It’s enough to make Mozart turn in his grave!
The great Austrian composer’s legacy has been drawing crowds to his home town of Salzburg for two centuries.
But these days, its visitors are just as likely to be humming My Favorite Things or Climb Ev’ry Mountain as they are The Magic Flute or The Marriage of Figaro.
It was in 1964 that Hollywood came to this beautiful city at the foot of the Alps to tell the story of its most famous daughter, Maria von Trapp.
The Sound of Music was penned by Rogers and Hammerstein, starred Julie Andrews and went on to become one of the best-loved movies of all time.
In a mix of fact and fiction, fun-loving nun Maria (Andrews) is sent by her mother abbess to be a nanny to widowed naval captain Georg’s seven singing children.
Maria teaches the children to sing and then marries their father (Christopher Plummer), who also happens to be able to hold a tune.
But their happiness is threatened as Nazis take a grip of pre-war Salzburg and insist that proud Austrian Georg take command of a German submarine base.
While film-makers were criticised for romanticising the von Trapp story, they were at pains to use locations where the events actually took place, showing off Salzburg in all its glory.
Today, strolling the old town, you’ll see Sound Of Music fans acting out scenes from the movie.
They make a beeline for Nonnberg Abbey where the real-life Maria joined the sisterhood and where she married Georg in 1927.
Founded in 714, it’s the oldest convent to exist without interruption in the German-speaking countries and for this reason filming was limited to the gatehouse and outer courtyard.
The inner courtyard where nuns sang (how do you solve a problem like) Maria was recreated back at Fox studios in Hollywood.
Next up is Residence Square with its large horse fountain which Maria skipped past on the way to her first meeting with the von Trapps, proclaiming I Have Confidence. Also here, you can do as the von Trapps did and hire a horse-drawn cart (fiacre) to take you round the old town, a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
Overlooking the square is The Residence, the seat of Salzburg’s prince archbishops from the 12th century to 1803. Filmmakers angered the locals when they draped Nazi flags over the building.
The Residence, Salzburg
Then there’s the fragrant Mirabell Palace gardens where Maria led the children on a merry dance around the fountains and flowerbeds singing Do-Re-Mi.
For another dose of realism head for the Rock Riding School, an equine centre turned open air theatre with 96 arcades cut into a cliff face.
It was here in the film that the Trapp Family Singers sang Edelweiss to win the 1938 Salzburg Festival. And it was here that the real von Trapps won a choral competition, in 1936.
Rock Riding School, Salzberg
Many travel firms run coach trips to film locations that are a little further afield.
You’ll see Frohnberg Palace, which filmmakers turned into the von Trapp family home, and Leopoldskron Palace, where the lakeside terrace scenes were shot.
Over-enthusiastic fans kept scaling the garden walls of Leopoldskron to see the glass gazebo where the eldest von Trapp daughter, Liesl, and her boyfriend, Rolfe, sang 16 Going On 17.
In response, the gazebo was moved to the grounds of nearby Hellbrunn Palace, which is open to the public.
Our wonderfully camp guide explained that the gazebo doors are now kept locked after one dancing granny – thinking she was 16 Going On 17 – fell through a glass panel.
The real von Trapp villa became a telephone exchange for the Third Reich but is now a seminar centre in the ownership of the Catholic church. Fans are allowed to quietly roam the gardens.
The coach tour continues into Salzburg’s spectacular lake district, which is seen in the opening minutes of the movie just before Maria bursts into (the hills are alive with) The Sound Of Music.
And the final stop is the town of Mondsee where the mustard coloured church of St Michael doubled as Nonnberg’s church for the wedding of Maria and Georg.
St Michael’s Church, Mondsee
At the end of the tour everyone is handed a packet of Edelweiss seeds to grow your own piece of Salzburg back home.
But you don’t have to be a fan of The Sound Of Music – or Mozart for that matter – to enjoy Salzburg.
The 11th Century Hohensalzburg fortress, the very symbol of the city, is the largest and best preserved citadel in all Europe, sitting in an impregnable position atop the Monchsberg hill.
Within the castle is a marionettes museum where you can learn to make a puppet jig along to The Lonely Goatherd (oops, it’s that film again).
Salzburg overlooked by Hohensalzburg
For shopping, head to Getreidegasse where a forest of intricate iron shop signs hangs above the crowded narrow street – the city’s oldest.
Here you’ll also find the house where Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, and lived until he was 17. It is now a museum to his life and works.
Next door is Next To Mozart, where Salzburg’s history is told using animatronics and life-size waxworks of its famous figures from history.
It’s also the place where you’ll finally come face to face with the von Trapps.
When to go
Winter is a great time to visit Salzburg.
Okay, so the fountains will be boarded up, the gardens will have lost their colour and some of the vantage points may be slippery under foot.
But it’s less crowded and the city is even more charming under a layer of snow. It’s also very festive and great place to do some Christmas shopping.
Plus you’re only an hour’s drive from ski slopes.
Salzburg’s airport is only a couple of miles from the old town and Thomsonfly.com will be flying there up to seven times a week between early December and April from Coventry. Prices start at pounds 24.99 one-way including taxes and charges.
- 1. THE RESIDENCE: The staterooms reflect the power and wealth of the prince-archbishops and the gallery includes paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian. Also in the Square is the Glockenspiel, brought from Belgium in 1695. At 7am, 11am and 6pm daily, 35 mechanical bells play melodies, some, of course, by Mozart. In the adjacent Mozart Square is a large statue of the great man himself and Cafe Glockenspiel where he would have ate his apple strudel
- 2. HELLBRUNN PALACE: This is the former summer house of prince-archbishop Marcus Sitticus who, for a man of God, had a wicked sense of humour. He filled the gardens with surprise fountains and water even spurts up from a set of stone seats around a dining table. Marcus’ noble guests had to sit there and take the soaking for fear of offending their host by rising from the table. Hellbrunn also boasts grottoes, a zoo and a mechanical theatre
- 3. LAKE DISTRICT: Visit the pretty villages of St Gilgen, where Mozart’s mother was born, and St Wolfgang, which achieved fame through the operetta The White Horse Inn. Both villages are on the shores of Lake Wolfgansee and overlooked by the Schafberg (1,753m) from where, on a clear day, you can see 100 mountain-tops. You can take a little steam locomotive to Schafberg’s summit, just as Maria and the von Trapp children did in the Sound Of Music. Have I mentioned that the film was shot in Salzberg?
Hellbrunn Palace, Salzburg