“Work sets you free” a moving visit to the historic memorial site
Austria with The Sound of Music and one of those classic movies that just makes you feel so much better. I’d been a huge fan since childhood, happily singing along to those famous songs. Like so many, I was mesmerised by the genius musical score and famous lyrics.
The opening scene to the film, was filmed high above the dramatic beauty of the Austrian Alps. This is a moment of cinema magic that captivates you in an instant. It’s here that the audience see’s the lead character, Maria, as she sings her heart out in the wild flower meadows of an Austrian Summer.
This one piece of movie history has drawn tourists to those Austrian Alps long after the camera’s stopped rolling. This is one country where the hills are still very much alive with The Sound of Music!
When we did our first tour of Austria back in 2012, the captivating locations from the film were too enticing to miss. I couldn’t wait to visit those well known sights around the incredible city of Salzburg. How fascinating it must have been for the locals to watch this Hollywood masterpiece come to fruition, when filming began in 1964.
Here I’ll share our own tour of The Sound of Music sights with you. Although dedicated tour operators in Salzburg offered organised tours, we preferred to do our own. Of course, it was free this way, but we also loved the ease of doing our own thing.
All we needed was to buy a few postcards and a map and we were ready! The postcards were a great way to get information on the famous sights from the film. More importantly, they gave details of where the locations actually were.
We then had to study the maps and do a bit of online research to double check the facts. Fortunately, we had transport with us in the motorhome – our bikes! So after putting the wheels in motion, we were soon transported back into the magical world of The Sound of Music.
Those of you familiar with the film and those Rogers and Hammerstein classic songs, will know that The Sound of Music is just enchanting.
If you haven’t seen the film yet – goodness, where have you been?
The storyline is based on a true story and is set in the shadow of World War II. Featuring the handsome, yet stern Captain Von Trapp, left to raise his lively brood of 7 children, following the death of his wife. Along then comes Maria, a young Nun, sent by her convent to be the new governess for the Von Trapp children. Love soon blossoms, amidst the intrusion of war, bringing drastic decisions to the singing-loving family, resulting in a heart-stopping escape across the Alps to Switzerland.
The Sound of Music is a film full of timeless musical renditions, mesmerising scenery and stunning locations. We only hoped that the real life locations didn’t spoil the dreamy image.
As usual, we hadn’t booked a campsite, so as we approached Salzburg we thought we’d best find somewhere to spend the night.
Austria isn’t the best for motorhome parking areas, so we played by the rules and headed to the nearest campground, Camping Nord Sam.
The cheerful campsite owner came out to meet us as we approached the locked gates. “It’s July you know, you should have booked”. We weren’t sure if he was joking, but before we knew it, he’d offered us his last pitch of the day!
The site turned out to be really quite nice – small and low-key but it had a good swimming pool and excellent shower block. A selection of neat, grassy pitches, surrounded by privacy hedges, made it feel like we were sat in our own little garden.
There was a cycle path alongside, which lead directly to the city centre. It would take around 25 minutes by bike and because it was lit at night, it seemed a perfect way to access the main attractions.
We decided to take a bus from outside the campsite entrance, first buying tickets at the reception. The bus route took us to the main railway station, where we then had to change to any bus marked ‘Zentrum’.
Mingling with backpacker’s and other weary travellers, reminded us that Salzburg is high on the list of European sightseer’s.
Luckily, we’d dressed in some of our best attire – a dress for me and chino shorts for Nigel! Of course, nothing too fancy, but about the best we had in the campervan wardrobe!
As we stepped onto the cobbles of the city streets, we realised that Salzburg in Summer is something of a theatrical experience.
Greeted with the most amazing sights of ladies and gentlemen, walking around in the most immaculate ball gowns and tuxedo’s! This place was mesmerising – we felt like we’d walked out onto a movie set.
Those first impressions of excitement and intrigue, left us eager to see more of this classy Austrian city.
We’d arrived in the middle of the renowned Salzburg Festival. This incredible musical event takes place each Summer, bringing the city streets alive.
Temporary theatre’s are built, setting the stage for various performances from opera to musicals. The emphasis being on classic, musical entertainment, enticing the masses. As a result, the locals and tourists flock here to experience the ambiance and take in a show.
As we meandered along the narrow streets, window shopping provided us with enough entertainment for one evening!
The shops displayed a fabulous selection of local costumes, many with hefty price tags. Here you could buy the traditional Austrian dress – the Dirndl for the ladies and Lederhosen for the gentlemen.
Stunningly beautiful fabrics glistened in the evening sunlight, where glamorous ladies wore their own masterpiece creations. Adding to the ambience came the truly vibrant mix of pavement dining. Here, under a canopy of fairy lights amongst candlelit tables, those elegantly dressed individuals indulged in fine cuisine.
Salzburg is a fairly large city, dominated by the River Salzach through its centre.
It’s divided into three separate districts, making it easy to navigate. Firstly, there’s the right bank – a modern area which is home to Mozart’s residence and the fabulous Mirabell Gardens. Conveniently, the bus route from the campsite arrived at this side of the city, making it a perfect base to start exploring.
The historic old town is located on the left bank of the River Salzach and is reached via a footbridge from the right bank. This area is a World Heritage site, consisting of intricate, upmarket shopping streets linking character alleyways. Impressive city squares with ornate fountains tower above the cobbles, whilst romantic types pass by in horse-drawn carriages.
Finally, there’s The Hohensalzburg, a towering fortress positioned high above the old town. This huge castle-like structure with its gleaming white walls, looks down on the whole city.
Surrounded by the incredibly majestic Austrian Alps, Salzburg is a dreamy location.
It’s no wonder that part of the huge appeal and success of the film was due to the actual scenery as much as the soundtrack and storyline.
