Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Salzburg, Salzburg… well it’s safe to say this goes down as one of my favourite European Cities. From the minute I landed and saw the incredible snow dusted mountains I knew I would love it here!

I booked Salzburg only a week or so before flying off. It’s always been somewhere I wanted to visit and when cheap flights coincided with me having a 4 day weekend, it was a no brainer!

I took the super early flight from Gatwick and, after an hour and a half in the air, landed at Salzburg airport at around 10am. Everything was super straightforward from when I landed; the city centre is only a 10 minute taxi ride so before I knew it I was outside my accommodation; the aptly named, Hotel Mozart.

I couldn’t recommend this little family run hotel more. Although the rooms were fairly basic the family were literally the loveliest people and always happy to help or assist. Check in wasn’t until 1pm but as I arrived so early I was checked in and unpacked all by 10.30am! Perfect.

After having a shower and getting myself sorted for the day ahead I headed out into the city, making my way first through the iconic Mirabel Gardens.

Salzburg is obviously known to be the home of the movie ‘the Sound of Music’ and you really can’t walk down one street without noticing something from the film you recognise. I had a tour booked the following day so tried my best not to ruin the surprises by seeing any of the iconic locations within the gardens. I couldn’t help but sneak a peek however at the statue gates in which the children and Maria danced under in ‘Doe a Deer’. Eeek.

From the gardens, I made my way down to the River Salzach, catching my first glimpse of the stunning Hohensalzburg fortress in the distance. I crossed over the Markatsteg bridge, which has now been covered in love locks, and ventured into the quaint old town with its cobbled streets and ancient buildings. It was beautiful! As much as I wanted to keep exploring I had a very important booking with the Edelweiss School of Cooking – it was time to learn how to make traditional Austrian Apple Strudel!

Edelweiss School of Cooking has been operating since 2012 and is housed in a little workshop space carved deep into the mountain – it really was beautiful. There was only three of us in our class which made the experience even more personal; myself and two ladies over from Chicago. Our teacher Anna was really enthusiastic and it was great watching her and learning about the dishes before we got to making them ourselves!

We started with the apple strudel – or apfelstrudel – a traditional Viennese dessert which is popular all across Austria and seen as the national dish along with Weiner schnitzel.  Anna first showed us how to marinate the apples using sugar, cinnamon and raisins. You can also add rum to the mix for a bit of a kick. The pastry should be made a day before baking so Anna had already made this in advance. She showed us how to roll it out and stretch it really thinly using your knuckles to disperse its weight.

Once rolled (no worries if you get a couple of holes) you cut off the excess from the edges and dust over breadcrumbs and brush over butter. Next, you spoon on your apple mixture to one end, tightly fold in the edges, and use the table cloth to flip the strudel and roll it. After you’ve tucked in the edges you place the strudel in a buttered baking tray, brush on a generous amount of butter, before baking and serving with dusted icing sugar and whatever you fancy on the side.

The recipe is as below:

Having watched Anna’s demonstration, it was our turn! We kneaded, marinated, stretched, rolled and dusted before having our own strudels ready for the oven. Pretty good even if I say so myself!

Whilst the strudels baked, Anna showed us how to make the actual dough. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! It’s a really simple recipe of flour, water and oil which I found to be much more delicious than the filo pastry variety you find over here in the UK.

Next up on the agenda we were we would be learning how to make, Salzburger Nockerl,  a dessert which, I must admit, I had no idea what it was before starting the class!

Salzburger Nockerl is a sweet, fluffy egg soufflé which is sat on top of lingonberry or redcurrant jam and fashioned into peaks to resemble the three mountains which surround Salzburg; the Mönchsberg, Kapuzinerberg and, depending on who you are talking to, either the Rainberg or the Gaisberg).

Salzburger Nockerl has become a dish synonymous with the city and its history – legend has it that the famous Salzburg prince archbishop of Raitenau loved his mistress Salome mainly because of her exquisite Salzburger Nockerl.

