The hills of Austria are alive with the sound of silence. I grew up to the music and images of Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music. But I hadn’t realised until I reached Salzburg that I would be staying there.


It’s in the province of Salzburgerland and is a mere twenty minutes drive from the airport. Which itself is as swift and seamless as any I’ve passed through. The area has many beautiful lakes. It is to Austrians what the Lake District is to us Brits and Lakes Como and Maggiore are to the Italians. A refuge, a delight, and a natural source of immense pride.

Finding Fuschl

Fuschl, my local town, exists for Fuschlsee, her stunning lake. Set in a broad bowl of mountains that are part bald, part wooded. Pastures that have managed to sustain a lush, vibrant green after the heat waves of a long summer. The water of the lake has every shade of blue imaginable from aquamarine to turquoise to teal.

As with the ever-changing nature of the light so with the climate. It alternates between the summer’s sun and breeze and autumnal clouds and rain. Causing the water to be flat and still one moment, shimmering and rippling the next. Both serene and mesmeric, the stunning reflections demanded and commanded my attention. The length of the lake has benches on the shoreline as places for our own reflection.

Lake Life

From its different angles, I sensed the lake’s varied character and characters. At night the very few lights emphasised how underpopulated the shoreline is. A little electronic ferry called ‘Zille’ glides duck-like from end to end. Thus enabling satisfied passengers to blend in with walkers and cyclists who enjoy the full two-hour circuit around the lake.

With swimmers and paddle boarders taking on the challenge of the water itself. Fishermen seeking trout row out in their wooden boats after work to be at one with the pure water. So clean it has neither litter nor fumes with petrol strictly ‘verboten’.

Meanwhile, I walked around the lakeside where the grass from the streuweise (straw meadow) is mown once every autumn. It’s used not for fodder but for straw in the cowsheds. Stopping in my tracks now and then to enjoy the distinctive aroma of the late summer flowering of pink marsh orchids. The more mature of the sycamore trees lining the lakeside peel off bark from their trunks in panels. Thus creating a patchwork of grey and reddish-brown that reminded me of plane trees.

Ebner’s Waldhof

Firstly, I stayed first at the lake’s eastern end at Ebner’s Waldhof ( What a fabulous eclectic mixture this hotel is. Part alpine chalet, part modern and part traditional Austrian and suggestive of a bygone era. This amalgamation of buildings has something for everyone. Quirky corridors lined with curiosities such as horse carts and deer antlers, tableaux and taxidermy.

Two days later I went on to the lake’s western and even quieter end to stay at the luxurious Schloss Fuschl ( Adorning its corridors are black and white photographs of famous conductors deep in musical ecstasy. Definitely the best set of hotel pictures I have seen.

The setting of this historic castle with its royal connections is paramount. Perched on a prime vantage point, it looks across the entire length of the lake. Beneath the breakfast room that resembles a ship captain’s bridge is broad decking designed for both bathers and sunbathers.

Salzburg Festival

To catch my direct train to Vienna, I came back to the centre of Salzburg. With her expansive suite of squares, her baroque church facades and an impressive statue of Mozart. In August, the city is celebrating the centenary of its famous festival.

Taking place in August, it echos the words of the founders who were keen to establish ‘one of the first deeds of peace’. Heralded as a ‘festival to shine as a guiding light in the search for one’s own identity, for the meaning of life. But also for the restoration of the identity of whole peoples’.

The programme has adapted as an abridged version, to the consequences of the pandemic. With opera performances of both Così Fan Tutte and Elektra, three different dramas and a large number of concerts. These feature both the Vienna Philharmonic and guest orchestras. There’s also the Beethoven piano sonata cycle of eight concerts. A fitting tribute to the 250th anniversary of his birth. Not to mention the festival’s very own youth programme. Quite a bonanza. Don’t wait another hundred years!

Vienna Bound

Definitely, my time in Salzburg was a fitting prelude to Austria’s capital which I reached by train in under three hours. What a dramatic arrival it was as I reached the Hotel Bristol ( I opened the shutters on the fourth floor to look across at the Opera House and straight down to its appreciative evening audience. Watching it all live outside on a giant screen that I was able to share from my balcony. My own box with a difference!

