In May 2016, I travelled to the beautiful city of Salzburg for a short holiday with my Mum, a trip almost solely inspired by our shared love of The Sound of Music. I later entered a short piece about our experiences for The Telegraph’s Just Back travel writing competition, and was delighted when it was chosen as one of the weekly winners. As I’m about to embark on my next travel adventure (where I’ll be spending the prize money – it turns out £200 is an awful lot of Vietnamese Dong!) now seemed a good time to share the article again.
Bells ring out across Salzburg and birdsong is audible everywhere. To stand with your eyes closed while a horse and carriage drives through a cobbled square is to be transported to the last golden days of the thirties. Or at least, the last golden days as represented by Messrs Rodgers and Hammerstein in The Sound of Music.
I wandered meandering streets where intricate iron signs denoted the wares sold within each establishment, delighting when I chanced upon locations from the 1965 film. Within twelve hours I’d splashed water at the horse fountain on Residenzplatz (with confidence), strolled across the Mozart footbridge and pranced around the Mirabell Gardens, albeit clad in jeans rather than curtains. Bright dirndls and leather lederhosen enticed me into shops where I was routinely welcomed with the Austrian ‘Grüss Gott’ and the Untersberg mountain loomed majestically beyond the fortress that crests the city.
With some trepidation I boarded the gaudily painted Sound of Music tour bus, but our guide’s delightful blend of sardonic humour and genuine passion was infectious and I soon found my reticence falling away as we all chirped along to the iconic soundtrack. Posing before the famous gazebo in which ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ was filmed, I shook off the last of my tourist inhibitions, arms outstretched and a smile to match Liesl’s on my face. Continuing to Mondsee, home of wedding scenes and strudel, the natural beauty of the mountains was spellbinding. No studio could fully capture the scale of Austria’s Lake District and I longed to dance across the meadows and hillsides, only to snatch my discarded rain poncho from the verdant grass when summoned by the bells of the city – even if it is rather further away than the film might have us believe.
On that damp afternoon I climbed the gentle incline to Nonnberg Abbey, its crimson dome proud among Salzburg’s predominantly green spires. A minute after entering the building a single, clear chime rang from somewhere within the stone walls, and was gently followed by the unseen nuns singing in chorus. An utterly beautiful few minutes of harmonious a cappella voices rising and falling; all the more poignant for its unexpectedness. Outside the Abbey gate I gazed again toward the mighty Untersberg, its peak temporarily clad in cloud.
As we passed the Mirabell Gardens again, en route to our hotel that evening, a group of Canadian teenagers jumped from step-to-step with a selfie stick, chanting the chorus of Do-Re-Mi while perfecting their routine. Embracing my new-found delight in simply being a tourist, I strode round the Pegasus fountain’s edge as bells chimed around the city once more. Behind us the fairytale fortress glowed pink and beyond that the mountains were falling into shadow.
Mozart balls may glint from every window on the Getreidegasse and schnitzel is indeed the standard bill of fare, but the iconic sights and sounds of Salzburg were definitely my favourite things.
You can read my entry as it appeared on The Telegraph website here: Just Back – The Sound of Music