There are plenty of reasons to visit Salzburg, Austria's fourth largest city set among the beautiful scenery of the Alps: the Old Town is renowned for its many well-preserved baroque buildings commissioned by the prince-bishops who ruled the independent ecclesiastical principality for centuries until the early eighteen hundreds. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and brought up in the city and there are monuments to the composer all around. But for many, a trip to Salzburg is an excuse for a nostalgic tour of the sights of The Sound of Music, that unforgettable family tear-jerker that recounts the adventures of Maria von Kutschera and the von Trapp family, a film that marked the childhood of a generation.
Based on the true story told by Maria in her 1949 book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the 1965 film is one of the most famous productions in film history. Coming close on the heels of Mary Poppins, it, too, starred Julie Andrews, this time as Maria von Kutschera, the endearing novice at Nonnberg Abbey, sent to the von Trapp mansion as governess to the seven children of Baron von Trapp, a Naval officer and widower. Against the historical background of the Nazi annexation of Austria, Maria and the Baron, played on-screen by Christopher Plummer, fall in love and eventually make their escape with their children from Austria to freedom – although it was Hollywood which chose to have them fleeing clandestinely through their beloved mountains: in reality they travelled with relative ease by train through Italy and from there emigrated to America. There, after living for some time as the Trapp Family Singers, they bought a ranch in Vermont, where, under the management of some of their descendants, the Trapp Family Lodge continues to operate today as a hotel.
To follow the story of Maria, where better to start than the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg at the foot of the fortress which dominates the entire city? Founded in the eighth century by St. Rupert of Salzburg, the convent is the oldest women's religious house in the German-speaking world. More importantly for Sound of Music fans, this is where Maria was a novice, and the scene of the film's first song where the nuns describe their difficult aspirant as “A flibbertigibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!” before sending her to be governess to the Baron's children. As Julie Andrews heads to the von Trapp house, reassuring herself by singing I have confidence in me, the audience is treated to a sight of Residenzplatz, one of the exquisite squares in the pedestrianised Old Town and site of the former home of the Prince-Archbishop, the magnificent Residenz Palace.
Maria comes dancing along the Hellbrunner Allee to Frohnburg Castle, whose facade and courtyard are seen in the film as the von Trapp family mansion. Other locations were used for other parts of the estate, including Leopoldskron Castle, a few miles from the centre, the setting for the boating scene when Maria has dressed the children in play outfits made from old curtains and they all end up in the water.
Perhaps the most famous of all the songs written for the original musical is Do-Re-Mi. In the film, Julie Andrews leads the children in singing this number over a montage of scenes of the city and surroundings: the mountains around Salzburg, the typical domed roofs of the old quarter, Hohensalzburg Castle, which presides over the city and the Pegasus fountains in the gardens of Mirabell Castle, a sumptuous complex built by the powerful Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Ratineau for his mistress, commoner Salome Alt, and their fifteen children.
Elsewhere in the film other landmarks of the city appear: Hellbrun Palace, where the children played around the fountains, the Felsenreitschule, scene of the farewell recital, and St. Peter's Cemetery, through which the family flee the Nazis. Other locations on the outskirts of Salzburg include Anif Palace, Hohenwerfen Castle, the cathedral at Mondsee – where the grand wedding between Maria and Baron von Trapp takes place, and the picturesque rural scenery of Fuschl, St. Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang.
Although most of us take The Sound of Music for granted, many Salzburgers only discovered the film through the thousands of foreigners who now come to the city each year to follow in the footsteps of Maria and visit the scenes that delighted them as children. And the locals find it even quite bemusing to learn that many of these visitors are convinced that Edelweiss, that moving melody sung in the movie by the Baron as a patriotic challenge in the face of Nazi authority, is not the Austrian national anthem, not even an Austrian folk song, but the last of the many wonderful show tunes that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote as a team.
Best time to visit
Each season in Salzburg has its own particular charm, but the sunny days of the film are more likely to be seen between late spring and early autumn. In late July, the annual five-week Salzburg Festival begins, offering an extensive programme of music and drama.
Salzburg is perfect for exploring on foot and there is good public transport available for visits to the surrounding area.
Where to stay
Two of the city's finest hotels are those where the stars themselves stayed: Julie Andrews and director Robert Wise were at the aristocratic Österreichischer Hof, now remodelled and transformed into the five-star Hotel Sacher, while Christopher Plummer, stayed at the Bristol, which also offers five-star quality.
Where to eat
For relaxation after the day's shooting schedule was complete, the bar at the Bristol proved a favourite among the team, although visitors will get a more authentic taste of local cuisine and ambience at Zum Eulenspiegel (Hagenauerplatz, 2), a charming inn opposite the birthplace of Mozart, or at Zum Mohren (Judengasse, 9), located in a fifteenth-century building. Alternatively, you can enjoy a Mozart Dinner Concert combining fine dining by candlelight with glorious live music by artists in period costume.
The movie trail
Panorama Tours offer half-day excursions to the scenes of the film for 37€. Another novel option is Fraulein Maria's Bicycle Tour , organising cycle tours of the movie locations from May to September.