Salzburg and The Sound of Music

Gillian with Julie AndrewsFew movies have boosted a city’s tourism in quite the same way as The Sound of Music, launched in 1965 by 20th Century Fox and featuring the beautiful buildings and magical mountains around Salzburg.  In half a century, it’s been seen by more than one billion people across the globe and those memorable melodies by Rodgers & Hammerstein have entered into many a family’s play list.

Fifty years on, tourists still flock to Salzburg to dance and skip in the footsteps of actress Julie Andrews and her screen family of cute kids.  So having grown up with the movie myself – and made sure my children grew up with it too – I couldn’t resist an invitation to attend the 50th Anniversary Gala concert in October.

If you know the film, the city seems instantly familiar.  Producer Robert Wise did a sterling job in splicing together the best views around Salzburg to create a scenic backdrop to songs such as Do-Re-Mi.  And if you want to skip round the Pegasus Fountain in the Mirabell Gardens as movie-Maria does with her von Trapp charges, nobody is going to look twice. 

Gillian with Nicholas Hammond - 'Friedrich von Trapp' in The Sound of MusicThere might, however, be a raised eyebrow if you tried to recreate the scene where Julie Andrews and the young actors wave to Christopher Plummer – Baron von Trapp – from a rowing boat and tip over into the water – in reality the lake at Schloss Leopoldskron on the edge of the city.  The castle was bought in 1918 by Max Reinhardt, theatre impresario and co-founder of the Salzburg Festival, and is now an atmospheric hotel.

“We did that scene several times and the water was murky and icy cold”, revealed actor Nicholas Hammond – who played Friedrich – at the international press conference.  “And Kym Karath who played little Gretl was just 5 and couldn’t swim, so Julie always had to try and fall in the same direction so she could rescue her!”

It was a surreal and very special moment for me to meet Nicholas and three of his fellow ‘von Trapp children’ – Duane Chase (Kurt), Heather Menzie Urich (Louisa) and Debbie Turner (Marta).  Nicholas spoke for them all when he said Salzburg was in their DNA and how much they always enjoyed coming back to revisit locations for the movie that changed their lives.

The wedding of Baron Georg von Trapp and Maria Augusta KutscheraBut nobody’s life was influenced more by the story of Maria Kutschera and Baron Georg von Trapp than Johannes von Trapp, their youngest son, born in 1939 after the family emigrated to the US.  Now President of the Trapp Family Lodge resort hotel in Vermont, he toured the world with his musical siblings, performing not Rodgers & Hammerstein but classical works by composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg’s other big musical export.  Visit the city today and you’ll find The Sound of Music or Mozart round every corner. 

Mirabell Palace and Gardens, SalzburgMust-do trip for movie fans is the coach tour operated daily by Panorama Tours from beside the Mirabell Gardens.  The 4-hour trip takes in key film locations in the city and beyond, including an atmospheric stop at Mondsee where the interior of the basilica was used for the wedding scene.  The real wedding, however, took place in 1927 at Nonnberg Abbey in the town centre – the convent where Maria was formerly a novice – so as the doors of Mondsee basilica open in the movie, the panorama behind the newlyweds is, of course, the rooftops of Salzburg.

Launch of the Sound of Music Hiking Trail at WerfenIf you’ve time to spare, I’d recommend hiring a car to explore the Salzkammergut, the  lake district of Mondsee, Fuschlsee and Wolfgangsee which lies to the east of the city.  I also enjoyed the pretty village of Werfen to the south, dominated by the Hohenwerfen Fortress that features not only as a backdrop to Julie Andrews and the children but which also took a starring role in Where Eagles Dare.  Climb up the new 1.4km Sound of Music trail to the movie location then reward yourself with a Michelin-starred meal at Obauer back down on the main street.

When you need a break from Maria, it’s an easy switch to Mozart.  The boy genius was born in a modest apartment in the centre of Salzburg in 1756, the family moving to more spacious accommodation nearby in 1773.  It doesn’t take long to tour Mozart’s Birthplace but there’s lots of interactive fun in the Mozart Residence, including some short films that show how hard life was on the road for the family, touring the courts of Europe with Wolfgang and his musically talented sister.

St Martin's Basilica, MondseeWhen the urge strikes to feed body rather than soul, Salzburg offers plenty of tempting cafes for coffee and cake, tucked in the quaint streets and broad squares of the Old Town.  The historic area, tucked beneath the clifftop fortress, is easy to explore on foot.  Browse the boutiques and admire the wide choice of dirndl dresses, collarless jackets and leather shorts, but if that’s a fashion statement too far, just stock up on scrumptious Mozart chocolates filled with pistachio marzipan and praline.  Then take the funicular to Mönschberg terrace and the Modern Art Museum, or head up to the fortress for sweeping ‘Sound of Music’ views of the town. 

Johannes von Trapp (Rt), youngest child of Maria and Georg, with his familySalzburg sells itself as ‘The Stage of the World’, and not just for Mozart or the movie tunes. The Salzburg Festival runs for six music-filled weeks from mid-July.  Miss it and you can still take in the stage production of The Sound of Music, a traditional marionette version at the Puppet Theatre, or maybe a costumed Mozart concert.  

But for me, the most iconic concert venue of all has to be the former Summer Riding School – location for the famous festival scene in the film and setting for the 50th Anniversary Gala Concert.  As we all swayed together to a closing chorus of Edelweiss, there was hardly a dry eye in the house, but they were happy tears.  Head to Salzburg and you can’t help but find some of your favourite things as you climb every mountain … a delightful city break at any time of year!

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Gillian Thornton

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