If you grew up, as I did, on a sparkly diet of movie musicals, you will know how much it means to stand on the steps in the Mirabell Garden in Salzburg.
It was on that exact spot in 1964 that the Von Trapp children stood behind Fraulein Maria (Julie Andrews) as she went into falsetto for the final bars of Do-Re-Mi and my mother, Carole, has never stopped singing it.
Hence our visit to the beautiful alp-framed Austrian city that played a starring role in The Sound of Music and a chance to relive every scene of the film on the dedicated four-hour Panorama Tour.
For some, this would be a signal to run for the hills (“alive with the sound of music”) but not my family and not when the guide – Peter Nussbaumer – has the wry repartee of a veteran stand-up and mercilessly ribs the film’s Nazi postman.
To enhance this experience, my sister Harriett brought along props – three nuns’ habits – and it was in those that we posed in front of Lake Leopoldskron (where the Von Trapps fell out of a boat) and the gazebo in Hellbrunn Garden (Lisle sings “I am 16, going on 17”) before removing them out of respect at the church in Mondsee. It was in that chapel that Maria and the Captain (Christopher Plummer) wed, and the charming village makes the most of this fact with gift shops selling everything from Von Trapp tea towels to Edelweiss shower gel.
The scenery on the tour is chocolate box perfect, with every bend on the road revealing yet another dazzling vista of hills and lakes as we sang along to My Favourite Things. To say my mother was reluctant to get off the Von Trapp coach is an understatement, but there is other music to hear in Salzburg, notably that by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born and entertained there. Both of the composer’s homes are museums and
I urge you to visit as they have the letters he wrote to his wife, which provide a real insight into his avant-garde humour and hectic touring schedule.
Many things bear Mozart’s name in Salzburg, but some are better than others. The Mozartkugel (pistachio marzipan, and nougat, covered with dark chocolate) is one and the Hotel Mozart another. Located centrally on Franz-Josef-Strasse, the hotel is what you need if you are new in town, because it is very comfortable, offers a tasty breakfast served by waitresses in dirndls and employs two of the finest concierges – Bruno and Rene – who know the menus of every restaurant by heart. The hotel also has the only three-bed single room I’ve come across, so we could camp down together like the Von Trapp children.
Do take a walking tour of the city, preferably with Sabine Rath, who knows the back story to every street sign and square, as well as Jewish points of interest, such as the occasional brass bricks on the pavements known as stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones”, which are inscribed with the names of Holocaust victims. Sabine has studied the Second World War and is building up to giving tours on the subject, although given Austria’s history, she is aware the uncomfortable truths make it a challenge.
Remarkably, with a Jewish population of 50, there is a synagogue, but the opening times are largely the responsibility of 104-year-old Marco (Max) Feingold, whose life will soon be featured in Jewish News.
With restaurants offering traditional dishes and international menus, eating out in Salzburg is enjoyable, but remember to save space for the apple strudel and vanilla sauce. With music governing our visit, the final evening was spent at the Mirabell Palace listening to a quartet play Mozart, Schubert, Dvorak and Beethoven in a gilded hall. It was magical – much like our trip – and could have been the perfect setting for a Von Trapp rendition of So Long, Farewell.
Maybe next time.
Salzburg – the whole story
Salzburg City’s Sound of Music Special package is priced from £179 per person, including two nights’ accommodation, a half-day Original Sound of Music tour with a Sound of Music CD and colouring book for kids.
Price is valid to 29 December 2017 ( the same packages in four-star accommodation are from £205 and £240).