The hotel has been carefully restored to its former glory. Boasting the Duke of Windsor among its clientele. Wooden panelling and stained glass windows with distinctive jugendstil (Viennese Art Nouveau) floral patterns decorate the elegantly stylised rooms. Along with an elaborate staircase and a historic elevator with its padded leather seats. Suggesting both opulence and grandeur.

With the layout of the city centre designed with great efficiency, getting around was so simple for me. The hotel’s position bang in the middle made all my site-seeing walkable and spontaneous.

The Spanish Riding School

I find myself exploring the Hofburg Complex. Among the grand central palace with its courtyards proudly displaying the statues of its emperors, I found the Spanish Riding School. Aa a rule, a must for anyone visiting Vienna however short their trip. It’s set in a stunning baroque room with beautifully lit chandeliers and conducted to waltz and other classical Viennese music.

These stage performances are a sustained tradition and the result of years of dedication. The riders are in their ceremonial costumes wearing black bicorn hats with gold braid stripes. Coffee-coloured jackets with rows of brass buttons, pale leather gloves and long boots covering their knees. All complemented by saddles made elegant by their embroidered cloth. As for the horses, they perform their magical and graceful routine. I sensed the special relationship between man and animal of mutual loyalty and interdependence.

The Museum Quartier is close by and everything in it is very accessible. Scattered about are purple blocks acting as loungers that draw together those seeking rest and repose. Here is the Leopold Museum and the best place to see Austria’s two most celebrated artists, Klimt and Schiele. They effectively afforded their own permanent exhibitions with a floor each.

Delicious Vienna

Behind the museums and set in a quiet courtyard I ate at the vegetarian Tian Bistro ( Here, I sat among plants, wooden crates and an unusually non-stentorian Austrian clientele. Firstly, I sampled a ‘pick-me-up’ consisting of papaya, pineapple, celery, ginger and Assam long pepper. I then tried a subtle consommé with champignons and fresh herbs. Finally succumbing to the delicacy of Hokkaido pumpkin, spelt cream and polenta fries’. I followed with marinated strawberries, minted sugar and peanut cream.

The other thing to experience is ‘Sharing Chef’s Garden’. A combination of five different culinary delights made from locally sourced, seasonal, market-fresh produce. Even as a non-vegetarian, the burger with its barbecue dip was a welcome alternative to its meat version.

A Musical City

That evening I attended a concert at the Konzerthaus and was aware that I was among the cognoscenti in Vienna. In short, the historic heartland of classical music. It thrilled me to witness the tradition alive and well with entire families sitting alongside elderly ladies spruced up for the occasion. Consequently, they start at the very civilised time of 6pm on a Sunday evening.

This hallowed hall has art deco windows set in pale blue and yellow beneath a gilded ceiling. In the foyer stands an impressive statue of Beethoven in his signature brooding and imperious mood. Unlike any other performance I’ve experienced, the tail-coated conductor smiled at will, and with joyful informality. Guiding the lead violinist and his white bow-tied orchestra.

There are also more than 450 balls every year. During which revellers dance to anything from traditional waltz to more contemporary beats. At the Techno Ball outfits comprise of suits and sneakers.  In stark contrast to the glamorous and traditional Opera Ball, there’s both a Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball and a Confectioners’ Ball. Things get even more outré with the Chimney Sweeps’ Ball, which opens the season. They pile onto the dance floor wearing their traditional work clothes.

Following a short stroll west from the hotel and I was looking up at the Secession Building. With its glorious white decorated walls with their jugendstil reliefs crowned by 3,000 gilt laurel leaves. I then ambled through the old booths of the Naschmarkt, a market with its rich mix of well-stocked ethnic foods. Daily produce along with cafes and bars where tourists fit in with locals. Meanwhile, I went as far as the point where it peters out beside the lovely floral exterior of the Wagner Apartment Buildings.

Heading to the Belvedere

Last but not least, I headed to the Belvedere.  This historic building complex consists of two Baroque palaces (Upper and Lower). Set in a park landscape with its botanical gardens, matching flowerbeds and cascading fountains. At the Lower Belvedere are two marbled and mirrored halls. One has gilded oriental decoration, the other with white relief wondrously set in wooden panelled surrounds. The Upper Belvedere houses both an engaging and rare Monet portrait of a cook as well as Klimt’s iconic The Kiss. Without a doubt as iconic as ‘Doe a deer, a female deer’!


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