The first thing we noticed about Salzburg was the rain, because it was all we could see coming off the train. We waterproof-wrapped our packs and walked to our hotel, where they’d put us in a cool self-contained little granny flat out the back. The first thing we did was get dry. The second thing we did was figure out how to operate in the rain. Salzburg, they tell us, is like that.
Here are some highlights from Salzburg, home of the Austrian Prince-Bishops and birthplace of classical music’s favourite rebel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Town Itself
Salzburg gets its name from the local salt mines, which were of enormous economic value during the development of the town. As a result of this wealth, the city was able to furnish opulence and a tradition as a centre of excellence for artists. The city’s relative position west of Vienna also helped to cement its position as a trade centre across the Germanic city-states. As a result, the city has an enduring air of delivering the finer things, particularly in the warren of streets that make up the old town. We saw a lot of very well-dressed folks off to cultural performances, many garbed in local traditional dress (which we’d happily call Sound Of Music chic).
Salzburg was also home to the Prince-Bishops, rulers who held both secular and religious authority over the region and the town. Their riches contributed to the developing of the city’s enormous fortress on the hill, as well as other local landmarks and the town’s prosperity in general. While they were not universally loved, the Prince-Bishops definitely had a lasting impact on the town’s fame, culture and prosperity.
Salzburg has some pretty impressive architectural wonders. The hilltop fortress, accessible by funicular railway, gives a real sense of the superiority of the Prince-Bishop’sgeographic position, and of the commanding presence that their authority had over the surrounding landscape. Inside, the rooms have been left in station, including the Prince-Bishops private ballroom, chapel and bedroom. Later generations of the Prince-Bishops used the fortress only while under siege, and instead lived in the Summer Palace or a town palace.
One of these is Schloss Hellbrunn, built by ruler Markus Sitticus. He was apparently an interesting character, and loved pranking his guests. As such, he built the “trick fountains” (wasser spiele), which are a tourist attraction now and the only remaining working set of trick fountains in the world. For example, he had a huge table built, and then set the fountains so that everyone but himself would get their crotch sprayed with water through trick chairs! We definitely got splashed, although not as badly as some others! The grounds of Hellbrunn also include beautifully manicured gardens and the recreated pagoda from The Sound Of Music, which we saw many families pose in front of.
Another local landmark is the Dom Quartier, the local cathedral and palace which is built around three public squares. The Dom Quartier is breathtaking, and with the audio tour, gives an amazing sense of the power and wealth these rulers commanded.
The last palace is Schloss Mirabell, which is a huge garden space on the other side of the river from the old town. Clearly a summer residence, it’s a nice place to walk around, but doesn’t contain the same palpable sense of history as the others we visited.
Let’s talk about pretzels. Normally you think ‘salted, twisted bread’, and often you’d be right. In Salzburg, however, they do things a bit differently. We had donut pretzels, pizza pretzels and Mozart pretzels – which are covered in jam and chocolate. They’re incredibly rich,tasty and the size of a dinner plate! It would have been very easy to eat nothing but pretzels. Except for Die Weisse.
Die Weisse is a renovated beer hall that wasn’t far from our hotel, and came recommended by one of our guidebooks and by Yelp. So we had dinner there twice, including a second afternoon of beer in the sunshine when the rain finally dropped off! The food was incredible – roasted meats dripping with flavour, fried chicken and succulent schnitzel , with salads and sides to die for. Their home-made beer was also delicious and very easy to drink quite a few of in the afternoon sun.
So that was three days in Salzburg. Many pretzels, much rain. Next up – Munich!