Festive Fun in Austria’s Crown Jewel – Exploring The Sights And Sounds of Salzburg

The clocks have now been wound backwards, heralding the beginning of winter. For some it may seem like 2018 is coming to an abrupt end – the summer is over and the days have grown darker, the endless blue sky has been replaced with an earlier sunset.

But, there is no need to hibernate just yet because the full-stop at the end of 2018 will not appear until that New Year’s bell tolls. There is so much to see and do before then. Remember, the possibility for adventure always lingers on the horizon. So, close your eyes, grab a pen, circle a random weekend and dust off that passport because the beautiful city of Salzburg awaits.

Found at this time of year beneath a crisp blanket of snow, the old and the new lie side by side in Salzburg, merging to form a city that bursts with unmistakable Austrian character and charm. With the gentle hum of bustling markets, readying for the festive season, this historic city both looks and feels like a scene from a snow-globe as soft white flakes fall slowly from the sky.

The famed Christkindlmarkt is one of the oldest Advent markets (Christmas markets) in the world, with a history that stretches as far back as the late 15th century. A stunning array of baroque architecture along with the magnificent cathedral frame the market beautifully, creating a sense of utter timelessness and inviting the browser to lose themselves in the spirit of the festive season.

This market boasts a myriad of traditional stalls and market stands that wind around the square in a seemingly endless manner, each one rivalling the next for its festive atmosphere. A web of specially designed lighting spreads overhead, covering the entire market, illuminating the night sky in a twinkle of warm light.

Christmas mulled wine and spices

The smell of mulled wine, punch and hot chocolate hangs in the air, luring the passer-by deeper and deeper into the fairytale labyrinth. As the path continues the handmade crafts, ornate decorations, and colourful gifts disappear and instead give way to the food stalls which offer delicious treats of every description from sausages to mouth-watering burgers, from creamy cheeses to pretzels the size of your head, and not to forget of course, the sweet stuff – juicy chocolate covered strawberries, and perfectly-shaped marzipan cakes. As far as food goes, or indeed anything else, imagination is not limited in Christkindlmarkt.

Perhaps the most exciting part of travelling and exploring a new place is learning about and experiencing another country’s customs and cultures. On the evening of 6th December 2017, I, along with my travel companions, serendipitously found ourselves caught up in the midst of a centuries-old-tradition: the Krampus and Prechten Parade. It’s wild, it’s dark, it’s dramatic, but above all, it’s full of mischief and infectious spirit. We very quickly got on board with this.

Towering high on mismatched feet (a cloven hoof and bear-like claw) and wearing shaggy pelts, heavy bells, and hand-carved wooden masks, these wild, horned creatures parade through the crowds to rid the city of the dark spirits of winter. They are heard before they are seen as their many bells jangle loudly, heralding their arrival. Growling fiercely, these savage-looking beasts stamp ferociously and dance madly through the spectators.

Armed also with a bundle of birch stitches, these formidable creatures will not hesitate to let loose if you get too close. For the daring amongst you, be warned or you could find yourself on the receiving end of a swish of birch stitches or marked forever by the Krampus as a black coal-like substance is smeared across the faces of those on Saint Nicholas’ naughty list.

These parades are not for the fainthearted, so if you scare easily, it might be best to put as much space between you and the Krampus as possible. Both children and adults alike (with nerves of steel) fling themselves wholeheartedly into the event, embracing the unsettling and mischievous scene, daring one another to interact with the Krampus.

A trip to Salzburg cannot be complete of course without The Sound of Music flitting across the mind. Thousands of tourists visit the city each year to follow in the footsteps of the Von Trapp family and, for the most part, the shooting locations are free to visit.

Just a short walk from the Christkindlmarkt is the Karajan Square and the Horse Pond, the very spot Maria and the Von Trapp children marvel at as they travel through the city by carriage. A relatively short walk across the river to Mirabell Palace and one will find themselves singing the words of “Do Re Mi” upon laying eyes on the Pegasus Fountain in the geometric style baroque garden.

The iconic steps in front of the Rose Hill are the very setting for the final bars of the song sung by Julie Andrews and her fellow cast-mates. But the palace itself has a much higher claim to fame. While it’s now used mainly as a municipal building, the palace has a most interesting past.

The beautiful Marble Hall was a former banqueting hall where Leopold Mozart and his children Wolfgang and Nannerl used to perform. Most eye-catching of all, however, is the Angel Staircase which is the perfect preamble to the Marble Hall. This magnificent staircase is decorated with an abundance of ornate cherubs that wind all the way from the foot of the stairs to the crown.

Naturally the city of Salzburg celebrates its most famous son, the aforementioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Everything in the city is Mozart themed, from place names to the all-important Salzburger Mozartkugel, a dark chocolate and nougat coated ball of marzipan and pistachio.

This little gem of chocolate can be found all over the city and indeed country, but for an extra special Mozartkugel, head to Café Konditorei Furst where they are still made by hand using the original recipe from 1890. It’s a treat you will not regret. The Mozartkugel is also available in chocolate bar format as well, which might be a handier option if you’re planning on bringing some home for loved ones (or for yourself).

There can be only one thing that springs to mind when thinking of traditional Austrian cuisine: Schnitzel. Or more specifically wiener-schnitzel. An ideal main course for meat-eaters, this dish should not be missed no matter which Austrian city you find yourself in.

Typically served with parsley potatoes and cranberry sauce, the schnitzel is essentially flattened veal which has been breaded and encased in batter. The buttery potatoes compliment the meat nicely and of course the cranberries add a burst flavour to the whole dish.

A good schnitzel will be crisp on the outside while tender on the inside. Most eateries, such as Zum Zirkelwirt and Die Weisse, will offer alternatives to wiener-schnitzels, so if veal doesn’t appeal to you, try a schweine-schnitzel (pork).

Crepe D’Or does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a charming café and a creperie heaven. The staff are friendly, helpful and inviting, and the subtle décor makes the customer instantly comfortable. All that is before you’ve even gotten to the food. With a comprehensive menu starring both savoury and sweet crepes, this little spot will not disappoint. The portions are sizable, packed full of goodness, offering great value for money.

Hotel Goldgasse, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is an idyllic place to lay your head at night during a stay in Salzburg. This beautiful medieval building is located in the old city and is only a short walk from the Dom Platz and Residenzplatz. Much like the city itself, this hotel celebrates the old while effortlessly blending it with more modern aesthetics.

There are currently no direct flights linking Ireland with Salzburg. I opted instead to fly from Dublin to Munich with Ryanair and completed my journey to Salzburg via train. Lufthansa also offer a connecting flight from Dublin to Salzburg via Frankfurt if you feel like avoiding public transport.

For additional information about Salzburg, visit salzburg.info/en.

FEATURE BY EMER MURPHY

An aspiring globetrotter, Emer caught the travel bug a number of years ago and has been unable to shake it since. With a love for exploring new cultures and meeting new people, she’s always planning her next adventure.

Having studied English literature and the Irish language in UCC, Emer has a deep appreciation for the arts and enjoys swapping stories over a good cup of tea.

From the green fields of West Cork, Emer loves the outdoors, whether it be hiking or simply watching the sunset. Now working as a tour leader, Emer spends her time travelling around Ireland with visiting cultural groups, all the while enjoying the best food this island has to offer.

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