The recipe for this creation is as follows:

We separated the eggs and whisked the whites with sugar before folding in the yokes and (gently!) adding some flour. You don’t want to stir the mixture too much and want it to be only loosely combined! You then spoon the mixture onto a baking tray with the jam already in place. Using a spatula you shape the mounds into the shape of the three mountains. Once prepared, the dish takes about 10 minutes to cook in the oven – it’s as easy as that!

Whilst the desserts baked  we were treated to the most delicious bowl of beef goulash soup which was absolutely amazing. I took a snap of the recipe so I could try and recreate it at home.

Next up – the Salzburger Nockerl… this was nice, although as someone who isn’t a massive fan of eggs it’s not probably something I would order again – nice to try though!

After a bit of a break, and a nice cold beer, the strudels were brought out the oven, crisp and perfect! It must be said, these were absolutely delicious and definitely something that I would cook again. Apparently you can also make savoury strudel with vegetables/cheese etc. Sounds amazing!

I would so recommend this little cooking class! It was so much fun and so interesting to learn to cook, and of course taste, these delicious Austrian delicacies!

The cookery class ended mid afternoon so I thought I had better do a little exploring before the sun started to fade. I had heard that the views from up at the Museum of Modern Art which is located on the Mönchsberg Mountain are some of the best in the city; the perfect place to get my bearings.

For 3euros you can go up in the lift which takes you to the top of the mountain in minutes; before you know it you’re out in the open with the most amazing views down onto the old city. The Mönchsberg, at 507 meters (1,663 ft) above sea level, was named after the Benedictine monks of St Peter’s Abbey at the northern foot of the mountain.

There are some really lovely walking tracks up on the mountain which make you feel totally like you are out of a city. I wandered around before finding myself up at the Bürgerwehr and the Winlkler Terrace; the ancient fortress walls of the city dating back to 1280! I spent a fair while up here, walking around, admiring the scenery and taking it all in. There is something so beautiful about the city with its old buildings which are towered over by the imposing mountains.

After a little while I decided it was time for a well deserved break so I headed back to the Museum which has a fantastic terraced cafe called M32 where you can sit out and enjoy the views. I did exactly this with a large glass of white wine and was extremely happy!

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Another piece of Sound of Music Trivia – they filmed some of the scenes in ‘Doe a deer’ up here when you see Maria teaching the children the words to the songs, sitting out on a bench with the views of the city beneath them!

Heading back to ground level, I wandered down into the town and back to the hotel for a shower (I think I had as much sugar on me than I had managed to dust on the strudel….)

I wanted to try out a traditional Austrian restaurant that evening, so asked the hotel whether they could recommend anywhere. They said that the Alter Fuchs (the ‘old fox’) was one of the best in the city and only a short walk away from the hotel – perfect!

I headed into the town and found the restaurant which was absolutely rammed; I guess they had a good reputation citywide. I was lucky and managed to get a little table where I sat and had the most amazing meal, washed down with a glass of wine, whilst I watched the world go by. Traditional Austrian food is very, erm, meaty. It’s probably not the best place to come if you’re a vegetarian, even though I did see a few restaurants with aubergine schnitzel on the menu which sounded delicious! In the Alter Fuchs I ordered ‘Ganze Schweinssletze meit semmelknoedel dazu Radisalat’ (roasted ham hock served with bread dumplings and horse radish salad). All I can say is ‘wow’ it was absolutely delicious. I also ordered a couple of pretzels just to increase the percentage of beige food in front of me…. The meal was literally amazing and I would definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone visiting the city who is after traditional food!

Once I finished my meal the evening was well and truly upon me. I wandered back to the hotel and had the most fantastic sleep (I must admit I watched a bit of the Sound of Music to get myself in the mood for the tour the next morning!) – yodel-ey-hi-hoo!

The next morning, bright an early, I woke up and got myself ready for the day ahead. I popped into the town, via the Bäckerei Leimüller where I stopped off for some coffee and breakfast to go! Delicious.

