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High 5: Salzburg

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Having a birthday at this time of year has never been ideal. Friends and family are usually either de-toxing, on an economy drive or both, and finding a weather-appropriate way to celebrate – without shelling out on an expensive winter sun holiday – is almost impossible. This year, however, I decided to embrace the northern European climate and head to the Austrian city of Salzburg. Chocolate-box perfect in its promotional pics, I arrived with high expectations. I needn’t have worried, it’s even more entrancing than the postcards. Here are five of the many reasons why…

The Sound of Music
Let’s get this one out of the way. Salzburg really is as pretty as Julie Andrews and co. would have you believe, and the passage of time has certainly not diminished its appeal. On my return to the UK, I spent an unashamedly self-indulgent half-hour browsing YouTube for film clips to sate my Salzburg withdrawal symptoms. Here’s one of my favourites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIjobdArtiA. Winter’s perhaps not the best time to take one of the many Sound of Music-themed guided tours available – I didn’t have time in the end, anyway – but it’s definitely on the list for my next visit.

Café culture
What the Austrians don’t know about café culture ain’t worth knowing, as far as I’m concerned. From strudel and hot chocolate in a medieval tavern in Salzburg Castle to a delicious latte and toasted sandwich combo at Café Bazar (a glorious chandeliered gathering place for local ‘artists, poets and thinkers’ that brought Salzburg to a standstill when Marlene Dietrich graced its patio in 1936), there is sweet and savoury temptation on every corner…each café offering a cosy retreat from the icy blasts and snow flurries that inevitably punctuate winter sightseeing.

Skis and the city
City breaks don’t just have to be about ticking off famous landmarks and picking up souvenirs. On this particular sojourn, I managed to squeeze in a day’s skiing, too. Hop on the complimentary shuttle bus (collects from Mirabell Square in central Salzburg at 8.15 am) and you’ll soon be on the slopes of the pretty Austrian resort of Flachau. Impressively well organised, the onboard guide will arrange ski passes and equipment hire during the one-hour journey, enabling you to hit the lifts shortly after arrival. The bus heads home at 4.30 pm, allowing plenty of time back at your hotel to shower, change and head out for drinks or dinner.

Surprises around every corner
Sometimes the most memorable experiences of visiting a new place are the ones you least expect. Waiting for me on this trip were two surprises from decidedly different eras. The first was a striking piece of modern sculpture – Stephan Balkenhol’s ‘Sphaera’, a nine metre-high statue of a male figure standing on a golden sphere that was created for the Salzburg Art Project in 2007. A few footsteps away, its partially hidden entrance only adding further to its delight, lies the Petersfriedhof cemetery. Perhaps not somewhere that would normally top a tourist’s wish list, this historic burial place is both tranquil and uplifting, lined with delicate wrought-iron memorials and beautiful stone monuments.

Signage and shopping
Retail therapy’s always a great option if the weather proves inclement. Salzburg is famous for its Schnürlregen (or ‘string rain’) referred to in the Goldener Hirsch hotel’s ‘Rambles in Salzburg’ guide book as being ‘like pearls tied on a cord’, so come prepared. As well as a satisfying array of big brand and local boutiques, I was particularly preoccupied by the shops selling Tracht – fabulous garments that effortlessly blend the traditional elements of Austria’s national costume with modern fabrics and colours that left me wondering how I could work a silk-lined dirndl (traditional Austrian dress) in to my wardrobe back in the UK. My favourite was Stassny on Getreidegasse, a pretty shopping street in the city’s Altstadt district – just moments from the birth place of its most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – made even more distinctive by its ornate wrought-iron signage.

Karen Carpenter

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When I first started out travel writing, twenty years ago, I was writing a weekly round-up for The Independent. The first PR agency I ever tapped into for their clients' holiday ideas was Travel PR; they were always full of great suggestions for the column and responded quickly. Over the years, I've worked with them on many occasions and their close association with AITO has always paid dividends. Nothing has changed; some of the best story ideas I get herald from them, and their response time remains very speedy. They are a pleasure to work with.

Mark Stratton, Freelance Travel Writer

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