Salzburg’s particular blend of sophistication, charm and elegance is best experienced by simply wandering the city environs, preferably without a map. Austria’s home town of Baroque, and the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is picturesquely sheltered by surrounding mountains and straddles the Salzach River near the border with Germany.
The Salzburg that everyone knows and loves was largely built by three bishop-princes in the late-16th and early-17th century, which is what gives the city its Italian flavour and its skyline punctuated by countless medieval spires, domes, belfries and turrets. The old town, on the south bank of the river, is a Baroque masterpiece of churches, plazas, courtyards and fountains, oozing so much charm that it’s enough to make you forgive young Wolfgang for being so precocious and omniscient. Museums, houses, squares, chocolate bars, liqueurs – you name it and it’s got a Mozart tag stuck on it. A perfectly preserved Baroque city, with a vibrant Old Town, there are enough Alpen peak indicators, church towers and friendly (multi-lingual) townspeople to prevent any prolonged loss of way.Steps from the city’s spacious squares and garden parks are numerous entryways to the historic Old Town – a truly genuine ambience brimming with cobblestone alleys, medieval signs and tempting fragrances. Tiny shops abound, selling the most tantalizing sweets, as well as antiques, crafts and fashions.
The name Mozart is, of course, synonymous with Salzburg. His birthplace is today a virtual museum exhibiting details of his life, music and operatic productions. He personally did not thrive in Salzburg, thanks in part to the presiding Archbishop that kept the city and the monetary rewards of its salt mines under tight control. But music will prevail: an available guestroom is rare during the Mozart Week in January or during the world renowned Salzburg Festival, held every summer in July and August. During the remaining months the various churches, palaces, parks, theaters and Mozarteum Concert Hall saturate the air with music – heard as one wanders Salzburg’s enchanting alleys and squares.If you’re on a musical pilgrimage, you can visit Mozart’s birthplace, his home, the grave of his father and widow, and the house of a person who once knew someone who knew someone whose great-great grandfather once played second bassoon in a Mozart opera.
The high point of a visit to Salzburg (literally and metaphorically) is a tour of the 11th-century Hohensalzburg Castle, which stands on a rock outcrop about 120 meter above the city. It’s almost a separate village in its own right, with all the usual self-sufficient accouterments of a tiny settlement like torture chambers, state rooms, a tower and two museums. On the east side of the old town, the stunning Museum of Natural History has the standard flora and fauna displays, good hands-on physics exhibits and some stomach-churning deformed human embryos. To round off the grisly experience, there are tours of the catacombs in the graveyard of the 9th-century St Peter’s Abbey.