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.

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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?

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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. 

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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!

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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

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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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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

Why Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam is the ultimate retreat?

This royal haven is Germany’s largest world heritage site

If you’re racking your brains for a day-trip idea from Berlin, look no further than Potsdam, an oasis of lakes, lush fields, thick forests and unique cultural landmarks along the Havel River. Boasting of the largest World Heritage Site in Germany, Sanssouci, as its centrepiece, Potsdam is to Germany what Versailles is to France and Windsor to England. And its just a 45-minute drive from the buzzing German capital. So, die-hard lovers of sumptuous palaces and extravagant gardens, zip away on that Autobahn now!

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This is one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic

Retreat to Budva in Montenegro…

Your brain is still woozy from absorbing the red-gold autumn flamboyance of the Lovcen National Park and the raw wilderness of the rocky Dinara Alps, as you drive down towards Budva. Thank the rocky limestone mountain screen that paints Montenegro’s highway. Its a breather from the final spectacle that awaits. Ready or not, here it comes. Right after the final bend.

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High energy folklore spirit at Wenceslas festival

Witness pure Bohemian spirit at Cesky Krumlov…

No better place to kick start your Czech Republic trip than with the most delicious slice of the Bohemian region, Cesky Krumlov. And no better timing than autumn, when this fairyland is wrapped in cozy folds of russets, auburn, ambers and cornelians. But fall brings colours to more than just the foliage. You have barely taken the first few steps onto the cobbled roads, and you can sense the festivities in the air. St.Wenceslas Festival is painting the town red!

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An 1100-year old ancient temple that lies in ruins

Discover Kashmir’s Avantiswami temple…

You’re driving southeast of Srinagar on the road to  Jammu, silently applauding the unmatched spectacle of nature. Towering mountains, frothy streams, leafy canopies, juicy apple orchards and golden haystack fields…paradise has a permanent home in this blessed valley. An hour and 30 kilometers later, you arrive at your destination on the right bank of Jhelum river. Here stands a huge pit, at least 20 feet deep. The skirting of a modest row of tin-roof houses against a wallpaper of the lofty Himalayas is incongruously striking. But its not a pit…its a 1913-dig of crumbling ruins. Fragments of a broken puzzle from the recesses of the past, which only an imaginative eye can piece together.

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Why you need to stop at these seven sweetest spots in Dubrovnik

Insta-worthy Dubrovnik beyond the wall walk

Entering the walled city of Dubrovnik through the impressive 13th century Pile Gate, four doors, two walkway bridges and a wooden drawbridge, remind yourself that Napoleon’s French army once stomped through this path with destructive, harmful intent. Shivers up your spine?

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