The hills are alive

Climb every mountain on Austria’s Sound of Music tourist trails


Having climbed to an Alpine pasture and broken into a chorus of Do-re-mi in the clean mountain air, I can’t help wondering if this is really happening. I’ve even been awarded a medal.

It all seems a little bizarre but I proudly grip my medal, emblazoned with ‘Sound of Music trail’, and don’t take it off for the rest of the day. And the medal-winning ascent to the Gschwandtanger meadow itself? It’s under a mile, and has six stops along the way, but we won’t dwell on that.

My own path started in Werfen, around 45 minutes from Salzburg, on a film-inspired trail that opened in 2015. Such a breath-taking spot, for British visitors it’ll forever be associated with Julie Andrews and her enduring earworm about musical notes.

I’m jolted from my own reverie of yodelling and lonely goatherds to join a group of fellow travellers, grabbing each others’ hands and hurtling towards a fixed camera.

Our aim is to reproduce that famous scene from the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein film The Sound of Music — as Maria and the Von Trapp children frolic in the unspoiled scenery.

We may not look much like a performing troupe of angelic siblings from the 1940s but our backdrop is just as stunning as I’ve seen it on the big screen.

While countless overseas tourists flock to this dedicated trail, it’s not as appealing for domestic sightseers. The scenery in itself may be a draw but the film hasn’t proved popular. You could say it has been taboo.

Not even smashing box office records to be named the third biggest film of all time has ensured a place in Austria’s heart for The Sound of Music.

A flop when it premiered, neither Austria or Germany has warmed to it — although Vienna’s famous Life Ball days before my visit had been themed on the movie, as the annual Aids fundraiser celebrated its 25th anniversary.

While for many, the plot culminates in an all-too-innocent and unrealistic Hollywood happy ending, its story of a family fleeing from the Nazis in 1938 is not one many Austrians want to remember.

But if home-grown tourists focus on the area’s locations for their beauty and for the Mozart heritage in Salzburg, tours of those places made famous by the film have been growing in popularity.

Mine includes Schloss Leopoldskron, Mirabelle Gardens and Mondsee where the film’s wedding took place — the gazebo at Hellbrun Palace was recreated by Hollywood experts for Sixteen going on seventeen. Later I visit Zell am See where the real Von Trapp family lived, swimming with my companions after a boat trip on the lake.

But what of the real history away from the tale created for the cinema? For me, learning snippets about the true von Trapps rather than a fictional brood is one of the most interesting aspects of my five day trip.

The real Maria, Maria Kutschera, was indeed studying to be a nun in the city when she was sent to be a governess for widowed naval captain Georg von Trapp.

Married when he was 47 and she was 22, they had three children of their own. And in 1935, they formed a touring family choir — before escaping three years later, after the Nazis annexed Austria.

They did not, of course, flee over the mountains. Had they trekked the mountain path as recounted by scriptwriters, they would have found themselves near Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Bavaria, and not in Switzerland. Instead, they boarded a train in Italy bound for America.

Captain von Trapp died just two years after the war ended. Two years after that, Maria’s autobiography became a best-seller, although she made little money from the famous film.

Our effervescent British tour guide Trudy Rollo had more interesting truths to share about the filming of the movie too, as she led a whirlwind tour of Mirabelle Gardens, intermittently bursting into song.

Recreating a Nazi presence 25 years after the war caused the director so much worry that at one point it was suggested actual newsreel footage could be used. There was a swift change of heart when it was realised this would mean showing how the Nazis were welcomed to Salzburg.

Today, the historic city centre is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, where my base is the 150-year-old Hotel Sacher — complete with wall of celebrity guests, including the Queen and John Lennon, plus miniature Sacher tortes at turn down.

Along with the gardens, Trudy took our group to the Art Nouveau Mozartsteg bridge, overlooked by an imposing fortress, then on to Salzburg’s Horse Riding School where scenes of the family singing Edelweiss before running away were filmed.

This became another bone of contention for Austrian audiences; too many film lovers have assumed this simple song about a little white flower to be a much more important anthem than it actually is.

And a few final pieces of movie trivia as we headed to the Schloss Leopoldskron, known as the family home in the film. Here, the children fell into the lake — and it’s fair to say not everything went to plan. During this scene, Kym Karath (who played Gretl) couldn’t swim and had to be rescued by the son of an assistant director.

In an earlier scene, as Maria ran through the courtyard to the Von Trapp house singing I Have Confidence, Julie Andrews fell over by accident. Director Robert Wise liked it so much, he kept it in the film.

As the curtain fell on my own tour, I was fascinated by the contrast of such enthusiasm from the UK and US — and muted interest from Austrians themselves.

But for fans of the film, the chance to see the locations and discover the breath-taking scenery, is sure to become one of your favourite things.


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