Although I knew that Salzburg was in a unique location, not just surrounded by mountains, but amongst them, the first surprise of our weekend away was that our hostel was literally on the top of a mountain.
After arguing with Google Maps for five minutes and then embarking on a mission through the mountain itself, we found the seemingly never-ending series of stairs that led us to our hostel, tucked away in the walls of an old fortress.
For just €20 a night, Stadtalm Naturfreundhaus was a gorgeous location offering indescribably clear views of the city, with quaint rooms and authentic wooden walls and floors providing a cosy atmosphere, a home away from home. I’d highly recommend them, and plan to use them again on my inevitable return to Salzburg (spoiler alert: I love this city).
Once sorted, we descended back down the mountain again to explore the Altstadt. Narrow streets and tall buildings dripping with festive decorations made for an enjoyable stroll through the city’s older quarters. The sun’s early winter departure behind the snow-capped mountains meant that much of our exploration took place in the dark, but the wealth of Christmas lights and even the light from the moon shining from the clear skies meant that we still managed to cover all the sights we planned.
Once we’d wandered through the Altstadt down to the river, we crossed a bridge covered in padlocked initials of love, the mark of any gorgeous riverside spot, to track Mozart’s movements centuries before through the Neustadt.
With modern shops marked with old-fashioned signs, cobbled streets lined with tech shops and restaurants, the city centre was a mish-mash of tradition and innovation.
The classic skyline of the cathedral spires and festive lights of the Christmas market, framed by the dark mass of the mountains, eventually drew us back across the river. What European city escape in December would be complete without partaking in a Christmas market, and Salzburg’s is undoubtedly impressive. Two large squares packed with huge varieties of stalls and food, along with the inevitable heaving crowds of tourists, trapped us for a couple of hours, warming ourselves on glühwein and music (potentially more figurative warmth).
Our walk back to the hostel through the darkness of Salzburg was broken up with a stop in the most Christmassy bar in the world, covered wall to ceiling in Christmas trees and branches, and an apple strudel and tea in a Mozart themed coffee shop, just to simultaneously confirm all Austrian stereotypes.
Our morning in Salzburg allowed us a whirlwind tour of Schloss Mirabell’s Hofgarten, which we hadn’t fully appreciated in the near pitch-darkness. I’m a sucker for any organised gardens, and these were no disappointment, with elegant statues framing somehow still-blooming flowers even in the depths of winter.
Our return to Munich went via Königsee, a huge lake roughly halfway between the two cities. The small village on its shores was charming, but less so when the clouds descended, bringing increasingly heavy rain.
Whilst walking to the outlook point, the dense trees covering the mountain sides protected us, and the clouds even added to the dramatic, monochrome contrast between mountain and sky, but the weather eventually pushed us back to the bus stop.
When even the ducks hid under the buildings suspended above the clear waters, we knew it was our cue to leave.
Both places were so gorgeous and had so much more potential to explore further that I am determined to go back to both, but for now, safe to say, it was a perfect weekend to see me through to the Christmas break.