Shop in the village of Hallstatt, near Salzburg
Salzburg, Austria’s 4th largest city, although small in stature, is packed with fun things to do and see. Famous as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and backdrop for much of the filming of sound of Music, its origins go back much further. From the 9th century up to 1816 (when it became part of the Hapsburg empire) Salzburg was a proud independent state, separate from the Austro-Hungarian empire, and was ruled by Prince-Archbishops who lavished the city with great wealth. Its breath-taking Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture and artistry were built from the plunders of nearby salt mines. In its day salt known as ‘white gold’ was a valuable commodity, its monetary worth being similar to gold, ounce per ounce. Today the old town has UNESCO status and one can easily see why many centuries ago it aspired to be the ‘Rome of the North’.
Mirabell Palace and Gardens
We have 3 days in Salzburg and stay at a basic motorhome stop campsite, with excellent transport links. Its action packed and I thought I would share some tips to get the most out of a short stay in the city. We bought a Salzburg card (https://www.salzburg.info/en/hotels-offers/salzburg-card, 24 Euros for 24 hours, 32 for 48hrs and 37 for 72hrs), which gives free entry to all the attractions in Salzburg (and there are a lot), free travel on public transport and discounts on some tours and excursions.
Day 1, we make our way to the Mirabell Palace and Gardens.
Perhaps the most famous of the many Pleasure Palaces erected by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg is Mirabell. Erected by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau in 1606 for his mistress (hang on…I thought Archbishop’s were meant to be men of the church?), the gardens are a must visit location for any sound of music fan. It’s where ‘Do-Re-Mi’ was filmed and as I take a stroll around the fountain, I find myself skipping and humming……” Do-a-deer, a female deer, Ray a drop of golden sun……” Next we visit;
Hohensalzburg Fortress, view of Salzburg from the Fortress
An imposing landmark on the city’s skyline, it’s central Europe’s largest intact fortress and one of the best places for a panoramic view of the city. The fortress dates to 1077 and was built to protect the archbishops from hostile troops. We took the funicular to the top and strolled amongst the courtyards and fortress walls. Also, for those interested in Salzburg’s history don’t miss its many museums; the Marrionette Museum, Museums of the Rainer Regiment and the Princes’ Chambers.
A visit to at least one of Mozart’s museums in the city is a must. We visited both;
Mozart’s Birthplace Museum
At No. 9 Getreidegasse, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 and today it houses one of the most visited museums in Austria. Mozart spent his childhood and much of his youth here and original family portraits, certificates, letters and memorabilia documenting his life in Salzburg are on display. The museum casts light on the man and musical genius from many different perspectives; his childhood, the long years of traveling with his family, and his mysterious death.
Mozart moved to the ‘Dance Master’s House’ with his family, aged 17 where he lived for 7 years, before settling in Vienna. This museum is dedicated to Mozart’s father, himself a famous composer, violin teacher and author of one of the most important Violin textbooks ever written. We learn that Leopold Mozart was a very modern guy, a marketing genius, with progressive ideas who dedicated his life to further his son (and daughter’s) musical careers. The family travelled extensively across Europe, even making it to London. Admission includes an audio guide which is beautifully illustrated with Mozart’s wonderful music.
Next we head to Salzburg Cathedral.
The dome of Salzburg Cathedral
It is here in this seventeenth-century Baroque cathedral that Mozart was baptized and later regularly played some of his most popular tunes on the “Hoforgel,” one of five organs in the Cathedral. Salzburg Cathedral has survived more than 10 fires and was completely rebuilt three times in its 1200-year history. The dome, at 71 meters high, is impressive and the 16 frescos, each depicting a scene from the Old Testament, painted by Italian artists, Donato Mascagni and Ignazio Solari, are quite remarkable.
Our final visit of the day is to St Peters Abbey and Monastery.
Although the abbey itself is worth a peak, the most notable part of the church is its cemetery. The Christian cemetery, the oldest in Austria, is the final resting place of the wealthiest and most notable families in Salzburg’s history. The cemetery was also a backdrop for the scene from the Sound of Music when Maria and the Von Trapp’s hid from the Nazis. Along with the monthly rent for each of the plots comes a florist who will create perfectly manicured flower boxes in front of your loved one’s tombs. While a cemetery tour might seem a bit macabre, a wander around this garden-like little corner of Salzburg is worth checking out.
St Peters Cemetery
Day 2, We start our 2nd day in Salzburg with Dom Quartier museum.
