Make the most of a long weekend in Salzburg

With a historic city center, justly famed for its Baroque architecture, fantastic fortress and beautiful Alpine setting, Salzburg is a jewel of a city.

July 21, 2019 04:38
THE RIVER Enns, Jagersee Lake and the view from Hohensalzburg Fortress are among the enchanting sigh

THE RIVER Enns, Jagersee Lake and the view from Hohensalzburg Fortress are among the enchanting sights in Salzburg, Austria.. (photo credit: JEFF BARAK)

The great thing about a long weekend in Salzburg is that you don’t have to spend the whole weekend in Salzburg. And by that I mean no disrespect to Austria’s fourth-largest city, perhaps best known as the birthplace of Mozart or the setting for The Sound of Music, depending on your choice of cultural reference.

With a historic city center, justly famed for its Baroque architecture, fantastic fortress and beautiful Alpine setting, Salzburg is a jewel of a city. You can happily spend a few days there enjoying its museums, palaces, churches and high-end shopping on immaculately restored ancient streets. These pedestrian precincts and alleyways include the resonantly named Judengasse, the center of Jewish life in Salzburg in the Middle Ages before the community’s expulsion in 1498.

But given the natural beauty surrounding Salzburg, it would be a shame to spend all one’s time within the confines of the city. Now that Sundor is offering direct flights to Salzburg (leaving and returning to Tel Aviv twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays), a long weekend or week-long break split between Salzburg and the Alps becomes a very attractive proposition. No more need to fly to Munich and rent a car for a three-hour drive to reach Salzburg or fly to Vienna and face the hassle of changing planes.

Our stay in SalzburgLand, the Austrian state of which Salzburg is the capital, started in Flachau, a small village noted for its superb skiing facilities in winter that is a short drive away from Salzburg. If you want to make friends with the villagers, just tell them you’ve heard of Flachau’s local hero Hermann Maier, a former World Cup champion alpine ski racer and Olympic gold medalist. His medals and trophies are on proud display in the local tourism office.

From here, access to the mountains is easy. The Grafenberg Lift cable car in nearby Wagrain takes you up to 1,700 meters to the glory of the Alps in the summer. For nature lovers looking to hike, or families with young children, the Snow Space on the Grafenberg provides plenty of activities, including a water playground, trampolines, rope garden, forest swings – you get the picture. On the way to Wagrain, we also stopped off for a short walk around the stunningly tranquil emerald-green Jagersee Lake, which is also a superb starting point for day-long hikes.

If you don’t like walking, try out an e-bike. I haven’t been on a bicycle for years, but thanks to the boost provided by the bike’s electric motor, a 30-kilometer return trip tracing the source of the River Enns from Flachau took a very relaxing two hours. The few uphill sections were easily handled by switching the bike into full-power mode, while on the way back, I was reaching exhilarating speeds of 40 kilometers per hour before gently applying the brakes. And, of course, the scenery was perfect: green valleys, brown-and-white cows grazing by the river and the Alps in the background.

For more speed thrills, go for the “Lucky Flitzer” near the Achter jet ski valley station close to Flachau village center. This all-weather downhill toboggan run provides a kilometer-long track with tight curves and sharp drops – and an unforgettable experience. Best for before lunch rather than after.

If you prefer a more sedate vacation, then simply driving around the area and drinking in the pastoral scenery is definitely an option. Picturesque ancient villages like Radstadt and Altenmarkt, with its local history Heimatmuseum, are worth making a short stop. In the evening at Flachau, you can find a traditional music and dance show at the Musistadl Flachau, but beware, there’s a lot of lederhosen slapping involved.

For our two-night sojourn in Flachau, we stayed at the Hotel Flachauerhof, a charming, family-run hotel in the center of the village. The food was superb, always with a vegetarian option at both lunch and dinner. The produce is locally sourced where possible and the service is both friendly and efficient.

BEFORE MAKING our way to Salzburg itself for our remaining two nights at the comfortable Motel One Sud Salzburg on the city outskirts (there is a regular direct bus into the center just across the road from the hotel entrance), we stopped off at the Hohenwerfen Fortress.

All trips to this part of the world have to include a visit to a fortress. Salzburg’s own HohenSalzburg Fortress is of the course the most famous, dating back to the 11th century and presiding over a commanding view of the city. As Central Europe’s largest, completely preserved fortress, it certainly is worth a visit, but so too is the Hohenwerfen Fortress.

What makes this 900-year-old castle stand out is the twice-daily (three times in peak season) birds of prey demonstration. There is something awe-inspiring watching falcons, vultures and eagles fly over you, wings fully expanded, and then suddenly swoop over your head as they claim their reward (a live chick) from their handler. Set against the backdrop of the castle this really is a performance not to be missed.

Once in Salzburg, the list of attractions is vast. There is plenty enjoyment to be had just walking around the beautifully preserved city center, popping into the Baroque cathedral and strolling through the relaxing Mirabell Gardens. You can even do The Sound of Music tour, but I preferred the museum at Mozart’s birthplace. Given all the Mozartkugel chocolate flooding the city, I feared the museum would be similarly kitsch, but it was illuminating and informative about Mozart’s life and the cultural era in which he lived.

If you’re thinking of buying chocolate as a present for those back home, ignore the mass-produced version of the Mozartkugel and do your shopping instead at Café-Konditorei Fürst. It was Paul Fürst who created what he termed the Mozart Bon-Bon in 1890. If you want, you can check out his grave at the nearby St. Peter’s Cemetery. Mozart’s sister, nicknamed Nannerl, and Santino Solari, who designed the city’s cathedral, are also among the dignitaries buried here.

Another gem, this time outside the city center, is the Hellbrun Palace. Built as a pleasure resort for Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, the prince archbishop of Salzburg between 1612 and 1619, this residence was meant to counteract the fashionable disease of melancholy. With magnificent gardens, trick fountains and magical grottos, this is a palace that certainly brings a smile to your face. It even has a stuffed unicorn, made up of white horse with a whale bone drilled into its forehead.

Salzburg literally means “salt fortress,” and the city gets its name from the barges carrying salt on the Salzach River, which were subject to a toll in the 8th century. A visit to a salt mine, therefore, is also very much in order.

We visited the mine at Berchtesgaden, crossing the border (not that you’d notice it was there) into Germany. Salt mining in this area dates back to the 12th century, and this mine has been in continuous operation for 500 years.

Having first put on protective overalls over your own clothes, the tour begins with a 650-meter mini-train ride deep into the mountain and into the heart of the mine. Once inside an enormous cavern, the next descent involves quickly sliding down a 30-meter wooden slide into the next stage of the mine. There’s one more slide involved as the guide takes you around, explaining the mine’s history and how salt is mined today. Before making your way back up to the mini-train via a funicular railway, there’s a boat ride across an underground lake, called the Mirror Lake because of the ceiling reflection on the water’s surface. A definite highlight, although perhaps not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.

The writer traveled to Salzburg as a guest of Sundor and the SalzburgerLand Tourism office.

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