Exploring Austria: Fairytale-Esque Salzburg

In the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg, famed for the church in which Maria & The Captain got married in the movie, The Sound of Music
In the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg, famed for the church in which Maria & The Captain got married in the movie, The Sound of Music
Fairy tale city: Salzburg
Fairy tale city: Salzburg
University of Salzburg Church (Die Kollegienkirche)

Salzburg impressed me during my first visit in 1999 where the romance of its spires, churches, river, mountains and rolling, green hillsides was an influence since childhood, thanks to that film locals love to dislike, The Sound of Music. As with my visit in ’99, going on a SoM tour was a highlight of my visit (there are many to choose from but Panorama Tours has been the best).

Salzburg’s sheer beauty and walkable charm made it my Austrian city of choice even back then, far above expansive Vienna, which despite it’s fantastic architecture and even more fantastic musical history, live classical music and grand opera house, felt a bit cold to me. My second go-to Austrian city is Innsbruck (read about my explorations here).

In love with Salzburger Nockerl, the city's legendary souffle-like dessert that arrives warm & fluffy, doused in warm berry sauce
In love with Salzburger Nockerl, the city’s legendary souffle-meets-dumpling-like dessert that arrives warm & fluffy, doused in warm berry sauce (here at Gablerbrau but on the menu at most restaurants serving traditional Austrian food in Salzburg)
Dominating the Salzburg skyline: Fortress Hohensalzburg (a castle on a hill)
Dominating the Salzburg skyline: Fortress Hohensalzburg

Returning nearly 14 years later, I am even more in love with Salzburg. This visit, I found more hidden treasures, walked further afield, and down each narrow, car-less street.

I stayed in a local apartment directly across the Staatsbrücke bridge looking at Old Town, down narrow, cobblestone alley, Steingasse street.

Here are a few of my favorite tastes and discoveries:

Distant view of Old Town Salzburg from a riverside walk
View of Old Town Salzburg from a riverside walk


Stroll along the river
Stroll along the Salzach river

Just a couple doors down from my wonderful apartment on narrow, cobblestoned Steingasse street, is tiny wine bar, Fridrich. Run by Fridrich himself since 1986, I would easily call this one of my favorite bars in Europe. I’m a spirits and cocktail girl first, so I don’t typically note a wine bar as favorite bar.

Entering Fridrich on
Entering Fridrich on Steingasse

Though the bar, under arched stone ceiling is intimatly sexy, Fridrich almost imparts a subtle punk-rock attitude to the relaxed, glowing environs. It’s partly his expert knowledge of all things Austrian – he tasted me through the crisp, earthy notes of Nigl (pronounced nee-gel) Gelber Muskateller white wine, harvested from tiered, hillside vineyards, and likewise, earthy, complex Golles schnaps. During another visit, he recommended a glass of lovely Stiegelman Grauburgunder Weingut, a white wine I’d also loved at a restaurant in the Tyrolean-chic village of Kitzbuhel.

Intimate perfection at Fridrich
Intimate perfection at Fridrich

The other reason for Fridrich’s uniqueness is his impeccable musical tastes and expansive vinyl and CD collection, which he plays interchangeably like a sophisticated DJ. His top of the line sound system envelops the bar with a tapestry of sound.

There’s a wonderful woman who works with him, demure yet engaging, both of them offering recommendations, pours, humorous asides. Lou Reed died the last night we were in Salzburg. Fridrich told us the news, then put on Reed’s music. We all raised a glass, shedding a tender tear. It’s that kind of a bar.

The Renaissance Man and I were so inspired, we dreamt of opening our own tiny bar like this somewhere in the world: a place where you immediately feel like a local, where what is poured and what is played is of equal importance, where there is nothing to prove, only to relax, savor to feel at home.

Otherworldly St. Peter's cemetery
Otherworldly St. Peter’s cemetery


The warm woods of one of the Stiftskeller dining rooms
The warm woods of one Stiftskeller dining room

As the world’s oldest known operational restaurant since 803 AD, Stiftskeller St. Peter’s history may insinuate food is an afterthought, but it’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience with unexpectedly strong food.

Built into the stone cliffs of Salzburg’s Old Town, and off the square housing St. Peter’s gorgeous church and mesmerizing graveyard – among the most beautiful in the world – Stiftskeller is an upscale restaurant, also known for their Mozart dinners upstairs in multiple dining rooms, both intimate and grand. As I went to the restroom upstairs by the grand dining room, I got chills hearing the strains of the orchestra playing Mozart here in the town of his birth, while everyone dined at long tables by candlelight.

Stiftskeller beef tartare
Stiftskeller beef tartare

We ate downstairs in a warm, wood-walled dining room with red and white seating, and paintings of monks mingling with modern art.

Entering the restaurant, one passes through a stone archway that, in my November visit, was completely covered in pine boughs. Aromatic and magical, the archway then opens into a stone courtyard which is a standing bar area in the shadow of the steep stone cliffs carved out by monks above. At this time of year, the courtyard was packed with Christmas trees. Benedictine monks were running Stiftskeller as recently as 20 years ago and still live on square that houses the restaurant. The whole operation is mesmerizing.

Christmas tree-lined courtyard
Stiftskeller Christmas tree-lined courtyard

Food and service were better than I expected. In fact, we had a top-notch server who had worked in restaurants around the world, including the US, had studied hospitality and was a consummate, warm professional. Our meal was a series of high points and artful plating, including beef tartare in pine nut butter formed into a square, young venison saddle in Glennfiddich Scotch glace (yes!), and upscale versions of Germanic classics like veal weiner schnitzel, breaded and pan fried, with parsley potatoes and cranberries.

