The most picturesque areas in Salzburg you need to see!

Walking treasures in Salzburg, Austria…

The 3-hour train ride from Vienna may prep you with enough eye-candy, but  that first view of Salzburg, Austria’s fourth-largest city…still a killer. Beyond a meditative river straddled by several bridges, lies a charming old town filled with splendid Baroque spires and domes, under the shadow of one of Europe’s largest medieval fortresses looming large on a gentle hill. Centuries ago, when the Salzach river was an important salt transportation route, butchers and other food processors would unceremoniously dump wastes into it flowing waters. And look now…the entire city is precious UNESCO heritage. River shaming to Love Lock Bridge…that’s some serious headway! Navigating the compact 65-square kilometre town could take you a few hours to a few days, depending on how deep your heart wills you to dig. So, here’s my choice of the most picturesque areas you need to see in this delightful destination synonymous with that evergreen musical from the yesteryears, ‘Sound of Music’. (Read my post on the ‘Sound of Music’ tour experience).


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Go gaga over guild signs at Getreidegasse

Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s most famous shopping lane evolved from a major Roman road, to a main road leading to Bavaria to a magnet for rich merchants, doctors, and craftsmen. And now? A prestigious address for jewellery stores, traditional costume shops, high street brands, antiques, leather goods, perfumes and delicatessen. Charming narrow, high houses adorned with pretty portals and decorative windows stand tightly nestled together on both sides. Countless romantic courtyards, covered galleries and vaulted passages link adjoining buildings. Stucco ornaments, medieval murals, pebbled street borders, hanging lamps, elegant columns, moulded cornices, marble balustrades and pretty pergolas make every inch a photographer’s delight.





Intricate ornate wrought guild signs from the 1400s, jut out from doorways of restaurants, shops and workshops. More than anything else, the street is a artistic, colourful medley of dainty patterns, flowers, curving tendrils, animals, stars, birds and much more. Even high-street fashion brands fall in line with carved, elaborate ironwork signs advertising their wares. Potter around the open stalls and booths under large umbrellas. Pick up a some local bric-a-brac, a cheerful-looking puppet or some dried flower ornaments to brighten your kitchen shelf. Lunch at atmospheric trattoria in a hidden courtyard…inevitable, utterly romantic and unforgettable.

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Melt into musical memories at Mozart’s House

In the footsteps of millions of other die-hard classical music fans, visit the cramped Geburtshaus apartment, Mozart’s Birthplace in the Old Town, where he learned to play piano and violin and composed his first boy-genius works. House No. 9, now Mozart Museum is distinctive…a canary yellow facade and glass windows with broad white borders reflecting the clear blue sky. Exhibits include historic instruments like his childhood violin, clavichord and harpsichord, documents and letters from the family, memorabilia and many portraits. Contemplate the legend of the musical prodigy, an incredibly skilled pianist at age three, who was dragged across Europe by his father to perform for empresses and kings for 10 long years…(a third of his entire life, since he died at 35). How ironic that the musician who made hearts pound, turned cheeks pink, and inspired people to life large, himself had such a melancholic life!

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Outside, in a corner of the sun-washed Mozartplatz, an elderly man works his hands melodiously on a much-loved old accordion. Posters announce church concerts at store windows. You can feel that classical music is everywhere…it flows like blood in the veins of this town, much like art on the streets of Florence. The first Salzburg Festival of 1920 that made the Salzburg a fashionable place continues to make waves worldwide. But it all started with the genius of artists like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His wigged face and red costume are stamped all over town…on ‘Mozartkugeln’ chocolates, ‘Mostly Mozart’ festival posters and hundreds of souvenirs including CDs, books, T-shirts, stationery, pads, posters, coins and postcards. Can you resist taking a playful memory back with you?


Allow yourself sinful temptations at AlterMarkt

AlterMarkt (old market) square appears cordoned off by the row of stately burgher houses in pink, peach, soft green and mocha cream. The central St. Florian fountain is enclosed behind a fence of decorative metalwork depicting horseback riders, animals, plants and coats of arms. The large marble basin around the fountain has a statue of patron saint St Florian atop a pillar. In older days, residents actually believed he would save them from fire! Fire to fountain…makes sense. The ancient dairy, herb and vegetables market is long gone, but up ahead, at the lovely open-air flower stalls, people still get attracted to other kinds of colours and fragrances instead. 



When it comes to picturesque areas in Salzburg, temptations are never far away. You’re drawn towards the beautiful Rococo façade of the  ‘Fürsterzbischöfliche Apotheke’, the former court pharmacy, now the main outlet of chocolatier ‘Fürst’, the inventor of the famed Mozartkugel. Austria’s iconic chocolate treat is still hand-made, hand-wrapped and hand-sold at this store. 31 euro for 25 pieces is certainly not affordable, but which indulgence is? Browsing through the luscious assorted chocolates and truffle specialities will stoke your hunger and tingle your sweet tooth. An inspired stop at the legendary Cafe Tomaselli is  predestined, (read another of my posts here), so save yourself the trouble of indecision. Just give in!