I booked my Sound of Music tour with the original provider; Panorama tours, whose meeting place is in Mirabelplatz right next to the gardens. Panorama, interestingly, provided the transport for the 250 cast and crew members back when the movie was being filmed. Once the film became a success, people often asked to be taken around the filming locations which led to the tour officially opening in the late 1960s – amazingly it’s just as popular today as it was then! The tour apparently books out weeks in advance in the summer so it’s definitely worth making sure you get this organised well in advance of coming. Luckily for me, visiting in March, it wasn’t a problem and I booked on fairly easily.

I got on board the, erm very discrete tour bus, before finding a seat and being introduced to our guide; David. As we drove out of the city centre David told us a little about the movie to set the scene. The Sound of Music, which was released in 1964 is still the third highest grossing movie of all times (after Gone with the wind and Star wars). It tells the story of trainee nun, Maria, who was sent away from the Abbey to look after the seven children of a widowed naval captain. The story is based on the real story of Maria Von-Trapp and I was so interested when David told us all about the ‘true’ story!

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born on a train on its way to Vienna on January 25th, 1905. Her mother died when she was about two years old and Maria grew up with a foster mother (an elderly cousin of her father) in a little house on the outskirts of Vienna.

She underwent a very strict education without any other children around. She spent five years in a grade school followed by three years in a high school and four years in a State Teacher’s College.

Raised as a socialist and atheist, her attitude changed dramatically when she, intending to hear a Bach concert, entered her college church. A well known priest, Father Kronseder, started to preach and Maria found herself overwhelmed by what he had to say. A meeting with this priest changed Maria’s life and belief.

Maria joined the Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg to become a nun. It was decided that Maria , who was also a trained teacher, should leave the convent for a year to go to the Trapp Villa to work as a governess for the captain’s daughter, also named Maria, who lay in bed with Scarlett Fever.

After the first year, the children asked their father to do something to make their governess stay. They even suggested he should marry her. “I don’t even know if she likes me!” was the captain’s answer. So, the children went to ask for themselves. As Maria said “Yes I do”, they were engaged. She never returned to the abbey and married the Captain on November 26th, 1927.

Two more daughters were born and the von Trapps were content with their lives. In 1935, Father Wasner (the real life ‘uncle Max’ Detweiler) entered their lives and brought sophistication to their family hobby – music.

The natural freshness and purity of their voices awarded them the first prize in a choral competition during the Salzburg Festival in 1935. The family, who had lost all its money during the depression, was invited to give concerts throughout Europe.

In 1938, Hitler entered Austria and the von Trapps decided to save their spiritual rather than their material wealth and left their large estate outside of Salzburg for the United States. As if going out for one of their usual family hikes with knapsacks on their backs and dressed in mountaineering clothes, they left their house and belongings behind. They took trains through the Austrian Alps, crossing the border to Italy and on through Switzerland, then France to London, and finally a boat to America. The Von Trapps eventually opened a lodge in Vermont which is still family owned, and run by the great grandchildren of Maria and the captain today.

One of the first spots that we saw on the drive out of Salburg central was the famous Mozart Bridge, built in 1903. According to local anecdote, a wealthy owner of a café on the Imbergstraße side lobbied for the construction of the Mozartsteg and donated money for it – because his café did not receive the amount of guests that his competitors on the other side of the Salzach River had. The bridge was made famous of course by its cameo in the Sound of Music where the children dance across the bridge singing ‘favourite things’. It was great seeing it out the window of the bus but I knew I would want to return later to see it in ‘real life’!

Our next stop on the trip, after being treated to brilliant views of the Hohensalzburg fortress was the Schloss Lepoldskron – that’s right – the back of the Von Trapp Mansion with the terrace out onto the lake! This beautiful palace was commissioned by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzbur Count Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian in 1736. Interestingly, the Von Trapp Mansion doesn’t actually exist as you see it in the film. The back of the house, its terrace and lake is here at Leopoldskron, but the distinctive yellow frontage of the house is a completely separate property. The film makers employed some pretty tricksy camera workings to ensure the house was exactly as they imagined it!

