How is it possible that we keep falling in love over and over again with each new place we visit?
Austria was absolutely wonderful to us.
Our first taste of Austria was the small town of Villach where we had a two hour train “layover”
Not enough time to see the whole city but enough to try a traditional goulash and a pork and potatoes meat dish at a small local brewpub. This was our first taste of the types of food this entire region has to offer. Austria, and central Europe in general, is known for its meat and potatoes, along with the thick stew-like goulashes and hearty sausages smothered in spicy yellow mustard. Since the weather was changing for the colder we truly enjoyed this change of pace in foods. They warm your body and fill your soul.
After a brief but beautiful stroll around the main square we snapped some photos of the stunning mountainside reflecting over the clear blue river and once again boarded the train.
Train trips through this region are unlike anything else. The views are straight out of a landscape painting. Frigid flowing rivers run alongside the tracks, craggy massive peaks dot the skyline. We saw Fall in it’s full glory here.
Salzburg is the city of music. Mozart was born here, although he actually spent most of his life abroad travelling throughout the palaces and concert halls of Europe. His legacy rings loudly from the streets and stones of this city still.
His isn’t the only musical legacy. The Von Trapp family, of Sound of Music fame, also had their home here. After winning several singing competitions the family went on tour throughout Europe just as the Nazi regime was expanding. They wisely decided to remain on tour indefinitely and eventually made their way across safe spaces in Europe all the way to America.
Interestingly enough Jamie and I visited their new home, in Stowe Vermont, earlier this year. The rolling green hills and Fall leave colors do bear some resemblance, but the mountainous peaks of the Alps steal the show here in Austria. Ironically, most Austrians have never seen the Sound of Music. The story of the Von Trapps was already well known and the movie adaptation of the book just didn’t take off.
Salzburg itself reached its rich peak at a later time than many other towns we have seen across Europe. The buildings in the main squares reflect the 1700s rather than the Medieval or Renaissance time period that many other places preserve. You won’t find gray stone constructions or half-timber houses here. In their place are mini palaces, pastel facades and monuments to Mozart.
We had our first Glüwine from a small drink cart just across the bridge as you approach the old town. This is a delicious spiced holiday drink that only makes an appearance during the colder Fall and Winter months. Fruity red wine is heated along with holiday spices and slices of oranges to make the best version of mulled wine we’ve ever experienced. One cup warmed me enough to continue waking around at night even as the weather dropped below 40°.
Now part of Austria, Salzburg was once an independent city state run by Bishops, not Kings or Queens. The powerful church leaders were technically surpassed by the Pope, but effectively ran the town as they saw fit.
They resided in Salzburg Fortress as it’s dual religious and political power, exerting commanding influence over the daily lives of the citizens of the town. The castle does harken back to an earlier time period and has been the dominant structure towering over the city for centuries. Besieged in the 30 Years War and famously again after a peasant revolt, Salzburg Castle has never been taken by a besieging army.
The castle itself is enormous and extremely well protected by a natural rock outcrop. It’s geographic location gave it protection from the utter destruction that most of central Europe experienced in the mid 1600’s during the 30 Years War.
Not as well known or studied at home in America, this formational war raged from 1618 until 1648 as various Christian religious orders fought for political control over the cities and countrysides of The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. It was the bloody consequence of the fracture in the Catholic Church’s sole religious authority that began with Martin Luther’s theocratic revolution. Protestant verses Catholic is an oversimplification of the issue but this fissure presented an opportunity for conniving rulers to expand their control.
The war was brutal, conducted at a time of both swords and guns, spears and cannon. The soldiers pillaged and ravaged the people and land of Europe. The end result was a peace treaty that allowed each King to chose which religion his nation would be rather than have the religion imposed upon him by the Pope.
Enough history, let’s delve into our Salzburg itinerary!
Mirabell Palace was out first stop, it was on the way towards the old town from our hotel. The gardens were used to film the Sound of Music, notably the scene where the children sing Do Rey Mi. It is a classic photo location for many people and only takes a few minutes to walk through. Included next to the French style gardens is also a Gnome garden with some strange and funny looking statues in various poses. It’s quirky and interesting at the same time. The fall colored leaves also added a slight Halloween vibe to the whole area as well.
Altstadt is the “Old Town” side of Salzburg where the city grew up beneath the Fortress which dominates the skyline. Here you can find the main street of Getreidegasse which has lots of shopping options as well as a wonderful wine and spirit bar called Sporor Likor.
We tried the Riesling and another very sweet and strong wine called Ischwine. If you like desert wines you must try it as well. We also discovered Punsch here, a warm holiday drink with orange, rum and cinnamon spices that warms you up on a cold day. The weather was definitely changing for the colder, which makes sense given Salzburgs Alpine setting. Looking up at the snow covered peaks gave us a sense that Fall was quickly turning to Winter.
There are shops throughout the city where you can buy chocolate candies called Mozart balls. One of the most famous places to buy them is called Furst. They have different fillings inside depending on which one you order but we liked pistachio the best! You can find these little treats on every corner.
After waking along the main avenue and having some warm drinks and tasty treats we made our way up the hill to the Salzburg Fortress. You can take the funicular but we opted to simply walk up the steep pathways. I can see how it would have been nearly impossible for enemies to assault this place, you are exhausted just walking up to it’s walls, never mind trying to take them down once you reach the top.
The views from on top of the walls was stunning. You could see Austria spread out like a tapestry beneath your eyes. The Alps were absolutely beautiful from this view and the quilt-like patches of farms, fall trees and greenery stretched as far as we could see.
However the actual museums inside the fortress were a little weak. They did not include many artifacts and went on too long simply as panels with info written on them. Many rooms felt like reading a paragraph out of a book rather than exploring a museum.