Sink into the past at Sigmund Haffner Gasse

Trace your steps along the enchanting Sigmund Haffner Gasse, one of Salzburg’s oldest streets dating back to 1140. Gaze at the black painted water pipes dropping vertically from all the way from the roofs of the six-storied apartment buildings lining both sides. Cleverly and unobtrusively, their thick bold lines demarcate the subtle colours of the buildings. Between the snazzy boutiques and elegant restaurants on their ground floors, spot the 700-year old Elefant Hotel. Its beautiful black-and-gold wrought floral design iron signboard with the elephant illustration makes an arresting statement. And when you turn back to survey the length of the street behind, the rococo facade of the Old Town Hall’s clock tower gleams in pristine-white with its yellow-orange dial and green topped bell tower, watching you silently, until you disappear from its gaze at the next corner. At Buchhandlung Hollrigl, the oldest bookshop in Austria dating back to 1492, bury yourself in the treasure trove of rare books, maps, music sheets, paper napkins, stationery. If nothing else, pick up some very interesting postcards.

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When the day ends and you’re savouring a meal of delectable salmon trout at a cozy outdoor table of a small Salzburg tavern, digest this. You’re occupying two square feet of space in a city discovered by Romans way back in 15 BC! Salzburg’s modesty belies its stature as the oldest and most significant spiritual and cultural centre of Austria. Would you disagree?

(To be continued in Part 2 next week)

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Walking treasures in the town of Salzburg, Austria


The most soulful note in the sweet symphony of the French Riviera

Marseille on the Côte d’Azur…

Its colourful image owes credit to a fascinating population mix of Italians, Corsicans, Russians, North Africans, Armenians, Vietnamese, Algerians, Greek and Americans. And a sensational drugs-and-crime reputation isolates it from its polished, glamorous cousins. But don’t believe what they say…go sift fact from fiction. Say ‘Bonjour’ to France’s second biggest city, its largest commercial port and capital of the scenic Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. You will discover that Marseille is the most soulful note in the sweet symphony of the French Riviera. Only one prerequisite…you must listen with your heart.

Vye for Vieux Port

Ideally, airdrop at the Vieux Port for that quintessential Marseille frame that you’ve drooled over on travel websites. Sapphire blue waters of a fault-free U-shaped harbour, dotted by yachts, sailboats, speedboats and fishing boats. Rows of cafes lining all three sides of a busy waterfront promenade. To the left, a gentle hill, crowned by a magnificent basilica. Two sprawling forts at the mouth of the bay, opening up into the vast sea. And soft lemon and sand-colored buildings completing the vista. Symmetrical, elegant, pristine. This was France’s oldest city, where Greek settlers from Phocaea first landed in 600 BC, set up a trading post named ‘Massalia’, starting centuries of maritime activity, and put Marseille on the world map till the 19th-century. Where 18,000 merchant ships once passed through the port each year, today stands a pretty marina and a terminal for tourist boat excursions….a nautical vision in blue and white! Consider an afternoon cruise to Calanques National Park.

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Dissolve into the throngs of the colourful market at Quai des Belles, where dozens of white-tented street stalls display paintings, home collectibles, local crafts, and lavender oils. Stock up on an interesting array of natural Marseille soaps… lavender, apple, cinnamon, almond, fig, jasmine, magnolia, patchouli, rose and even honey. Sample French macarons, that true gift to the dessert world…a simple layer of ganache, buttercream or jam sandwiched between two meringue cookies, deceptively simple but unbelievably delectable. Pamper your taste buds with lavender, peach, orange, vanilla, chocolate, rose, apricot, hazelnut, lemon, strawberry, passionfruit, coffee and even pistachio…delicately sweet and light as candy floss. 

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Loiter through Le Panier

Get your priorities right…reach the edge of the harbour to explore the landmark site of Cathedral de la Major. This Roman Catholic cathedral, standing on top of the remains of the old La Major Cathedral, is one of the oldest in France. Measuring 142 meters in length, a central dome of 70 meters, and a nave rising 20 meters high, its impressive dimensions rival that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cream and grey striped facade of the monument contrasts against the intense blue panorama of the sea like a giant seafaring emblem.

