Advent is one of the most beautiful seasons in Salzburg: the first snowflakes swirl in the air, children build snowmen in the Mirabell Gardens and the scent of mulled wine wafts through the streets
The city of Salzburg sits at the foot of the Alps and the old town nestles between the River Salzach and the Mönchsberg hill. The first Christkindlmarkt was held in the 15th century and today you will find over 85 stalls on the Domplatz and Residenzplatz, in the old town, offering a wide variety of goods for you to buy. The wooden stalls huddle together and are decorated with coloured lights, fir branches and fir cones. The stallholders will be wrapped up to protect against the cold and the snow that has often fallen by early December.
The smells of the spiced mulled wine, roast bratwurst sausages and hot roast pork sandwiches draw you to the markets. Warm drinks such as kinderpunsch (non alcoholic punch for children) or hot chocolate, as well as the mulled wine, will help keep you warm when you stroll around the stalls.
The stalls are a shopper’s paradise and there is a huge selection for you to choose from. The floral arrangements, candles and incense smokers make good decorations, as well as the embroidered tablecloths. Clothing such as warm winter hats, sweaters and gloves for young and old. You can also find crafts and toys all hand made from wood that will be enjoyed by all the family. Christmas decorations will be made from glass, pewter or wood and it is possible to find any decoration you could imagine. Should you want to buy culinary gifts you will find delicious chocolates, biscuits and cakes such as Stollen or Kletzenbrot (both fruit cakes) often with samples for you to try before you buy. There are also smaller markets at Mirabell Gardens and Hohensalzburg Fortress. You might also want to meander through the shops on Getreidegasse, a long narrow street that stretches the length of the old town parallel with the river. See the ornate ironwork signs that hang above the stores indicating what they are selling and the white lights in the streets that hang like icicles. There are over 800 shops in the centre of the old town so you are spoilt for choice!
Salzburg is a city built upon its music so there is a large musical programme during Advent with concerts throughout the city. You can hear informal carol singing in the markets and each evening the sound of music drifts over the market from the tops of buildings around the squares. The carol 'Silent Night' was first performed in the chapel at Oberndorf, near to Salzburg. Today, it has been translated into over 170 languages and is probably one of the best-known carols, and many gifts that feature the carol are on sale in the shops.
In Mozartplatz there is a large ice rink and people of all ages come to skate (it is possible to hire your skates). If you don’t want to skate but still want to enjoy the atmosphere, then the Treml Winter Lounge is for you (and me). Here you can enjoy various flavours of warming mulled wine, hot chocolate or hot food snacks adjacent to the ice rink and the Mozart statue. Sometimes there is a large fire lit to help keep you warm. The different mulled wine syrups and coffee syrups are available to buy from the Treml shop at the opposite end of Mozartplatz and make good gifts.
I recommend staying in the old town, then everything is close by and you can make the most of your stay here. I have stayed in both the Hotel Altstadt Radisson SAS next to Mozartplatz, which has a wonderful breakfast room overlooking the river, or the Hotel Goldener Hirsch, which is traditional and filled with antique furniture.
The Salzburgerland is a fantastic area for winter sports. For a days skiing you can book the Salzburg Snow Shuttle either online before you travel or at the tourist office when you arrive. The snow shuttle costs less than 15 euros for the round trip and visits a different resort each day. The resorts are no more than an hour and a half away by coach. Ski passes and equipment hire can also be arranged, as well as information on the slopes. The coaches leave around 8am and are back in the city by 6pm. At the various resorts you can ski downhill, cross-country, try snowshoe walking or take a ride in a horse drawn sleigh.
Alternatively, if bobsleigh is what you are interested in, you could take either the train or public bus to Schönau am Königssee near Berchtesgaden (about 20 minutes). Here you can see the German National teams train for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge, or perhaps there may be a competition on at the time for you to watch. Occasionally at weekends you can take a trip in a bobsleigh yourself and ride down the track at over 100 kilometres an hour with an experienced driver at the helm! You can always take a boat trip on the lake too.
Cross the River Salzach to the Stein Hotel on Giselakai, take the elevator to the rooftop cafe and restaurant and enjoy the fantastic view of the city. In winter, as long as there is not too much snow, you can sit on the terrace and enjoy coffee and cake or a drink, while being wrapped up in a blanket to keep you warm, and each table has a heater. We enjoyed a Latte Macciato and a portion of cake of the day, which is about 3 euros a slice. One of the best views of the city!
Food and Drink
For coffee and cake during the day I would suggest either of the following: Cafe Sacher on Schwarzstrasse, the home of the famous Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake. Or Cafe Tomaselli in the Alter Markt, this is Austria's oldest "Viennese" coffee house, you can choose from over 40 home-made cakes that are baked fresh each day and delicious. So many to choose from – so little time! In the evenings try the StieglKeller on Festungsgasse, nestled under the Hohensalzburg - remember to take your camera for the views of the city below. Alternatively I can highly recommend the Sternbräu (www.sternbrau.com), our favourite, which can be accessed from either Griesgasse or Getreidegasse. This 600-year-old restaurant is set out over 14 different rooms, each with their own unique atmosphere. Whichever restaurant you choose you should eat the local Austrian cuisine. I would recommend goulash soup as a lunchtime snack, hot and spicy and good value at around 6 euros. In the evenings you can choose from tender steak and fried potatoes, crispy roast pork with potato dumplings or Wiener Schnitzel, a veal escalope in crispy breadcrumbs. Main courses are priced in most restaurants between 11 and 16 euros.
For more information on Salzburg see www.insidersguide-online.com