Published: 17/07/2012 17:24 - Updated: 12/10/2012 12:42

Mozart's birthplace hits the right note

Written byBy Ron Smith

THE clue, of course, is in the name. The German for Salt is Salz – Salzburg is the German for salt city.

The hills around this most attractive of Austrian towns, the fourth largest, are full of salt and the salt mines are still there and are open to tourists. They are quite spectacular too, see www.salzwelten.at.

There is also one full of things to excite children of all ages at Berchtesgaden, just over the border in Germany, which can be easily reached by public transport from Salzburg – see www.salzzeitreise.de (both websites are also in English).

When Salzburg had the salt monopoly it became very rich and this is reflected in its wonderful buildings. There is a large, crescent-shaped hill creating a sheltered area against the river Salzach.

The hill, with a vast castle on top, is called Monchsberg, the monk’s hill, and on the other side of the river is Kapuzinerberg, the Capucin monk’s hill.

Monasteries, convents and churches include an Augustinian monastery that is now a popular brewery (dating from 1621 and the oldest in Austria) where hundreds of people eat and drink every night.

The old town, given UNESCO World Heritage status, is a delightful maze of small streets, mainly pedestrianised, which are great to explore.

The population of Salzburg is 150,000 and it welcomes seven million tourists a year, but the down side is that the shops sell mostly tourist things. The old town was protected by the curved hill and the massive Hohensalzburg fortress and castle above it.

You can reach this by a stiff walk, or by a modern funicular. The cars on it are the latest of several generations on this 120-year-old system, and were put into service in 2011 by the Salzburg Lokal Bahn.

An integrated transport system (something that we have forgotten how to do in the UK) runs the local trains, buses, trolley buses the funicular, lifts, freight trains both local and long distance, and is all available with one card to save you having to continually buy tickets – so sensible.

The trolleybus network, which even goes to the airport, is one of the largest in the world. Unlike other towns and cities where trolleybuses were replaced with diesel buses long ago, Salzburg could see that electric trolleybuses caused no pollution from exhaust, and kept the noise down.

They also last longer than a diesel bus. In fact, they are so good at it that Salzburg Lokal Bahn is working on an innovative new generation of trolleybus under an EU sponsored project. They lead the world in this technology.

You can also get around the town by horse and carriage.

The Salzburg card is very useful. It costs from 22 Euros for one day for an adult up to 35 Euros for there days for an adult. The card, apart from giving you free transport around the town and the local area as well, including trips on the river boats and entry to the zoo, gives free entry to many attractions and reduced prices in many more, such as the town sightseeing buses. It is well worth having, and it also includes several good offers for combined accommodation and tour packages.

Returning to the brewery theme, the excellent beer is renowned throughout Austria. There are many breweries and beer halls, including three Irish pubs, and organised beer walks that last from three to eight hours. I don’t think that I would last an eight-hour pub crawl!

You can be a “Braumeister” for a day and learn how to make beer. There is also a coffee tradition, and Austria’s oldest coffee house, the Café Tomaselli, is an interesting place to stop and refresh yourself.

Don’t think that Salzburg is all about eating and drinking (although they do seem to specialise in that), it also has a slogan “the stage of the world” which shows the level of cultural activities that go on here. Cultural events this year total 4,000, including the six-week Salzburg Festival from July to early September. Of course, the festival has been prompted by Salzburg being the birthplace of Mozart. The house where he was born on 27.1.1756 is in the old town, and is now a museum dedicated to him.

Mozart dominates the town. There is an annual Mozart week, a Mozart university with 1,600 students, Mozart dinner concerts all through the year, and Mozart Kugels, delicious balls of marzipan and chocolate that are known all over the world.

In the old town is a small shop where they were invented and which still makes and sells them today. Although Mozart dominates, there are other musical claims to fame. Michael Haydn was here too, and the other great musical event, the ‘Sound of Music’.

There are ‘Sound of Music’ concerts, film shows, tours etc all through the year. One local person I asked about this huffed and puffed and said that it was “all Hollywood” and there was no such event, no family Trapp, all a Hollywood invention.

In the Panorama museum there was an exhibition ‘The Trapp Family – Reality and the Sound of Music’, but I didn’t go in – it might have spoiled my illusions. Nevertheless, it is big business for the town.

Across the river, the larger more modern part of the town contains some oasis of calm, like the Schloss Mirabel that dates from 1606. It has meticulously manicured extensive gardens to stroll in and take a rest from the hustle and bustle.

Being such a tourist attraction for so long means that there are many hotels of all prices and qualities, and it is easy to get there. Salzburg lies on the main railway route of Austria, from Vienna through to Switzerland.

It has excellent motorway connections, and its airport (called of course Salzburg W.A.Mozart) has connections by direct flights to London airports, so if you can put up with changing ‘planes at Gatwick or Luton, you can get there from here fairly easily. And there are direct flights from Edinburgh.

Salzburg itself will easily keep you occupied for a week or two, and beyond it charming small towns and large castles are dotted everywhere, interspersed with salt mines. For more details of these towns look at www.Salzburg-umgebung.com (also in English).

Austria is in the Euro zone, not universally popular, with many people complaining that prices went up as soon as they adopted the Euro and have never come down again.

It is more expensive than here, approximately double for cups of tea and meals, so again the tourist card helps to keep costs in order. There are package tours which help to make the holiday there more economical.

Some tourist “traps” are tacky and tiring. Salzburg has such an impressive town centre, impressive mountain surroundings, and well-kept, tidy streets, and it has managed to cope with centuries of tourism and still retain its charm.

It is certainly one of those “must visit” places, and is as popular with Austrians, so it must be good.

For more information and great photos have a look at www.salzburg.info

The site has an English option but language is not a probem as Austrians generally have a good grasp of English, and more and more English appears on advertisements, railway ticket machines, and so on.

It is a place to go for all the family and you will probably not even see everything – in fact, I have just discovered that I have an unused voucher for a free beer at “Brauwelt” (beer world) for one of their famous Stiegl beers (Steigl means small stairs apparently – strange) so I must go back there again!

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