You’ve probably put away your holiday decorations, and it’s far too early to start planning for next year’s season. But before spring rolls around, I wanted to write about Salzburg and the Christmas festivities we enjoyed there during the holidays.
In late November of 2014, we visited Salzburg and Villa Trapp just before the holiday markets opened–I made a vow to return for the 2015 holidays so I could experience the season in full swing in this corner of Austria. I’d been to Salzburg once before (about 17 years ago), in warmer weather, but had only stopped for the day, and I’d been chomping at the bit to get back ever since. Salzburg absolutely captured my heart.
Well, as long as I’m beginning this post with flashbacks to past trips, let’s lay all the groundwork for this recent trip. Or, as they say in Salzburg, “let’s start at the very beginning. . . a very good place to start.”
Salzburg is tucked just inside Austria, on the German-Austrian border, only about an hour and a half from Munich. It’s a fabulous city for wandering and nibbling, for venturing out to Salt Mines (more interesting than it sounds) or WWII sites, and for listening to Mozart or channeling Julie Andrews.
If you’re not very familiar with Salzburg, here’s the 30-second run-down: home to Mozart and Maria von Trapp; fabulous apple strudel, pretzel vendors, and confectionary; incredible mountains, lakes, and countryside; ice caves and salt mines; Hitler’s Eagles Nest and Nazi camps; fortresses, monasteries, castles, gardens, and marionette theaters.
Of course, the American thing to do in this city is to take The Sound of Music tour–which we did back in 2014. It was fun, if a little cheesy (a busload of American tourists with a soundtrack of Julie Andrews speeding through the Austrian countryside–you can imagine). Among the tour stops were Leopoldskrone Palace (used to film the back veranda of the von Trapp house in the movie), Hellbrunn Palace (near the home used as the facade of the von Trapp house, and the final resting spot of the “16 going on 17 gazebo”), Mirabell Gardens in downtown Salzburg, Lake Fuschl (a beautiful town out in the Alpine Lake Region), and Mondsee (another lake town and the filming location for the wedding scene).
On our 2014 trip, we also toured the Salt Mines and visited Berchtesgaden (on the German side of the border). Both are worth a visit. In the salt mines, you not only learn about the industry that made this area so rich, but you get to ride the steep and long wooden slides that the miners used to descend into the mines, and you ride in a boat on an underground lake, which is a really eerie and fun experience. As for Berchtesgaden, besides being a picturesque town, it has a very storied history with the 3rd Reich. My first visit there,
about 17 years ago, included an interesting historical tour of the area. Our 2014 visit was just a quick pass through. Neither time was I able to visit the Eagle’s Nest–Hitler’s mountain top retreat high above the city (and well known as the place where one of the plots to murder him was foiled). The Eagle’s Nest is only open during warm weather, as the road up the mountain is treacherous. I’ve always had mixed feelings about visiting that space, so I didn’t mourn the lost opportunity for long.
On to the epicenter of both our 2014 and 2015 trips to Salzburg: Villa Trapp. The von Trapp’s actual home was opened a few years ago as a small boutique hotel. The owners, Christopher and Marianne, had a struggle on their hands seven or eight years ago, when they proposed opening Villa Trapp as a hotel. The locals were furious, anticipating a hotel creating a disruption to the quiet neighborhood where the Villa Trapp sits and adding to the already manic Sound of Music industry in the city. But somehow the squabble was resolved, and the Villa Trapp was opened without disruption to the neighborhood. The Villa will never be a large scale hotel–it is, as it was, a very grand family home. In fact, it is a very quiet place, sat on a large, walled property in the neighborhood of Aigen (on the edge of Salzburg) and housing only a few guests even when fully booked. (I believe the Villa was, historically, a 14 bedroom house. How many guests it can now accomodate in its bedrooms and spacious suites, I don’t know, but the staff told us in December 2015 that the hotel was fully booked and we heard almost no one else, despite having some company when we took breakfast in the dining room.)
The photos in the top banner of this post are from Villa Trapp.
We stayed there the 22-24th of December, and were sad to leave when we learned that they were holding a Christmas Mass in English on Christmas Day there. The Villa was purchased by the Trapp family around 1923 (it’s a mid 19th century villa). They lived there until 1938, when they fled the country and left the house in the hands of a missionary group. (The von Trapps didn’t actually have to walk over the mountains, they took a train–but they did get out just one day before the borders were closed by the Nazis, so the escape still counts as dramatic in my book!) Hitler quickly occupied Austria, and the SS took over the home for Heinrich Himmler’s office and residence space. After the war, the villa went back to the hands of the religious order. The order remained in the villa until around 1992–which is why it was unavailable as a filming location when The Sound of Music was being shot.
The villa is a very gracious place to rest on your travels, and it is so very steeped in its history–the owners are glad to speak with you about the home, and they even offer a tour of the house at noon each day, and have a DVD available that takes you through the family and house history and features one of the von Trapp children (Maria–known as Louisa in the movie–who passed away at 99 years old in 2014).
This Christmas, we were joined on our trip by my sister and her family. We each had a spacious suite of rooms, and felt pampered as we rested up from our drive and our days out in Salzburg. Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt (Chirstmas Market) was in full swing, and we enjoyed cruising that, as well as walking through the Hohensalzburg Fortress, the Salzurger Dom (the cathedral), St. Peter’s Cemetery and Catacombs, Nonnberg Abbey, and Hellbrunn Palace–but I’ll post more on that in a few days in part two.
Until then, so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu! (couldn’t resist)
*And for a little fun, watch Julie Andrews and Diane Sawyer meet the hoteliers at Villa Trapp here.