The lake at the back of the house is of course the well known from this site; this was where the children and Maria all fell off the canoe when they saw the Baroness and had to line up on the terrace soaking wet in their clothes made from curtains. It was so crazy seeing such a recognisable location right in front of us; right down to the jumping horse fences! I loved it.

The house is actually now a hotel so unless you’re a paying guest you can’t get any closer to the house than across the lake where we stood – that was fine with us however as you got a brilliant view onto the terrace and of course fantastic views of the Untersburg mountain which looms behind.

Something really interesting about doing these tours is that we were told lots of stories from behind the scenes as we went along. For example, the four year old actress who played Greta could not swim in real life. Julie Andrews was therefore asked if she could fall forward, with Greta when they rock out of the boat, so that Julie could sweep her up and bring her to the shore. That was all fine and well until the little girl fell off the front, and Julie Andrews the back. If you watch the film closely you can see poor Greta’s feet go up and under the boat… Apparently the little actress was really traumatised and refused to get back into the water. The film makers, cast and crew proceeded to spoil her with sweets and chocolate for the rest of filming, however this apparently caused a real issue for the final scene of the film, where the family walk over into Switzerland singing ‘climb every mountain’. Apparently little Greta, spoiled by all the treats, had got too heavy to ride on Christopher Plummer’s shoulders so they ended up having to use a stunt double! Ha!

Having enjoyed the scenery at Schloss Lepoldskron , and having taken about a million photos, we climbed back in the bus and made our way across to the next destination.

En route we were treated to a very exciting view of the front of the Von Trapp Mansion; the Schloss Forhnburg. This house is actually a private residence so the bus couldn’t get very close unfortunately. You can however take a public bus directly to it if you have time and skip up the yellow walled Hellbrunner Allee singing ‘I have confidence’ – if you want….

Even though I didn’t have time to go back and visit it close up, it was super cool seeing it in real life and you really recognised it from the movie.

Schloss Hellbrunn, where we stopped off next, was not actually a location in the movie, it does however house one of the most iconic sets from the film; the famous conservatory where and Liesl and Ralph danced to ’16 going on 17′. The conservatory was gifted to the owners of Schloss Lepoldskron as a thank you after the completion of filming however constant trespassing into the hotel’s private grounds meant that the decision was made to move it somewhere public, where it could be visited but also maintained. You’re not actually allowed to go inside the conservatory any more, unfortunately. Apparently an elderly lady broke her leg jumping from one bench to the other so it was locked on health and safety grounds….! Still pretty cool to see it in real life however. The conservatory also had a little plaque next to it, commemorating Charmain Carr, the actress who played Liesl, who sadly passed away in 2016.

On the walk back to the bus, David pointed out that the very car park we were parked in was the spot in the film where Maria jumped off the bus, guitar in hand, and danced up the tree lined alley way up towards the Villa Von Trapp, singing ‘I have confidence.’ Well, it would have been rude not to take a selfie right?

From Schloss Hellbrunn, we made our way back into Salzburg centre where we got our first glimpse of the famous Nonnberg Abbey, the real Abbey where the original Maria was a nun, and of course the Abbey used for some of the shots in the film. The red onion shaped roof was our first glimpse of this iconic spot; I couldn’t wait to head up there later in the day and get a closer look.

From here we headed across the river and back out of town, up the mountain roads towards the Lake District of Austria; also known as Salzkammergut, a region formed of 52 municipalities, three Austrian federal states and 76 lakes! I actually did a separate trip out to this area which I will write about separately – it’s STUNNING. You knew we were starting to get higher up into the Alps as the snow was suddenly apparent on the ground around us..!

The first lake side town we drove past was Fuschl am See, the holiday destination to the rich and the famous. Next we stopped off at Lake Wolfgang with the little town of St Gilgin lining its shore. The view from up here was absolutely stunning, and this was one of the lakes used in the opening scenes of the film, so beautiful!

