Quick, what’s your favorite movie? Chances are, if you grew up in the States or the UK and are over 30, it might be The Sound of Music (TSOM). Long heralded for its (cheesy) fabulousness, it has stood the test of time, won five Oscars and is the third highest grossing movie (adjusting for inflation) after Gone With the Wind and the original Star Wars. Not bad for fifty year old film about – among other things – Nuns and Nazis.
And, as any TSOM aficionado knows, the film was shot in and around Salzburg, which, we found out first hand, is not such a long way from Zurich.
Salzburg is one of the most gorgeous cities in Europe with its legion of Baroque buildings, churches and cathedrals set against the backdrop of the Alps and the fortress of Hohensalzburg. Walking through the city is a feast for the eye; the marriage of German and Italian culture visible everywhere one looks.
The many historic sites helped it become designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997 and it is easy to see why. There is a balance and a rhythm here. The eye rests and travels and lingers making the walking and exploring a truly delightful experience.
Since moving to Zurich, we’d been wanting to make the pilgrimage to the land of the Lonely Goatherd and we finally decided it was time while our mum was in town, to grab her, the mini Zuri Girl and head Eastward. And as this is the 50th Anniversary of the film, there is no better time to go. Three generations of Zuri Girls in the land of Edelweiss – what an adventure!
We took the train to Munich, stayed a night and then continued on to Salzburg. On the way back we came directly. Both trips were fabulous. As is the case with Swiss railway, planning ahead will save you money.
Zuri Girl Tip: Check out the SBB supersaver tickets. You can save up to 50% off the published fare which, especially without a halbtax card, adds up.
The only warning we have is to make sure you are on the train for which you booked the ticket. These fares are not flexible and cannot be exchanged. So be on time! Also, when booking, ask if you need to have assigned seats. This is another good reason to book ahead.
On our way back from Salzburg, it was a Sunday afternoon at the end of school holiday and the trains were standing room only. Luckily, we got the last three seats together, but there were many people forced to stand for the first leg of the trip.Which is no fun at all.
We love sitting in the dining car, sipping tea and watching the stunning landscape pass by. The train is not going so fast so that it’s all a blur which makes it extra relaxing and enjoyable. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to live in such a stunning place. And the trip through Bavaria and into Austria is just as fabulous.
Zuri Girl Tip: Find out if there is a proper dining car or a cafe before boarding. If there is no full-service restaurant, you may prefer to stop in the HB and get a satchel full of goodies to snack on for the ride.
Flying is also a cinch, with 20 daily flights from Zurich to Salzburg Airport W. A. Mozart. Swiss has the most daily nonstop flights and the flying time is an easy 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Taxis are plentiful and affordable. Most of the time, we were picked up by a woman driver, which was certainly a different and welcome change. Especially since we ended up getting a lot of insider tips and history lessons from them.
As in any decent-sized European city, in Salzburg there is everything from 5-star hotels to hostels to rooms and flats through Airbnb. We were terribly lucky to book a small suite at the Villa Trapp. Yes. The actual place where the real Captain, Maria and the children lived! The location was not used in the film, but served as the inspiration. We found out during our detailed tour of the Villa that the real children’s names – Rupert, Agathe, Maria (called Mitzi), Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Marina, were all different from those in the film.
Maria (Mitzi) was quite weak when she was young and that’s how Maria Augusta Kutchedra came to live with the family, to be a private teacher for the ill young girl. It was to be a test from the nuns to see if she was really ready to take her vows, as she was quite spirited. And after a while, the entire family came to love her and that is how she became Maria Von Trapp. Who knew?!
We stayed in a Junior Suite which had a queen sized bed and a day bed. It was well-appointed, charming and comfortable. We could just picture the children jumping on the beds or scrambling to attention when they heard their very own call on the Captain’s whistle (yes, this part was true!)
We loved the breakfast room and the breakfast, though we didn’t get to enjoy it as much as we would have liked. We wish we could have stayed and lingered for the full two hours of grazing and chatting with other guests around the communal table, but both mornings we had tours booked that began early and so we only had time to grab a few things and run out the door.
The only real downside (other than there being no WiFi in the rooms, which we kind of liked) is that the Villa is not walking distance from the city. It’s a fairly quick taxi ride (10 minutes/12-ish Euros) though, and certainly worth it for the experience of staying in such a special place.
As we specifically went to Salzburg to do all things The Sound of Music, we did not see all that Salzburg had to offer. Two days were not nearly enough time to see all we wanted (our last day was a Sunday – the Marathon was going on and all the shops were closed, which was disappointing but we’re familiar with no shopping Sundays living in Zurich) so we would recommend, especially if you are doing the tours, that you stay at least three days.
