The Hills Are Still Alive In Salzburg
It’s my second morning in Salzburg and I’m sitting aboard a coach with a joyous Julie Andrews emblazoned down the side, driving through the Austrian countryside, and yodeling along to the Lonely Goat Herd with a bunch of other nerds. I couldn’t be happier.
The Sound of Music Tour is something that I would have given my right arm to experience as a child. Fast forward a couple of decades and… well actually, it turns out I’m still embarrassingly excited about it all. The coach trip, run by Panorama Tours, leaves from Mirabellplatz at 9:15am and 2pm daily, and takes you around Salzburg and the surrounding countryside of Austria to see sights and hear stories related to the highest grossing musical film ever made.
Our tour guide is funny and friendly, and she knows her Sound Of Music trivia. We begin the drive through the city as she imparts a few funny and interesting facts about the city and the film. I thought I knew the film inside out but some of the stories she tells are totally new to me. I won’t give everything away, but some of the brand new nuggets of information I learn and particularly like are;
1. Neither Julie Andrews or Christopher Plummer could play guitar before shooting; they both learned for the film.
2. In the movie, the Von Trapps are shown hiking over the mountains to the safety of Switzerland in their escape from the Nazis. In fact, Switzerland would be far too far away to escape to by foot, and in the movie, the mountains they were hiking over would have led them straight to the Eagle’s Nest in Germany… not an ideal escape route, being Hitler’s lair.
3. Christopher Plummer was actually carrying a body double on his back during the escape scenes, instead of Kym Karath who played Gretl. All that hearty Austrian film-set food had made her a little chubby during filming, and he refused to carry Gretl because she was too heavy. Ouch.
4. In further Gretl-related trauma, the poor girl was unable to swim. During the scene where all the Von Trapp children fall from the boat into the water, the plan was for Julie Andrews to save her. But Julie Andrews, lost in the moment, fell the wrong way out of the boat and little Gretl nearly drowned.
5. The song Edelweiss was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical, but the Reagan administration apparently mistook it for the Austrian National Anthem, and played it for the ambassador at a White House Banquet. Awkward.
Aside from providing you with all kinds of lesser-known facts about the film, the tour takes you around some of famous film locations that any aficionado will recognise. Full disclosure is necessary here to avoid any disappointment – it’s something of a whistle-stop tour, and you don’t get to go inside most of the locations you visit.
The gardens and lake at Leopoldskron Castle, used in scenes set outside the Captain’s house (including Gretl’s near-drowning), is currently in use as a hotel. You can’t visit the gardens as part of the tour; instead you view it from the other side of the water. If you want to explore the gardens, you have to be a guest there. The yellow house where the Von Trapp family live is also closed to the public, so you don’t stop here at all. Although, as you pass by on the coach, you can easily see the pathway Maria walks/skips/jumps down as she sings ‘I have confidence in me’, so have your camera out for pictures (and make sure to hold it close to the glass to avoid reflections).
And of course there’s the famous gazebo that sees a whole lot of romantic action throughout the film… The gazebo was actually built specifically for the Sound of Music, and was since moved from its original spot – for amusing reasons that I’ll leave for you to discover if you take the tour. It’s now situated in a beautiful park just outside the city. It’s also been closed up and locked, for safety reasons. Too many people attempting Liesl’s jumps from bench to bench and breaking bones, apparently. So if you harboured dreams of recreating romantic moments from the film, put them to bed now. Or build your own gazebo. It’s not as exciting a sight as I’d hoped, but still nice to see.
There are, however, plenty of locations you can explore properly during the Sound of Music tour, for example…
The beautifully manicured gardens where Maria and the children sing and dance much of Do-Re-Mi. These are the Mirabellplatz gardens in the heart of the city, and they are still as beautiful now as they were then. You can find the dwarf statue they march past, the steps thy jump up at the end of the song, and the tunnel they leap through. You can even recruit some fellow geeks to help you recreate various moves and photograph the results. If you want. But be forewarned, you will likely end up looking like the version on the right, not the version on the left…
We drive out to Mondsee, the gorgeous little village that’s home to the beautiful church where Maria walks down the aisle, in that ostentatious wedding dress, to marry the Captain. It’s during this drive that you hit peak geek, as the singalong starts and you even try your hand at yodeling. My advice is to leave your sense of embarrassment back at Mirabellplatz, and just have a laugh/yodel. The drive is incredibly beautiful too, with Austria’s infamous mountains and lakes offering genuinely awe-inspiring views along the way. It’s pretty special.
You can go inside the church and have a look around. It’s ornate and beautiful, and a bit creepy when you spot the propped up skeletons in the altar. Even better than the church though, is the cake. When we get to Mondsee, it’s time for a strudel stop – one of my very favourite kinds of stop. I go to Braun cafe with another solo traveller I found on the coach. We tried the apple and the cheese strudel; both drowned in a thick puddle of sweet vanilla custard. I took photos of the church’s interior but never mind that; here’s cake:
These are a few of my favourite things, indeed.
The Sound of Music tour costs €40 for a four-hour tour. It helps to be a Sound of Music freak, but it’s not required – this is just a great way to see the city and countryside. If you’re dragging a non-musical fan with you, use the strudel and Braun cafe as your leverage. The strudel isn’t included in the price of the tour, so bring some cash with you – a coffee and cake is around €7.50… and don’t forget to check our our cheap flights to Salzburg.