From here we drove for about half an hour (with the film soundtrack blaring, of course), until we made it to our next destination, the little village of Mondsee, located in the district of Upper Austria.

This beautiful little village, with its cobbled streets and brightly coloured buildings houses one of the most iconic places from the film; the Mondsee Abbey where Maria and the Captain get married. In the true story Maria and the Captain actually married at Nonnberg Abbey, however the filmmakers were not granted permission to film inside the actual church, so instead location scouted similar places around Salzburg. They luckily came across Mondsee Abbey which for me is one of the most memorable scenes in the film!

As I headed inside the church I literally could not believe how beautiful it was; I recognised the archways and the elaborate murals but it really was incredible to see in the flesh! The Abbey dates back to a mind boggling 748 and is a real treasure of Middle Ages Architecture!

After spending a little while admiring the abbey I walked into the town for a wander before stopping off at Cafe Braun for a coffee and some strudel. I bumped into two girls from my bus here; a girl called Kate from New Zealand and a Turkish girl called Gretchen. We all sat together and caught up about travels etc, it was really nice!

After spending a little while in Mondsee we hopped back on board the bus for the drive back to Salzburg. We were given a drink each and a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary on the film was played. I was more interested in enjoying the stunning scenery out the bus however!

On arriving back into Salzburg, David took us to our final stop of the day; the famous Mirabel Gardens which I had tried my best at not exploring the previous day.

Here we saw the setting for the famous ‘Doe a Deer’ song, including the Pegasus fountain (added in 1913) that the children and Maria danced around, the musical steps they jumped off finishing the song, the statue gates and the vine tunnel which they ran down – of course, these were all re-created. Luckily by this point Kate and me had been wandering around together so we managed to act as each other’s photographer so we didn’t just have selfies in the gardens – it was so much fun!

Having spent a fair amount of time jumping and leaping around the gardens Kate and I decided we would wander up the river and take a look at the Mozart bridge which we had seen earlier from the bus – it was super interesting to see.

Next we wandered back into the old town where we found the narrow staircase that leads up to the Nonnberg Abbey. The steps were pretty exhausting but the views once you got to the top were well worth it!

Sitting above the city, the historic Nonnberg Abbey (Stift Nonnberg) was founded by Saint Rupert in 714 AD.  This longevity makes Nonnberg the oldest convent in the German-speaking world.  Prior to the convent, the perched location was home to a small Roman fort dating back to the settlement Luvaum which is why Saint Rupert renamed the town Salzburg (Salt Fortress). The Nonnberg Convent’s abbey has been rebuilt a couple of times with the current one dating back to the 1400’s.

There were 4 great scenes film on the ground of the Nonnberg Convent in the Sound of Music movie near the abbey gates.  These iconic scenes include Maria leaving the abbey while wondering “What will this day be like?”, the nuns talking about Maria, the children coming to visit, and the Nazis on the hunt for the Von Trapps during their escape.  Fans of The Sound of Music movie will also remember the nuns singing the song ‘Maria’ at Nonnberg.

After taking our snaps, we headed inside the actual Abbey which really was fascinating. The inside of the Abbey wasn’t actually used for filming, but seeing as this was where the real Maria and the Captain were married, and of course this provided the inspiration for the film sets, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

Having spent some time in the Abbey we wandered back down towards earth, down the old fortress walls and towards the main square of the old town. Literally, I swear the views got better around every corner.

We soon hit the main square, where we visited the stunning Salzburg Cathedral which dates back to 774. Interestingly the Cathedral still the baptismal font in which composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized.

Something which you’ll notice in Salzburg in the winter months is that they protect all the statues from the cold elements in order to preserve them. It is a bit of a shame that you can’t see some the exquisite, and iconic pieces however, I wish they covered them with glass. One particular disappointment was that we couldn’t really see the famous horse statue Residenz Square which Maria splashes whilst singing ‘I have confidence’ – I did however peak through the wooden slates to catch a little glimpse.

