I was lucky enough to pay my first visit to Salzburg on a sparking mid-winters day and the first view out from the train was all shimmering white stone and snow. My eye wandered up the broad river to the church spires of the old town, past these to the huge fortress atop the main hill and beyond to the very close mountain peaks. Salzburg in a glance, quite dramatic, sugar-coated. Our double-decker regional service rolled into the main station. Under two hours from Munich and only €29 return for both of us. The Bavarian weekend ticket always an amazing boon, the double-decker always a comfortable ride and this time a good way see some wintery Alpine scenery without getting cold.

Although Austria’s fourth largest, it is a city only in name and the geography is very manageable with old town and tourist centre a short walk from the train station and conveniently enclosed by the river on one side and an arching chain of hills that ends in the fortress (Europe’s largest intact medieval fortress!) perched over the river, on the other.

The ridge faces the town as a sheer black cliff face in many places and the black rock has been so extensively excavated and built into to with dwellings, car parks (space for 1,500 cars) and tunnels, that it’s hard to imagine there is much rock left. My companion and I enjoyed a walk along this dominating feature, taking an elevator through the rock and up to the modern art gallery sat on the top, then across towards the fort via viewing points, with information placards about stuff so unremarkable, I had no clue what I had read on one by the time I reached the next. Still, as an English version was provided it seemed rude not to persist. There are also some sculptures associated with the gallery dotted around the hill that adds to the experience and great views out in all directions across the city and up the river plain below. We went all the way round, turning off just before the fort and climbing back down through narrow alleys into the old town.

While there is really not much to see down below, the old town is pleasant enough to stroll around and as long as you stay off the main and too busy drag, Getreidegasse, you happen on some interesting corners. An impressive waterwheel, an amazing old-fashioned pharmacy, a statue of Mozart looking like a Roman emperor. Keep clear of the Mozart museums unless you are a true obsessive. There’s nothing to see and the story is hardly earth-shattering – bar the music of course. Thus an empty room playing piano music, a whole floor dedicated to set designs commissioned for the staging of the maestro’s operas and another room full of assorted household objects used during the era – what the Mozart family might have used to stew tea etc..

Some of the churches are worth a brief look as well. St Peters displaying what I thought was a more appealing baroque than the Bavarian norm, looking more art nouveau than Christmas cake, and The Dom itself, really quite beautiful inside and almost austere. The majesty of it all was rather spoilt, however, as we happened upon a packed service listening to Alpine nursery songs, or maybe it was just Alpine music. Anyway, not quite what we hoped for in the place Mozart used to play organ.

Heading back to the station, the new town impresses too, perhaps more appealing, looking a bit more like a busy city. If you are really knackered you can take the trolley bus, that provides a smooth fast ride without disturbing the tranquillity for those who chose to walk.

Photo: G Larson. Wiki commons

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