 400 speciality shops on both sides of the Salzach, or play it casual and just pick up typical knick-knacks like scented nosegays of dried spices and flowers.
‘Salzburger Nockerl’, anyone? This fluffy souflette omelette is but one of a celebrated list of local delicacies, others being the Wiener Schnitzel, palatschicken (sweet pancakes), and the ever-popular ‘Bauerng Rostel’. Along with the ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ Salzburg Mozartkugel sweets, these are the city’s pride and joy. Fittingly, one of the world’s famous catering institutes has made the city it’s home.
Sift through the vast food and eatery choices and stop by at the local cuisine temple. The oldest restaurant in Europe, St. Peter’s Stiftskeller, has been serving quality cuisine since 803. Owned and rented out by Benedict Monks, Stiftskeller was Mozart’s favourite haunt and stages Mozart Dinner Concerts that bring culture right up to one’s table, along with wine from their own vineyards.
Whatever your fancy and whichever way you look at it, Salzburg’s got its act just right, offering visitors a bit of everything, throughout the year. The hills may not be alive with the ‘sound of music’, but things are abuzz all right. Take it from me, it’s easy to do it all and taste the charm.
All you need to bring is yourself!
- Salzburg is about three hours by train from Vienna, Austria’s main entry point.
- Don’t forget to get your visa prior to entry into the country.
- The city has a huge accommodation network that includes everything from deluxe hotels to inns and farmer’s homes.
- Eating out is adventurous and fulsome. A variety of international dishes, including vegetarian, are served alongside traditional cuisine with special sausages and salads.
- The Salzburg Card allows access to all local cultural attractions. Available are local sightseeing tours like the ‘Original Sound of Music Tour’, and ‘All-Inclusive City Tours’.