5 years, 8 months ago
So far this summer everything seems to be about watching men I don’t know kick balls about, seeing men I wouldn’t admit to knowing whizzing about in questionable Lycra and wondering how David Beckam ended up at Wimbledon dressed for a Grouse Shoot c. 1922.
Thanks be then for the blissful breath of Alpine air that is The Salzburg Music Festival. Five weeks of opera, drama and classical concerts in one of Austria’s most beautiful cities where sporting is sharing your bag of Mozartkugel and any biting is strictly verboten. Apart from a few ancient Zen gardens in Kyoto, I can’t think of anywhere more civilised than Salzburg this July and August.
Most people know Salzburg as Mozart’s birthplace and the city where Julie Andrews did a fair bit of prancing around in The Sound of Music. But if opera and classical music mean more to you than ‘liking the bits you can hum’, Salzburg in summer is all about The Salzburg Music Festival.
Between July 18th and August 31st Salzburg performs almost endlessly for audiences of international visitors who just can’t imagine being anywhere else.
It’s the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth in 2014 and The Salzburg Music Festival is paying tribute with a magnificent staging of Der Rosenkavalier. Cosi Fan Tutte and a new production of Don Giovanni are just two of the Mozart highlights. There’s ‘Opera For Children’. The traditional Festival drama, Jedermann, is in the city’s astonishing Cathedral Square as always. The Vienna Philharmonic are playing. And Cecilia Bartoli will reprise her acclaimed role as Cinderella in Gioacchino just for this year’s Music Festival.
But with 250 performances over five weeks, even the most passionate music lover could be forgiven for wanting to give one or two shows a miss and just enjoy the city. And Salzburg is an enchanting city to explore. Especially in summer when the famous rain isn’t falling (Salzburg’s oldest shop specialises in umbrellas) and the legendary Baroque architecture is at its shiny, extravagant finest in the sunlight.
I won’t try to tell you Salzburg is a haven of calm and tranquillity during The Music Festival. So you have to learn to embrace your inner tourist, think like a local for some of the time, hire a bike to get about and treat yourself to at least one day away at a traditional Alpine spa – more on these wonders later.
UNESCO World Heritage Salzburg is the image we all have of the city in our mind’s eye. This is the magnificent 17th and 18th century architecture; the Baroque splendour that rivalled even Rome back in the day; gardens where Maria (AKA Julie Andrews) frolicked with her young Von Trapps; the castles, cathedrals, palaces and schloss. Not for Salzburg the faded, crumbling glamour of some other famous Baroque cities. Here the world’s most ostentatious decorative style is seen at its prosperous and beautifully preserved best. If you’re not keen on crowds, visit places like Salzburger Dom and Salzburg Castle early in the morning and take a breather in peaceful St. Sebastian Church (Mozart’s Family Tomb is here) or play outside in the fabulous Mirabell Gardens later in the day.
Salzburg loves cyclists, so hire a bike for your visit and take advantage of the city’s cycle-hire shops to beat congestion and avoid being herded. There are cycle-paths everywhere and drivers and pedestrians are pleasantly respectful to cyclists. There are also several great cycle-routes like the Hellbrunner Allee from the South of Salzburg Old Town to the city zoo – if you go a bit further you can catch the cable car up the mountain at Untersberg, the views are amazing. Hiring a bike also lets you get out of the city for a bit to see some of the beautiful countryside round Salzburg. You’re on the Northern edge of the Alps, need I say more?
Amazing coffee, infamously good pastries, fantastic cheese, local bread and delicious sausage are Salzburg staples but don’t pull up a chair at any of the smart tourist restaurants in the Old Town to try them. Salzburg is always expensive but seems to go into overdrive during The Music Festival and that kind of nonsense should be avoided on principle no matter how deep your pockets. For good local food and sensible prices, eat on the right side of the River Salzach (near Schloss Mirabell). And if you can’t resist the Old Town’s charms, take to the side streets for authentic cooking, cosy bars and traditional inns that are a lot less expensive and have the added attraction of polite, friendly staff. The city also has some excellent Farmers’ Markets like Schrannenmarkt on Mirabell Square (Thursday 5am – 1pm) and Grünmarkt near Kollegienkirche (Monday to Saturday 7am to 7pm).
And so to those spas. Given its Alpine location it isn’t too surprising to find that Salzburg is known for its spas. But many visitors think of the natural springs and healing thermal pools for winter, so in summer they’re less busy and the scenery is still amazing. Try Felsentherme in Bad Gastein: a ridiculously luxurious Rock Spa 1000 ft. above sea level and just over an hour’s drive from Salzburg (www.felsentherme.com).
The Salzburg Music Festival itself is a wonderful experience. Definitely not just for music buffs and aficionados (check out the great deals on tickets for Dress Rehearsal Performances www.salzburgerfestspiele.at). If you want to see Salzburg really shine you couldn’t pick a better time to visit – except for Christmas when the Bavarian markets are magical. And if the world-class opera, magnificent orchestras and sheer drama of The Salzburg Music Festival doesn’t quite satisfy you, go hear the Glockenspiel being played on Residenz Square any day between 11am and 6pm – now that’s what I call real music.