Panorama Original Sound of Music Tour – This is the classic and most well-known TSOM bus tour in Salzburg. It’s well-organized and silly fun. Our tour guide was full of both eye-rolling jokes and a plethora of trivia about the film. (Did you know that little Gretl nearly drowned during the scene where Maria and all the children fell out of the boat?) In between the stops, we were treated to the film’s soundtrack and an invitation for a sing-along, which we – without hesitation – joined. We were very proud of the few brave husbands and boyfriends who put their game faces on to show their love and indulge their better halves in what was surely, for many, a life long dream.
We stopped at Mirabell Gardens, an expertly manicured and picturesque spot with many opportunities for reëntacing poses from “Do-Re-Me”, the Gazebo at the Heilbrun Palace, where you can pose for a photo standing in front of, but not inside of the replica of the original glass room. This is disappointing, as so many of us dreamed of being Liesl in the rain and leaping from bench to bench while holding Rolf’s hand, but sadly, a woman apparently broke her hip while trying to do just this and spoiled it for the rest of us. It was bound to happen.
You’ll visit the village with the Mondsee Chapel where the wedding of Maria and Captain Von Trapp was filmed, and you’ll walk along a tree-covered lane to see, across a small lake, Leopoldskron Palace, the location of the Captain’s backyard and private garden and where the boating scene was filmed.
Many fans expect to see the exact location of the Von Trapp Villa as portrayed in the movie and are quite disappointed to learn that several different locations were used. Two for the external locations and then the inside was a set built in Hollywood. Disheartening, to be sure, but this is not an uncommon practice in the movies and we tried to focus on how skilled the director was to make it all seem like one location other than be sad that it was a cinematic trick.
Fraulein Maria’s Bike Tour – If you want to get some exercise while seeing all your favorite locations from the film, this is the way to go. The tour is three and a half hours long and even though it was pouring rain while we were on the tour, it was still a blast. Our littlest Zuri Girl (Five going on Six but thinks she’s Sixteen Going On Seventeen) rode along on a tag along bike and was a trooper, though the tights and Mary Janes she insisted she wear were essentially ruined with the mud. But we Zuri Girls are tough and always up for an adventure.
The Salzburger Landestheater production of The Sound of Music. We were delighted to be able to see a production of the play in German (with English supertitles floating above the stage, which was a fabulous help. Even if you know the play in English, it’s fun to experience the differences). The beautiful people of Salzburg donned their Austrian dirndls and other traditional dress for this sold-out Saturday night event. The cast is first-rate and the theatre is stunning. A highlight of the trip for sure.
We went out walking and found a charming neighborhood spot our first night – Gasthof Uberfuhr. This is not a place for tourists, which we always love. It was delicious and frequented by locals. We enjoyed huge portions of yummy Weinerschnitzel and fresh fish from the Mondsee.
After the play on Saturday night we were feeling snacky and so headed across the street to the Café Sacher. Our tour guide had told us earlier that day that this is where both Julie Andrews and director Robert Wise stayed during the shooting of the film. It is stunning and decadent in all the right ways. The tea service was as spot on as one would expect and full of shining silver. And of course, there were personal-sized, world-famous Sachertortes to sate our desire for a yummy chocolate after a long day. There was even a small table with paper and crayons for the little ones. When we go back, we are heading straight here.
The Goldene Kugel is in the middle of old town Salzburg and was exactly what we wanted after a long bike ride in the rain. Traditional Bavarian food, locally brewed beer all served with a view of the river, in a charming old building with four stories of seating, all of which were full when we arrived and still full when we left. We couldn’t get enough of the amazing Kaiserschmarrn (think pieces of pancakes, covered in powdered sugar and served with stewed plums). Yum. Perfect Sunday afternoon spot.
We can’t wait to go back to Salzburg and have more time with this warm, hospitable and stunning city. If you are as crazy about The Sound of Music as we are, this summer is the perfect time to take the fan tour you’ve always dreamed of. And in celebration of the 50th anniversary, there is even more going on, from The Sound of Music Choir Festival happening on June 26th and the Salzburg Marionette Theatre to the Gala at the Felsenreitschule on October 17th.
Invite your girlfriends, hop on the train, put on your dirndls, book a room at the Villa Trapp and you’ll be well on your way to adding Salzburg to the list of your favorite things.
Contributed by: Zuri Girl Kristen Vermilyea, an American actor, filmmaker, writer and artist who has lived in Zurich for nearly 6 years. She hosts the Zurich Film Festival TV show and is a social media and film consultant. When not watching and writing about film, she keeps busy attempting to learn to play new instruments as her four year old daughter has insisted they start a band.
Photos courtesy of Tourismus Salzburg, Uberfuhr and Villa Trapp