Following the sound of music

Ranjita Biswas visits Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart. Situated on River Salzbach,
the city is as famous for its beauty as its world-famous musical great

Mirabell Palace, where Sound of Music was shot, was built by an archbishop for his lover
Mirabell Palace, where Sound of Music was shot, was
built by an archbishop for his lover

TWO films, Sound of Music and Oscar winning Amadeus, based on musical genius Mozart, have represented the spirit of Salzburg. After all, this beautiful city at the foothills of the Austrian Alps had been the setting for both the famous films.

Salzburg is 300 km away from the beautiful city of Vienna. The road to Salzburg is dotted with picturesque valleys, majestic peaks, and medieval monasteries and many twirling wind-energy towers. The arrival point Salzkammergut Lake District has dozens of freshwater lakes fed by mountain streams. Lake Atteri is a favourite spot for picnickers and lovers of boating and hiking. The Red Bull headquarter is also nearby. The premier energy drink is an Austrian product, though the original recipe came from Thailand.

The clear blue sky brings out the contours of the beautiful city of Salzburg by the river Salzbach. The prosperity of the principality in old times was based on salt trade. The name Salzburg literally means "Salt Castle". The barges carrying salt down the river had to pay a toll tax those days.

The Hohensalzburg fortress or Festung
The Hohensalzburg fortress or Festung located on top of a hill offers fantastic views of Salzburg city and the Alps 

The first stop for most visitors is at the Schloss Mirabell palace. The place where Julie Andrews sang Do Re Mi in the prettily laid garden with sculptures (Dwarf Garden) and fountains is instantly recognisable. In fact, it is very difficult, though many find it kitschy, to avoid reference to Sound of Music in Salzburg. The fast-talking guides, who know the international touristsí interest, trill: "This is where Edelweiss sequence was shot," or, "Look there! Itís the My Favourite Things song locale".

Mirabell palace was built by an archbishop for his lover, who bore him many children. Of course, there were scandalous whisperings but the archbishop was a good man and had considerable influence, so perhaps the papal authorities looked the other way. The palaceís Marble Hall is known as the most beautiful wedding venue in the world and it has to be booked more than a year in advance.

On the other side of the river, joined by a bridge, is the Old Town with its famous Baroque architecture, which has placed it in the Unesco heritage list since 1997.

Running parallel to the river, it is a long, narrow cobblestone street, Getreidegasse, lined with designer shops, restaurants etc. which is understandably choc-a bloc with tourists in season. The shops have retained old-style elaborate iron signposts, which look like works of art.

It is packed with surprises like a long street suddenly giving way to squares with magnificent churches, buildings, or horse-drawn carts waiting for passengers, or perhaps a nook where musicians play old-style musical instruments.

The first stop this side for everyone, of course, is the yellow-facade building where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756, a kind of holy grail for music lovers. There is a museum attached to the building where the memorabilia of the talented family ó not only Mozartís father, but mother and sister were also musicians of repute, are displayed.

Such is the reverence for the musician, who died at only 35, that there is even a special chocolate invented and named after him Mozartkugel or "Mozart Ball", a handiwork of chocolatier Paul F`FCrst, concocted out of pistachio, marzipan and a nougat core coated with milk chocolate. Boxes of this famous treat make good souvenirs. But be warned, gift and memorabilia are more expensive this side of the river. If you are looking at value for money, the right side near the Mirabell is a better option. However, in one of the many open markets, excellent potato cutlet, varieties of breads to choose from and foamy Viennese coffee which comes with free chocolate cookies, are available at a very reasonable price. Look out for cafes inside supermarkets or stand-only cafes for that.

Dominating the Old Town is the Hohensalzburg fortress or Festung located on top of a hill. For the fit or sporty types the steep climb can be fun, fine, while others can opt for the funicular. The effort is worth it as the fortress offers fantastic views of Salzburg and the Alps. There is a museum inside with medieval weapons, torture instruments, etc.

A good time to visit Salzburg is during the Music Festival, which has been going on since 1920. It is held each summer for five weeks starting in late July. Salzburg has many other interesting nooks and corners to explore. It is so attractive with natural beauty and retains such an aura of past glory with equal ease that many visitors become repeat visitors.