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Venture into the magnificent Fort St Jean and Fort St Jacques nearby…the cultural and ethnographic centres of the town. Fort St-Jean forms the centrepiece of the MuCEM (Musée National des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée). Apt reincarnation for the city fortifications of 1660, which were built on the orders of Louis XIV to survey the rebellious town of Marseille and remained his safeguard till 1790, when the French Revolutionaries had attacked and demolished them. The forts were modified by the Germans in 1942-1944 and that’s how they remain since then. Well worth a few hours of your time.

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An image of the basilica reflecting on a window glass enraptures you before you lose your way in Marseille’s oldest quartier, the charming Le Panier (meaning ‘bread basket’). A maze of cobbled, narrow steep streets, colourful houses, pastel shuttered windows with fluttering laundry, rickety doors, quirky stores, the occasional boulangerie, abandoned compounds, high steps up and high steps down…are faint reminders of a hallowed past. Here Greeks laid the foundations of a home away from home way back in 600 BC…till it reached heights of prosperity in the 16th-18th centuries with funding by rich traders, attracted Neapolitans at the end of the 19th century and Corsicans after the First World War, and finally plunged into depths of destruction during the WWII with evacuation and bombing by Nazis, when it had turned into a haven for seafarers, sailors, resistance fighters, refugees, criminals, Jews and Communists. Digest all that if you can.

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Clear the way for a lady manoeuvring her way past in a pastel aqua vintage car. Pass by a local resting his arms on a window sill, leaning into the kitchen within, chatting animatedly to his neighbour. Cross an elderly woman opening a bright blue door to enter her home. Ordinary scenes, ordinary people, ordinary lives. Forget who you are, where you’ve come from. Float along…invisibly.

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Interesting landmarks litter the the way…La Vieille Charité, a former poorhouse and the Diamond House, both museums today. A couple of small squares later, the Hotel Dieu, a colossal 18th century hospital, now converted into the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, an imposing structure atop an exclusive hilly perch. Rue du Panier (basket street), Rue des Moulins (mills street) and Rue du Refuge (shelter street)….a poor neighbourhood then, perfectly preserved like a giant museum exhibit now. Its an abrupt exit onto the broad, buzzing Rue de la Republique, leading to the Vieux-Port, with its elegant Haussman styled buildings and end-to-end high street shopping. A rude shift in a time machine. Refocus. Adjust.

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Gape from Garde Hill

Craving for more? Then ride the bus to the hilltop for the exotic Romano-Byzantine Notre Dame de la Garde. The monumental 30-feet gold leaf statue of Madonna and Child glints in the sun. A lookout post since prehistoric times, Notre Dame de la Garde is a true symbol of the city, its drawbridge and ramparts unabashedly proclaiming its history as a fortress. Inside, intricate models of boats hang from the ceiling, a tribute to the marine history of Marseille? The red stripes on the inside arches, bright, colourful mosaics depicting olives, vines, palm trees and exotic birds and intricate gold painted ceiling domes point to definite Islamic influences. Outside, savour the gorgeous 360-degree view from the wraparound terrace with its bullet scarred walls and memorial tiles. At your feet…the Mediterranean sea, bay, hills, islands, tapestry of red-roofs and modern buildings. In your hair…the wild Mistral wind and a feeling so free, you’re ready to fly.

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Marseilles_Notre Dame de la Garde_terrace outside

Continue the expedition to the Palais du Pharo close by. This impressive 19th- century waterfront residential palace for Napoleon III, stands on a hill overlooking the entrance to Vieux-Port, where a terrific view awaits. Napoleon is long gone and so are the royal guests, all that remains is a majestic conference center with a glorious past that receives up to 60,000 people every year. Across the waters, peer at Ile d’If, one of the cluster of islands that makes up the Frioul Archipelago. An imposing 16th-century fortress built on the island by François I to guard the harbour, later converted into an escape-proof prison, this was once Marseille’s Alcatraz…where inmates spent days, months, even years in windowless dungeons, cooking up ingenious escape ideas, eyeing the town in the distance, today a mere 20-minute boat ride away. Little did the prisoners know that centuries later, those dark and dingy quarters would become a worthy inspiration for Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo…and one of the most popular excursions from Marseille attracting millions each year.

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Sing with a sundowner

Back at the Vieux Port, survey the night scene when the crowds have disappeared and shopkeepers have folded up their stalls. The water is pitch dark, a million lights are dancing on the surface, and the city is resting. From the hill above, the gold-leafed statue of the Notre Dame is gleaming, watching over the city below. Your heart is singing and you’re redefining the French Riviera in your mind. Aren’t you?



