Article Index

Salzburg center lacks charming hotel accommodations

Jederman Schlafzimmer
Sleeping in Salzburg

Salzburg is still alive with The Sound of Music. Subtle evidence of that is a yellowing check for $20 stuck under the glass at the reception desk of the fading Hotel Elefant in the town's Altstadt. It was written in 1981 by Maria von Trapp, the Julie Andrews character in the 1965 movie.

The town has been popular with Americans for several decades. There was a Helen MacInnes book, Salzburg Connection, a Cold War spy thriller, and out of the book came a very bad movie of the same name, with cars chasing up and down the Hohensalzburg. Awful as it was, the movie at least gave us a look at a gorgeous little city.

But it was that Hollywood blockbuster of blockbusters, The Sound of Music, with Julie Andrews scampering through high Alpine meadows, that forever changed life in Austria's third largest city.

Since the movie, Salzburg seemingly has been on everyone's European itinerary and the Sound of Music tour remains its number one tourist attraction.

And there is no lack of tourists. Each day in high season, hundreds of tour buses dump waves of visitors into the Altstadt. Others arrive by rail, auto and air. Even in the dead of winter the Getreidegasse bustles and one hears American voices everywhere.

But Salzburg is far more than a movie set. It has a rollicking past and great charm. One cannot fail to be intrigued, for example, by the central figure in its history; the lecherous, egotistical Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, the man who built Salzburg while fathering 15 children out of wedlock-with, to his credit, the same woman. (Unfortunately, things didn't end well for Wolfie, he got on the wrong side of the Pope and spent the last five years of his life a prisoner in the Hohensalzburg fortress. You may want to visit the ostentatious tomb he designed for himself in the St. Sebastian cemetery.)

All that history, God-given beauty, Archbishop-given buildings—and of course one little 'ol movie—have been very good for Salzburg hotel business, especially in the center of the city. Too good, maybe. Since this is where overnight visitors want to stay, and since there has been almost no new competition, a handful of little inns in the heart of town have been able to maintain high occupancy rates by simply keeping the doors open and the linen clean.

Most in the old-town retain a degree of charm and all are acceptable lodgings. But at a time when small, family-operated hotels all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland are upgrading their facilities and services, it is disappointing to see tired public rooms, scuffed furnishings, and poorly-lit and equipped bathrooms in hotels which could and should be atmospheric little gems. Instead, most of them have the air of overused package tour hotels.