Nigel Robinson goes off in search of The Sound of Music in Salzburg.
Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?
Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Salzburg is Austria’s fourth largest city, and its carefully preserved Baroque splendour, especially in the old town, has earned it UNESCO world heritage status. Its tiny winding streets, packed with quirky crafts shops, and charming bars, are dominated to the west and the east by the imposing craggy grandeur of the Mönchsberg and the Kapuzinerberg hills, which provide stunning views over the city.
But if there’s one thing that Salzburg is famous for, then it’s music. And, yes, it’s not just the Mönchsberg and Kapuzinerberg, but the surrounding snow-capped Alpine hills and mountains, which really are alive with the sound of music.
Mozart was born here in 1756 and worked in Salzburg until 1781 when he moved to Vienna. The family lived in a third-floor apartment on the bustling Getreidegasse shopping street in the Alt Stadt, or old town, which has now been turned into a museum celebrating his work and life.
When the apartment grew too small for the family they moved across the Salzach river to the new town and Makartplatz 8. Bombed during the war, the house was faithfully reconstructed and opened to the public as the second museum dedicated to Mozart.
There’s no escaping the city’s most famous son. And while Mozart might rightly draw in the classical music aficionados there’s no doubt a majority of foreign tourists come here for just one reason: The Sound of Music.
It’s not hard to see why. One of the most successful movie musicals of all time, much of it was shot here, taking advantage of the city’s picturesque and historical locations and its dazzling Alpine scenery. The film is, in fact, a love letter to Salzburg, as well as a handy source of income for the innumerable Sound of Music coach tours, offering visitors the opportunity to visit some of the locations where the actual movie was shot.
Don’t expect to see many Austrians on the tours though. Upon its first release in 1965 the movie more or less flopped in Europe, closing after just fourteen days, and even today Salzburgers remain a little bemused by UK and US tourists’ fascination with the story of Fräulein Maria and the singing von Trapp children.
So rather than take the normal tourist trail, let’s take a song-by song journey through the home of The Sound of Music.
How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?
The real Maria von Trapp, played in the movie by Julie Andrews, was a novice at the eighth-century Benedictine Nonnberg Covent, the oldest convent north of the Alps. Visitors, however, aren’t allowed into the abbey itself, but just the church and the Gothic St John’s Tower with its distinctive copper-coloured roiof. In 1927 Maria was married to the Baron von Trapp here, but, as we’ll see, the church was considered too small and unimpressive for the wedding in the movie.
High on a Hill was a Lonely Goatherd
In the film, the von Trapp children performed their marionette show in the Leopoldskron Palace. But if you want to see the real thing you have to head off to the famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre. More than just a puppet show, the Theatre offers epic and impressive live productions, including ones based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungs, and, of course, The Sound of Music. You can even buy your own Maria marionette from the souvenir shop.
The Felsenreitschule, or Summer Riding School, is where Baron von Trapp sang Edelweiss at the Salzburg Festival before escaping from the Nazis. It’s still held here every summer in the Festival Halls surrounding the former School (this year 23 July to 31 August) and features opera and drama performances and classical music concerts. The Felsenreitschule is now a theatre with a retractable roof used for open air performances in the summer.
Hofstallgasse 1 http://www.salzburgerfestspiele.at/
The Baroque gardens of the Mirabell Palace provided one of the main locations for Maria and the children’s performance of Do-Re-Mi. Geometrically designed flowerbeds surround the Pegasus statue and fountain around which the Von Trapps danced, and there’s also the chance to run through the hedge tunnel, as well as visit the orangery and the rose garden. Glimpsed briefly in the movie is the Zwergerlgarten, a garden featuring a set of grotesque statues of dwarfs.
The Mirabell Palace is now the office of the Mayor of Salzburg but many of its rooms are open to the public, including the marble hall, a former banqueting hall of Salzburg’s ruling Prince Archbishops, and where Mozart is said to have played. The hall is now used for special events including weddings, for straight couples at least. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Austria although with the majority of the public in favour it seems only a matter of time before the marble hall will see its first gay wedding.
I am 16 going on 17
The gazebo where telegram boy Rolfe wooed Liesl originally stood in the grounds of the Leopoldskron palace, but has now been relocated to the Hellbrunn Palace and Gardens.
This Baroque villa and its gardens, which are open to the public in the summer, is particularly famous for its trick fountains. Sit at the stone dining table in the Roman Theatre, and don’t be surprised if you get soaked by one of the hidden fountains, which were installed by a former owner (whose own chair unsurprisingly remains dry). The Gardens also house some charming grottoes with similar surprising water features as well as a mechanical theatre whose moving figures are operated entirely by water.
Boating on the Lake
Just outside the old the old town, the 18th-century rococo Leopoldskron Palace provided the location for many of the outside scenes at the Trapps’ family villa, including the famous boating scene. The Venetian Room on the palace’s first floor with its magnificent handcrafted golden wall panels and mirrors served as the model for the ballroom scene in the film. Unfortunately the palace isn’t open to the general public, but you can stay in the grounds in the hotel adjacent to the palace.
A short drive out of the city takes you to the Salzkammergut, Salzburg’s very own Lake District of over 70 crystal clear lakes, set amongst stunning Alpine scenery. The Mondsee is one of the largest of these lakes and is a popular spot for water sports enthusiasts in the summer. In the movie Maria and the children cycled here by its shore singing Do-Re-Me. Nearby is the picture-perfect market town of Mondsee. It was here in the town’s basilica Saint Michael that the wedding scenes were filmed for the movie.
Kirchengasse 1, Mondsee am Mondsee
The Sound of Music Trail
Starting in the tiny and charming town of Werfen, about 40 km outside of Salzburg, the newly opened Sound of Music trail is a one-hour hiking path, with interactive stations along the way, telling the story of the von Trapp family. The trail ends in the Gschwandantanger area and in particular the field where Julie Andrews took the children for a picnic and which was used as another location for Do-Re-Me. There’s even the change to pose with “Maria” and the children, or simply take in the breath-taking Alpine views and the imposing Hohenwerfen Castle in the background.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel am Mirabellplatz
Historic and charming residence in the bustling city centre and just a few minutes’ walk from the Mirabell palace and gardens.
Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron
Luxiry hotel set in the grounds of what was used as the von Trapp’s family villa in the movie.
WHERE TO EAT
The largest private beer brewery in Austria offers you beer tastings, a beer exhibition as well as serving classic Austrian fare in its restaurant.
Award-winning restaurant, with an excellent wine cellar and handy for The Sound of Music Trail.
Markt 46, Werfen