Nut-crusted sausages at Market
Nut-crusted sausages at Grünmarkt

Desserts (we tried three) were also a highlight, including a variation of plum dumplings partnered with stewed plums and plum ice cream. Though the restaurant was expensive, it wasn’t outrageous compared to other meals in Austria and even pricier Switzerland, and it certainly delivered a one-of-a-kind experience.

St. Gilgen, just 15 minutes outside Salzburg - a spectacular view over the town where Mozart's mother was born
Dreamy St. Gilgen, a town 15 minutes outside Salzburg
Another St. Gilgen view
Another stunning St. Gilgen view – the town where Mozart’s mother was born
Baumkuchen (a flaky pastry shaped like the ring of a tree, crusted in cinnamon & sugar) being baked to order at Grünmarkt (a "farmers market" or food market daily in Universitätsplatz square)
Baumkuchen (flaky pastry shaped like a tree ring, crusted in cinnamon & sugar) baked to order at Grünmarkt farmers market daily in Universitätsplatz square

Next issue I will delve into Austrian spirits, exciting and virtually unknown by many spirits fans. I will share more about Austrian schnaps/brandies and fantastic shops like Sporer, on Salzburg’s main, touristy-yet-delightful shopping street, Getreidegasse, since 1903.

Augustiner's beer garden
Augustiner’s beer garden

Augustiner Brau, Salzburg’s famed brewery since 1621, is a festive gathering of locals. Whether you sit in the beer garden or one of the beer halls, it’s a slice of local’s life. Though tourists certainly seek out the brewery, it’s sprawling grounds welcome all ages – there’s even a playground with a beer barrel to climb through for the kids!

Fish on a stick - one of the snack offerings with beer at Augustiner Brewery
Fish on a stick – one of the snack offerings at Augustiner Brewery

I watched grandpas enjoy a beer with their grandkids, couples toast each other over beer and pretzels, even a family playing a game out of fish bones collected from the garbage in the garden (odd, but there must be a story behind that). Though food vendors in and around the brewery are hardly gourmand, it’s inspiring to see the likes of whole fish, head and all, on a stick for snacking with beer.

Just down the street from the brewery, Blumen & Feinkost market, with its retro, pinup girl logo, felt like a slice of home infused with Germanic spirit. Browsing through this organic market, heavy on produce, fine meats and cheeses, breads and the like, made me start envisioning a picnic.

Salzburg spires & steeples
Salzburg spires & steeples
Zotter Schoko-Laden
Zotter Schoko-Laden

Chocolate lovers: head to Zotter Schoko-laden in the Old Town. Organic, fair trade, artisan and uniquely funky in its flavor profiles, the internationally popular, artisan chocolate bar line is a true Austrian success story. While I have sampled Zotter bars for years from shops in San Francisco (like Chocolate Covered in Noe, and The Candy Store in Russian Hill), this is the first I’ve seen the range of Zotter chocolates in one place. They don’t all work for me – some are far too subtle and bland. But when they do work, they represent a fine example of the range of chocolate bar flavors yet to be explored. How about apples, carrots and ginger? Or cheese, walnut, grape? Maybe sacramental wine and frankincense chocolate bars are more your speed? Zotter bars never read “boring.”

Savoring Carpe Diem cones
Savoring Carpe Diem cones

Quickly escalating prices after ordering a few seemingly affordable bites is one downside. So could be the hotel setting on bustling, touristy (yet still charming) shopping street, Getreidegasse (or it’s just conveniently located?)

Ultimately, Carpe Diem Finest FingerFood pleases with its mini-gourmet cones filled with burgers and fries or scallops. On a sunny day, the chic patio is an ideal way to enjoy these playful, gourmet cones and Austrian wine or internationally popular (you can find it at Whole Foods), local kombucha brand, Carpe Diem, which the restaurant is named after.

Dinzler (dinzler.de/de) is a welcome Salzburg coffee shop/cafe, although this lovely chili mocha listed with a heat warning contained little to no heat at all despite the chili
Dinzler (dinzler.de) is a welcome Salzburg coffee shop/cafe, although this lovely chili mocha listed with a heat warning contained little to no heat despite the chili
Church cematary in ritzy Austrian ski town, Kitzbuhel, on the way to Salzburg
Church cemetery in ritzy Austrian ski town, Kitzbuhel, on the way to Salzburg
Kitzbuhel's main street
Kitzbuhel’s main street
Pretzels & beer at Gablerbrau (rich on historic atmosphere, but worst service of my trip)
Pretzels & beer at Gablerbrau… rich on historic atmosphere, but awful service
Fabrizi Espresso, run by Italians in Salzburg for Italian coffee
Fabrizi Espresso, run by Italians in Salzburg for Italian coffee
Salzburger Brezen at the market with pretzels
Salzburger Brezen Grünmarkt with pretzels in flavors like apple, poppy or chocolate
Elderly woman taking an afternoon stroll in the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg
Elderly women taking an afternoon stroll in the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside Salzburg
Another coffee haven in Salzburg:
A Salzburg coffee haven: 220 Grad (220grad.com)
Salzburg's Hellbrunn Palace with its idyllic grounds
Salzburg’s Hellbrunn Palace with its idyllic grounds
Driving the countryside outside Salzburg
Driving the countryside outside Salzburg