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Marseille on the Côte d’Azur

This is the most incredible medieval skyscraper city of all

12th-century Bologna was a high-rise metropolis…

It is recognized by many terms of endearment…‘La Rossa’ (The Red One) for its vibrant brick architecture, ‘La Dotta’, for its first University of the western world, ‘La Grassa’ for its traditional dishes like tortellini, mortadella, lasagne, tagliatelle with meat sauce and ‘La Turrita’, for its more than 180 towers from an illustrious medieval past. Many nicknames…much love. It’s been labelled with many official names too…4th-century name Felsina of its founding Etruscans to the Bononia of the Romans (meaning ‘fortified place’) to Bologna. Solid history, deep foundations. So quit thinking of reasons to skip the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, the authentic hotbed of Italian gastronomy. There just aren’t any!

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Outside Parco Montagnola, barely 10 minutes from the train station, the ruins of a magnificent castle (symbolizing the Pope’s control), set the tone. Down Via dell’Indipendenza, begin navigating the tightly woven 350 acres of Europe’s second largest historic centre, speckled with medieval, renaissance, and baroque structures.  No overwhelming, grand monuments like in Florence or Milan here. Something better. Allure of medieval streets along a quintessential Roman grid town layout, 50 shades of red-hued buildings, endless porticoes and incredible skyscrapers. Ogle away. Till you’re red in the face and have a crick in your neck!

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Defined by endless porticoes

Activate your inner architect nerd: Inside the three circled walled city, are 38 kilometres of porticoes built from the 11th to 20th century. Blame the student population explosion during the 12th century and an innovative home extension law. A little push outward from the house (called a sporto), became a little bigger extension, with oaks trunks of oaks used as support. The resulting arcades housed shops and offered shelter from rain and summer heat. See the real deal at Casa Schiavina on Via Clavature and Casa Isolani on Strada Maggiore. Eventually, of course, tree trunks were replaced by columns of brick and stone, as they stand today. Elegant and aristocratic to dark and narrow, from secluded and serene to crowded and noisy…the porticoes have multiple personas but one unified soul.

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Melt into magical moments: Let the porticoes take you into their fold. Walk. Walk. Walk. Under pretty decorative arches, by delicate sculpted cornices, over detailed frescoed stairways, besides solid medieval walls. Lean against a column under the colonnade, watching the hectic morning rush hour and following the beat of footsteps echoing off the stone pavements. Exhaust your memory by searching for color adjectives for the buildings around…burnt sienna, salmon red, coral pink, sunny yellow, pumpkin orange, earthy ochre and more. And when your leg muscles protest, flop at the nearest cafe table, order your coffee, pore over your map and indulge in more street-watching…because its never enough. Ponder over the faded palazzi colors…pollution or ravages of time? The shadow play is hypnotic…the subtle lengthening of tall, narrow columns and the imperceptible curving of soft arches. Time goes on but time stands still. The church bells toll and the evening socialising kicks in. Horse carriages, sturdy benches and wine barrels morph out of nowhere. How can you be in Medieval Bologna? Everything is possible in a dream!

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Salute the iconic best: Looking for the ultimate porticoed perfection? Head to the Holy Shrine of St. Luke’s Madonna through the longest arched corridor in the world. The Portico di San Luca, built in the 17th century for pilgrims, is a 3.5 km long winding portico consisting of 666 arches. Brace up for an illuminated stroll…unreal slices of light lie ahead.

Courtesy: Wikipedia
Remnants of a skyscraper town

Activate your inner architect nerd: Go ahead, shake your head in disbelief…but its true. Bologna was a Medieval Manhattan way back in the 12th century. Really. Competitive rivalries between factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor actually gave rise to high-rises in the town! Defensive towers were built as lookout spots for the safety of different clans and privileged members were granted access through underground passages or bridges from upper stories of their houses. The higher the tower, the more influential a clan. Bare brick, no frills and fancies. Some nervous wrecks, those Bolognese must have been. Living in constant ‘warring fear’.

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Melt into magical moments: Imagine an era where much of the world was sheltering in thatched roofs and mud huts while Bologna residents jump-started progress with stores, workshops and multi-storied buildings. As many as 180 skyscrapers over an urban sprawl of red-tiled rooftops! More than Tokyo, Shanghai and even Dubai can claim today. Blocks of flats inside…modest homes at least, if not condo-quality. That’s incredulous, even unthinkable, but psyche yourself into this fantasy world for a moment. Most of the towers demolished, collapsed or crumbled to ruins…but thank you Italy, for laying the foundations of urban metropolises as we know them.

Salute the iconic best: Go in search of the symbol of the city…’Due Torri’ (Two Towers of Bologna) called Asinelli (97 metres) and Garisenda (48 metres). There’s that inimitable tilt again…yes, how could it not be? 498 steps and 3 Euro later, feel like a reincarnate of a guard from the middle ages, lanterns in hand, patrolling for security. Calm your pulse and fill your lungs after the workout. Because the red views are going to steal your heart and take your breath away again.

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Courtesy: Wikipedia


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12th-century Bologna was a high-rise metropolis