Something else you’ll see in this area, which is recognisable from the films, are the big stone archways which Maria runs through on her way out the Abbey, and of course the horse drawn buggies are all over the place – I didn’t see any with a governess teaching a group of 7 children how to sing however.

From the Cathedral we wandered around until we reached the St Peter’s Cemetery. The beautiful flower-filled cemetery of Saint Peter’s Church is where the Von Trapps hid from Nazis in the movie although the actual scene was filmed in Hollywood.  This unique cemetery goes back to 700 AD with cliff-side catacombs that go back even further to 215 AD.  Among the graves are Mozart’s sister Maria Anna as well as Franz Wasner, the real-life Max Detweiler. The most unusual thing about Saint Peter’s cemetery to us is that you do not buy the plots, but instead rent them.  Relatives of the dead must pay rent for the plot every 10 years and must also be the caretakers.  If your family doesn’t pay your rent, they toss your body out.  This method does help ensure that every rod iron headstone you see will have an abundance of fresh flowers. We could have spent ages walking around admiring this fascinating place!

From here we head back into Kapitelplatz where we admired the sculpture “Sphaera,”. This piece by Stephan Balkenhol in 2007,  is about nine meters in height, including the pedestal. It represents a male figure standing in a relaxed pose on a golden sphere. Black  trousers, white shirt, neutral attitude and expression – this man might be a nodding acquaintance, or he might be everyman.

Our next destination was the setting for another of the most memorable scenes in the film for me. The Rock Riding House in town is where Captain performs “Edelweiss” is joined on stage by his family for “So Long, Farewell” before escaping from the Nazis. Unfortunately there was a ballet performance on whilst we were in the city, so we could only get as far as the main lobby.

Next to the Rock Riding House is the medieval Horse Bath where the children and Maria run past whilst singing ‘favourite things’. The Horse Fountain’s muraled facade was added in 1693 while the Archbishop also built new Royal Horse Stables next door.

By this point we had seen most of the sites from the movie and hunger had definitely got the better of us – we decided it was high time to grab some lunch. We decided just to have a wander and see if anywhere took our fancy, luckily we stumbled across Mozart’s Geburtshaus (birth house) which was super interesting. The world renowened composer  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 in the “Hagenauer Haus” at No. 9 Getreidegasse. His family actually lived here for 26 years, from 1747 on, occupying an apartment on the third floor. With parents Leopold and Anna Maria as well as sister “Nannerl”, Mozart spend his childhood and much of his youth there. In 1773, the family moved to the house is known today as the “Mozart Residence”, standing on Makartplatz Square.

We soon stumbled across a nice looking restaurant called Gastof Goldgass where we both opted for a large glass of wine and a traditional weiner schnitzel served with potato salad and redcurrant jam. Oh. Wow. I’m not normally really a pork fan but this was absolutely delicious – I can see why it’s the national dish of Austria!

After we had finished our meal we went for another little wander before going our separate ways for the evening! It was so nice to meet Kate. Something I love about travelling on your own is the people you meet!

That afternoon, having wandered around the little lanes and the shops I popped back to the hotel for a quick (!) snooze, a bath and I watched the final half of Sound of Music which was so interesting having spent the day visiting all the spots!

That evening, at about 9pm I popped out to grab a quick bite to eat, although completely failed and ended up having a full on meal at this brilliant restaurant called Gablerbrau. It was so good!

Unusually for me, I opted for a really meaty option and chose the braised oxtail with in red wine gravy with parsley potatoes. This is apparently the restaurants signature dish and it absolutely did not disappoint, it was incredible. I stayed in the restaurant for a little while, mostly people watching before heading back to bed for the best sleep after a very busy day!

Tomorrow I would be heading to Germany to visit the little German town of Berchtesgaden, followed by an afternoon visiting Austria’s lake district; Salzkammergut. These both deserve their own posts so I’ll write about them separately.

It’s safe to say that Salzburg was one of the prettiest cities with an amazing history and an incredible atmosphere. The people I met were fantastic and I would absolutely return one day – what a place!

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