After the climb up and down from the castle we needed a break and a place to warm up. Furst is a famous cafe with well known chocolates, pastries and coffee. Sachertorte chocolate cake is one of the most famous, Jamie tried a slice here for her first taste of Austrian desserts.
Johannes Keller was our first dinner in Salzurg. I tried smoked deer with cranberries and horseradish which was simply delicious, something I have never had before.
Following a long day exploring we walked back to our hotel, again passing through Mirabell Gardens at night for a pretty view.
The next day we set out to visit Mozart’s birthplace, the famous yellow building in the heart of Altstadt. Mozart is Salzburg’s claim to fame, Austria as a whole is known for its music and Christmas carol compositions. In fact we met a nice older Austrian couple at Cafe Tomaselli who said they were from the village where Silent Night was composed. It seems nearly every part of Austria rings with the sound of music.
It happened to be Auatrain National Day, a large holiday, so many stores were closed. It was still fun to walk around and see families out and about also enjoying the cool weather, buying roasted chestnuts and generally celebrating the fact that Austria has committed itself to neutrality during all future wars.
We the saw the Salzburg Cathedral from outside, however it required a ticket purchase to enter. Alternatively we went in the free Salzburg Abbey to get our church views.
After church viewing we needed a drink! Jamie and I walked along the river splitting the old town from the new to Augustiner, a very well known beer hall. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming especially for us as we were completely sober. The cheerful and boisterous crowd was just getting rowdy for the night, with beer mugs overflowing and joints of meat being consumed alongside copious amounts of pretzels and mustard.
Unfortunately beer halls just aren’t for us, I can’t drink beer due to my allergies and Jamie can’t even come close to finishing one, the sizes are massive! I will say it had good cheap eats though, I tried pork knuckle and liver sausage. I highly recommend the liver, it’s soft and filling, just don’t think about where it came from!
Missing out on having a drink, we headed to Cafe Bazar where I had a bianco martini for the first time. It was very sweet and very strong, I believe it’s the only unflavored martini Jamie can drink! We both enjoyed it and ended up ordering more later on in the trip as we came across them.
The following day was our Sound of Music Tour day! After resting in the morning and debating several day trip options we opted to buy tickets for this classic bus tour through the city and it’s surrounding mountainside.
This is a must for any fan, and seeing as this movie is so special to Jamie and her family we made it a priority once we knew we had the day free.
They play all the iconic songs on the bus ride, the British tour guide encouraging everyone to sing along really makes for a memorable trip. It was so moving for some, playing the Hills Are Alive as we climbed the Alps, that tears actually flowed from a UK family sitting in front of us. Clearly this is a special movie which so many hold dear to their hearts.
The tour takes you to the classic recognizable gazebo, where “I Am Sixteen” was filmed. Another stunning stop was a view over the beautiful Lake Wolfgangsee, and finally we went to the tiny town of Mondsee where the wedding scene was filmed. This allowed us to see some other sides of Salzburg while having the convenience of someone else driving the twisting mountain roads!
Hallstatt was un-missable for us. We simply couldn’t leave this region without seeing this postcard dream of a town. This was our day to do it.
If I was to conjur up a mental image of the perfect Alpine fairytale town I think Hallstatt would still beat it. This little village is peak fairytale perfection, from half timbered houses to the peaked roofs and stunning lake and mountain views, nothing could beat this.
The pictures from this place don’t even look real, and even then they don’t do it justice. Wandering around with warm glüwine, sipping schnapps and snapping pictures on every street was the perfect way to spend the day here.
Looking up how to get here by bus seems intimidating at first, but trust me the transit it much easier than it appears. Normally three bus transfers may deter us from a day trip, but we were determined to see this village. Luckily the buses all feed into each other, the first one stops right where the second one begins and the third bus is timed to arrive just as you depart the second, making it a rather easy trip here actually.
Luckily there was lots of greenery still, the trees were just starting to turn yellow and red to give bursts of gorgeous color. The town, or village really, is easily walkable and we would definitely say that you need more time than a standard tours give you. In fact our Sound of Music Tour guide, who also takes people on the Hallstatt tour, told us so. We couldn’t agree more.
There is more to see than just the quaint streets. There is a museum of ancient Hallstatt culture, a salt mine tour, a bone church as well as boat rentals in season. We didn’t get to all of that but keep in mind how much you can possibly do if and when you end up coming here! There are lots of cute Airbnb and hotels, we would definitely stay overnight next time we come.
The houses and shops were painted a colorful range of pastels, and along with the wood beams running through made for an unforgettable view. The crystal blue lake Hallstatt is situated on is absolutely divine as well.
Taking the cable car up to the main viewpoint and salt mine is quite expensive, we decided against it and opted to wander the streets some more, fully engulfed in the charm.
Hallstatt is important archaeologically as well, one of the oldest identifiable European cultures comes from here. Hallstatt Culture comprised of an ancient Celtic people who mined salt, traded and worked with gold and bronze quite skillfully. This settlement pattern spread throughout much of Europe and formed a key part of pre-Roman identity.
After a walking dream of Hallstatt we returned back via the same bus route we took there. Jamie and I dined at Gabler Brau, a classic Austrian style resturant. We had a very kind waitress who recommended Jamie a beef broth soup with pancake stripes. It sounds weird but the pancake strips act like noodles and form a rich filling soup. We also had a delicious smoked trout to round out the evening.
Our last day consisted of Jamie researching our next leg of the trip, me writing for the blog, and both of us going over pictures and memories. I decided to stroll along Altstadt one more time to soak in the views and listen to the natural music of Austria ring through my ears once more.
On to Vienna next!
Jamie & Austin