Austria: Edelweiss and virtue

The majesty of the Alps towers over the cityscape of Salzburg

The majesty of the Alps towers over the cityscape of Salzburg

  • As 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, Keeley Bolger runs to the Austrian hills.
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Peter the tour guide shakes his head at a newly restored and immaculate gazebo in Hellbrun Palace on the outskirts of Salzburg. “Here’s the bench that an 82-year-old lady slipped on while dancing to Sixteen Going on Seventeen and then fell through a pane of glass,” he says.

“She was such a big Sound of Music fan that she just couldn’t resist dancing in the gazebo. She’s fine now though, just a few scratches.

The majesty of the Alps towers over the cityscape of Salzburg

The majesty of the Alps towers over the cityscape of Salzburg

Like that lady, I too am a huge fan of The Sound of Music and the sight of the gazebo where eldest Von Trapp child Liesl and her telegram delivery boyfriend Rolfe frolicked and flirted fills me with an urge to sing.

You can’t move for Sound of Music reminders in Salzburg. Sure, there are references to Mozart (that other tourist pull), everywhere you go in the city, but with the film’s 50th anniversary looming, Wolfgang will have to wait.

In the city centre, backpack-wearing groups jump up and down the steps of the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where Maria led her young charges Do Re Mi-ing as they made their way to the fountain. Head to Residenzplatz and trill I Have Confidence, the lively pep talk Maria sings to herself as she moves from the nunnery to her new post as governess to Von Trapp’s seven children. Wind through pretty streets, past the convent at the Stift Nonnberg, and you can convince yourself that the nuns filing out of the gates are about to break into How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

However, while the film’s global success is secured with an estimated one billion people having seen it, the home crowd are less enamoured. “It’s never shown here,” shrugs Peter. “Not even at Christmas. We know the story from the original book, but many Austrians have never seen the musical.”

“It was only when I moved to America that I first saw the film,” concurs another tour guide over a stodge-laden lunch of schnitzel (without noodles).

But for the rest of the world, The Sound of Music is Salzburg and vice versa. I was such an aficionado that I had a scrapbook complete with glued down photocopies of the lyrics and stapled in interviews with Julie Andrews. As routes to popularity go, it wasn’t a conventional one.

Likewise, my love of The Sound of Music wore thin on my family and made me unpopular at weekends, when we regularly fought for control of the telly. Determined not to “miss out” on another chance to watch the film, I’d hurl my 12-year-old body out of bed at an early hour and load up the battered VHS again, promptly waking the household with a blast of La Andrews.

Then there was the time I threw a strop because a family christening meant missing a new documentary, Sound of Music: Behind the Music and a broken video recorder left me pleading with our neighbours to record it for me instead. Though I’ve long-since stashed that scrapbook away at my parents’ house, the musical still has a hold on me and the way I view this city.

A cursory glimpse of the rest of the tour group confirms that I’m not the only one who has fallen under the musical – and indeed the city’s – spell.

Admittedly, some of the group aren’t bores like me. “You ARE a big fan, aren’t you?” withers one sceptic who has come here to see what all the fuss is about. But even he can’t fail to fling his arms out when we head to Salzkammergut, the pretty lakeside area that is used during the opening sequence.

Neither can the fresh stream of Sound of Music tourists who pull up in their coach, mural of the movie splashed on the side, and trickle out taking selfies, wailing The Sound of Music missing the high, medium and low notes as they go.

“Not everyone can sing like Julie Andrews, huh?” nudges a fan to the left of me who is keeping his distance from a hen group, kitted out in matching Sound of Music hoodies.

Luckily, tuneful singing can still be found in the shape of The Sound of Salzburg Dinner Show. Held regularly, a crew of note-perfect singers recite tunes from the show as well as folk songs and Mozart pieces.

Nice as folk songs and Mozart pieces are, it’s The Sound of Music that the audience are here for and the opening trickles of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? confirm this with an audible wave of humming and nodding rippling throughout the room.

Here, guests can gorge on schnitzel with noodles and apple strudels and even take a turn around the small stage with the cast, who perform a simple Viennese waltz.

It may not be the grand party that Captain Von Trapp throws for his guests in the musical, but it’s a jolly nod to the film.

But with the strains of So Long, Farewell ringing out, I too pay my goodbyes to this wonderful city, safe in the knowledge that here, the hills are still very much alive with music.

• Keeley Bolger was a guest of Salzburg City (www.salzburg.info) and SalzburgerLand (www.salzburgerland.com) tourist boards. Prices quoted are valid for 2015 and subject to availability.

Inghams (01483 791 111, www.inghams.co.uk) offers three-night breaks staying at Hotel NH Salzburg City from £509pp (two sharing B&B) including return flights from Gatwick to Salzburg and airport/hotel transfers.

Original Sound of Music tours (www.panoramatours.com) are available from 40 euros per adult.

The Sound of Salzburg Dinner Show is available on selected dates with tickets priced from 49 euros per adult, including show and a traditional Austrian three-course dinner.

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