Even if you’re not a fan of the film, Salzburg is still a beautiful place to visit and The Sound of Music film locations are just part of this wonderful city.
Starting early the next morning, our first full day in Salzburg began with a cycle ride into the centre. Reaching the bright red floral displays of the Mirabell Gardens, it was time to lock up the bikes and set out on foot.
Here, we found one of the most famous locations from the film, The Pegasus fountain. Surrounded by scented Rose gardens that meet well-manicured lawns, this is so much more than just a movie set. The Mirabell Gardens are a jewel in their own right – a grand statement of opulence, within the grounds of the Mirabell palace.
Although, this is now home to The Mayor, the former grandeur of it’s history is certainly very much still evident. Built in 1606, it was once a place where the young Mozart and his family created music. Today, it’s used for weddings and musical events, but the elegant architecture remains.
Fast forward to 1964 and this is where you’ll find Julie Andrews as Maria, singing ‘Do Re Mi’ whilst energetically dancing with the Von Trapp children.
The gleaming Pegasus fountain became home to well choreographed routines. Then towards the end of the scene, the stone steps of Rose Hill bring a fabulous finale to the song. Oh the joys of recreating those lively routines!
Time to get back on those bikes and cross the bridge over the River Salzach to the old town and the Resident Platz. This is where Maria can be seen singing “I have confidence in me’, as she rides around on a bus!
It’s also a very lovely pace for a romantic horse and carriage ride around the city. We spent a little longer here, heading for the Cathedral Museum to explore the remains of an old Roman Villa.
Here, the underground excavations of a Roman heating system and some rather lovely mosaics made a fascinating break from the heat of the Summer sun.
Keeping the bikes parked up, it was time to explore the old town and find some more special locations from The Sound of Music in this wonderful part of Austria.
Who can forget the scene’s from the film where the family are hiding in the Abbey? Entering on foot into St.Peter’s cemetery the familiar iron gates crossing the tombs came into view.
This is the site of a 7th century Benedictine Abbey and is famous as the resting place of Mozart’s sister. It’s also one of the oldest cemeteries in the world and there’s something about it that’s quite fascinating.
Amongst the rows of gravestones, in this elaborate setting are intricate rock dwellings. These are carved out of the stone, where narrow stairs lead to tiny windows, giving a view point out across the graveyard.
Visitors can also pay to enter the Catacombs, dating back to early Christian times.
Stift Nonnberg Abbey with its red turret type tower can be seen across various parts in Salzburg. The Abbey was used as the external film shots for the convent, supposedly home to the nuns and Maria.
There’s no access to the Abbey, as it’s still a working convent, but you can enjoy a good view point from the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Saving our legs, we took the tourist route on the Funicular Railway, gliding us up the side of the rock formation above the old town. There were brilliant views from up here, across the mountains of the Alps to the winding river and city below.
A short distance from the old city is the very unusual castle of Hellbrun. We arrived at the imposing gates on our bikes, following the excellent cycle paths out of the centre.
The huge, yellow coloured frontage of Hellbrun resembled an aristocratic Villa. An entrance fee for a guided tour brought us into the gardens, where plenty of surprises were waiting! The eccentric tour guide quickly got to work, showing off some of the rather wet features, hidden amongst the hedgerows.
We soon got a bit of a soaking – what fun! This place is a magical world of fountains, ponds, hidden grottoes and delightful water gardens. What the unexpected visitor doesn’t know, is that each area has a sort of sprinkling system to keep the visitors wet!
We’d come here for other reasons though – the glass Gazebo sits proudly in a quiet corner of the gardens. It took us ages to find it, maybe we couldn’t read the map well enough, but eventually there it was in all its glory!
Famous for the scene from the movie “16 going on 17”, where the young Liesl and Franz dance along the benches under a rainy night sky.
Cycling along the Austrian countryside, it felt as if we’d stepped out of the film ourselves! The house from the film, where The Von Trapp family lived, was filmed at Schloss Lepoldskron and we’d just arrived at its gates.
The elegant mansion house, has some of the most well known scenes in the film, possibly because the house itself enjoys a magnificent backdrop across a serene lake. The location is simply idyllic and we could clearly see the rear of the palatial architecture from the lakeside walk.
We sat for a while, picturing the scenes of Maria and the Von Trapp children running through the gardens. The lake is where they fell out of the rowing boat, much to the dismay of Captain Von Trapp!
A public pathway leads round the lake, but on our visit we couldn’t go into the house itself. I believe it’s now an upmarket hotel – something to think about for the future maybe?
Our last location on our tour of The Sound of Music, took us to the Salzkammergut Lakes region – a 30 minute drive from Salzburg.
This area of over 70 lakes is absolutely stunning and worthy of a whole blog post in itself. The town of Mondsee is situated alongside one of the warmest of the lakes, but we weren’t here for swimming!
Instead, we’d come to visit the alpine church of St.Michael. The scenes were filmed here for the wedding of Maria to Georg Von Trapp and we couldn’t wait to take a peak inside.
The pale yellow exterior is simple and traditional, yet inside there’s no less than 7 alters! These are all carved by the famous Swiss sculpture, Meinrad Guggenbichler and are quite beautiful.
As we remembered the wedding ceremony, it was hard to believe that Julie Andrews, as Maria, had walked down the aisle. We could almost hear the Rogers and Hammerstein music playing dramatically in the background as if we’d been in the congregation!
It had been a magical movie experience through the top sights of one my favourite things (pardon the pun!). As we waved goodbye, so long, farewell to our tour of The Sound of Music, we couldn’t wait to watch it again!
If the film isn’t on your list of all time movies, Salzburg is still a wonderful city to visit. We loved it so much that we returned the following year.
Let’s hope the hills are still alive in Austria with The Sound of Music!
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