View from the Cathedral’s Organ Loft and the Residenceplatz
This architectural complex comprising the Cathedral, Residenz (the centre of the Prince-Archbishops power) and the Benedictine St Peters Abbey, houses 5 separate museums, so give yourself plenty of time to wander through and soak up Salzburg’s Baroque history and culture. The highlight for me was the Cathedral’s Organ Loft, which gives a unique perspective of the Cathedral itself. Our brains are frazzled with facts by the time we leave the museum so a coffee and apple strudel in the impressive Residenceplatz, the historic centre of the city, is well overdue. There is a young musician on a piano in the square, treating us to some Mozart as we watch the horse drawn tourist carriages gracefully trot round the square. Being Austria, very clean and efficient, somebody is left to clear up the whoopsies after the horses have done their business. And so, there are many “Municipal Equine Cleansing Operators” on bicycle also frequenting the square. In Glasgow they would be better known as “the pedalling shit shovellers”.
Next we jump on a Salzach river cruise
The panoramic speedboat “Amadeus Salzburg” offers its guests extraordinary views of the city and its scenic surroundings on the journey along the Salzach river. This specially built boat negotiates the currents of the shallow, fast flowing river. Our captain and skipper are 2 cheery Londoners who seamlessly slip from German to English informing us of more fun Salzburg facts. Our river cruise finishes with a waltz and I’m revived and ready for our next attraction.
Hellbrunn Palace & Trick Fountains
Hellbrunn’s trick fountains
We didn’t plan to visit Hellbrunn Palace. We’re on the bus to Untersberg cable car, about 20km south of the city, when I spot a Chinese family, obviously tourists, who radiate a sense of ‘we are very organised and know where we are going’ (as the Chinese often do). I guess that they too are on their way to the cable car, so when they jump up to get off the bus, we do too. We follow them and instead of ending up at the cable car we arrive at Hellbrunn Palace….an unexpected delight. Prince Archbishop Markus Sittikus of Hohenems, commissioned the Italian architect Santino Solari to build Hellbrunn in 1612, a place for celebration, pleasure and recuperation, a kind of huge holiday home with a park and cool ‘trick’ fountains. Sittikus installed water automats, grottos and fountains in the beautiful gardens which astonished, entertained and befuddled his guests. Little has changed in over 400 years and Hellbrunn’s visitors today are still amused and enchanted by the water acrobatics on display. By the way, we did see the Chinese family later at the cable car, so my hunch was right.
Untersberg cable car
Views from the top of Untersberg cable car
I’m not sure why John suggested a trip on the Untersberg cable car which carries you to the top of Geiereck mountain (1,776 m), as has an intense fear of heights. It’s been a while since he was last up a cable car (school trips to Switzerland) …. so I guess he just forgot. By the time we had scaled the face of the mountain in the cable car to reach the top, shaking and hyper ventilating he swiftly turned around to take the next car back down, before he lost his nerve completely. When I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by magnificent views that stretch out as far as the horizon. This is what I’d imagined Austria to be. There are many hiking routes which begin close to the cable car station, but I take a gentle stroll and take in the views of Berchtesgadener Land (Germany) and the Rosittental deep below, before heading back down on the last cable car of the evening. John was waiting at the bottom in a café……on his third Macchiato, nerves finally calmed, but hyper with caffeine.
Day 3, trip to Hallstatt
The village of Hallstatt
Recommended as a must visit by a friend, I take a Panorama tour (https://www.panoramatours.com/en/salzburg/) to Halstatt, an ancient salt mine village (population 780) around 60km from the Salzburg. Halstatt is considered the pearl of Salzkammergut (lake area) and salt mining has been part of its heritage for over 7000 years. The mines, and subterranean Salt Lake are still open for the public to visit today. Our guide tells us that Halstatt is really an island, originally washed down the mountain creek, which attached to the mountain base on the lake. It was cut off from the mainland for many years, until a tunnel was built in !966, providing access to the outside world. Now a major tourist destination, visited by 800,00 tourists yearly, it is busy, but the quirky colourful wooden houses still exude Austrian charm.
From the village a trip on the funicular 360 meters above its rooftops there is a spectacular viewing platform, the ‘Skywalk’ ……… what a view.
View of Halsttatt lake form the Skywalk
We’ve packed a lot into our visit to Salzburg and I hope you have enjoyed this whistle stop tour. If you’re planning a visit anytime soon, I have a few final recommendations. Stay for more than 3 days, buy a Salzburg card if you plan to visit the attractions, and finally….don’t follow any efficient looking Chinese tourists as they know where they are going and it’s probably not where you are planning to go…unless of course you are up for a bit of an adventure.