Each year the Italian Tribune brings the Publisher’s Tour to our readers. Buddy and Marion Fortunato have made many visits to Italy and in this segment of the tour, the travelers headed northeast from the Italian Alps to Austria. The fourth stop for the travelers on the Publisher’s Tour took them northeast from beautiful Merano across the Italian border to the historic Austrian cities of Salzburg and Vienna.
Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Salzburg is a compact city that is the perfect blend of history and culture. It is famous for its Baroque architecture which can be seen throughout the old town and in 1997, the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dominating the city is the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Built in 1077, it was one of Europe’s largest castles at the time and the views from the fortress are awe inspiring. But it is really music that people think of whenever the city is mentioned.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and raised in Salzburg. For almost 30 years, the Mozart family lived on the third floor of 9 Getreidegasse Street in the heart of Salzburg. The building is now a museum, where the tour stopped to visit the home of the mercurial composer. The well-narrated tour explained his remarkable, but tragically short life. Many original documents and portraits are presented and the exhibition provides an array of interesting facts about Mozart’s Salzburg years, his family and the history of the house itself. On display are the violin that he played as a child and the clavichord that Mozart used while composing The Magic Flute.
With music on everyone’s mind, the travelers stopped to visit Villa Trapp, home of one of the city’s most famous families. The house is not the palace depicted in the movie “The Sound of Music,” but is a large, 22-room historic home built in 1863. Georg von Trapp and his children moved there in 1924, following the death of his first wife. The family lived in the house until 1938, when they famously left Austria, never to return. The property was later sold to a religious order, but in 2008, the villa was turned into a hotel. Now guests can stay in rooms that belonged to various members of the family. Hundreds of thousands of fans flock to the location each year to see where the famous story took place and the Publisher’s Tour was able to follow the footsteps of the von Trapps in the house where their story began. Afterwards, it was time for a stroll down Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s most famous shopping street. Eye-catching guild signs line the street, making this a popular spot to take pictures.
The next stop on the tour took the travelers to the country’s capital city. Vienna owes much of its charm and rich history to its splendid location on the banks of the Danube River, for centuries the gateway between West and East Europe. Vienna’s imperial grandeur is the legacy of the powerful Habsburg dynasty and their immense palaces are an important part of the history of the city. Other fascinating sites include the splendid Rathaus (City Hall) and other 19th century neo-Gothic buildings that line the magnificent Ringstrasse, which encircles the inner city.
Perhaps nothing symbolizes Austria’s cultural heritage more than the Hofburg, the home of the Habsburgs for almost 700 years. The UNESCO Heritage site is the official seat of the Austrian President and the sprawling array consists of buildings reflecting various periods, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo styles. The complex covers 59 acres with 18 buildings, 19 courtyards and over 2,600 rooms. Its main attractions are the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection, while other notable sites within the complex include the Imperial Chapel, where the Vienna Boys’ Choir sings Sunday Mass and the Hofburg Treasury, with its large collection of Imperial regalia and relics of the Holy Roman Empire.
Also located on the grounds of the Hofburg is the Spanish Riding School. Dating back to the time of Emperor Maximilian II, the school was established after the ruler introduced the famous Lipizzaner horses to his court in 1562. Today, it is one of Vienna’s leading attractions, thrilling audiences with fabulous displays of equestrian skills.
About two miles away is another remarkable series of buildings. Schloss Belvedere consists of two of the world’s finest Baroque palaces, set as an upper and a lower palace. Highlights of the former are the Ground Floor Hall, with its statues and the Ceremonial Staircase, adorned in rich stucco relief and frescoes. The two-story Marble Hall is also stunning, with period sculptures, paintings and ceiling frescoes. The Lower Palace also boasts a Marble Hall, noted for its oval plaster medallions and rich ceiling fresco, as well as a Marble Gallery, built to house a collection of historic statues.
One of the Habsburgs’ most dazzling palaces along this route is the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. The museum is brimming with works by Europe’s finest painters, sculptors and artisans. Occupying a neoclassical building as stupendous as the art it contains, the museum takes visitors on a time-travel treasure hunt from Classical Rome and Egypt through the Renaissance. It is packed with priceless works by Old Masters and other treasures, including one of the world’s richest coin collections. The range of art amassed by the Habsburgs is simply extraordinary. The Picture Gallery contains works by Italian artists including Raphael, Titian, Bellini and Caravaggio. The museum’s specialties are late Italian Renaissance, Baroque and Flemish painting, but the collections go far beyond those with classical Greek, Roman and Egyptian collections.
The Viennese appreciation of the finer things in life extends to its opulent coffee-house ‘living rooms’ serving spectacular cakes; its beloved bistros, called beisl, dishing up hearty portions of comfort food such as Wiener Schnitzel and goulash, but there are many elegant restaurants and wine bars, while on the fringes of the city, visitors will encounter rustic wine taverns, located at the vineyards that proliferate the area.
The group also had many memorable experiences on a river cruise down the Danube from Vienna, westward through the Wachau Valley. The journey took them through the UNESCO-listed valley gliding past fairy-tale castles, medieval villages, forests and vineyards.
One of the stops along the way was the town of Melk, known for its vast monastery built high above the town and it is one of Europe’s great sights. Established as a fortified Benedictine abbey in the 11th century, it was destroyed centuries later by fire, but was gloriously rebuilt in Baroque-style during the 18th century. A restoration project was completed in 1996, which was partially financed by the sale of the Abbey’s Gutenberg Bible to Harvard University. Gold statuary adorns its domed church and its enormous library houses a priceless collection of medieval manuscripts.
Farther along is small town of Dürnstein, which is delightful, quaint and could be mistaken as a movie set representing a traditional Austrian village. The town became historically famous as the location of Richard the Lionhearted’s imprisonment in 1193. The Danube cruise concluded at Krems, another lovely, pristine town, but one that also offers many shopping opportunities for handcrafted goods produced in the Wachau Valley.
Although Austria was a far different experience than those of Italy, the group thoroughly enjoyed their time in the country. Next week the Publisher’s Tour concludes as the travelers made their way back to Italy with their final last stop in Milan.