In Salzburg as with other great European cities, if you only have limited time to visit, following the well-worn tourist routes and joining organized tours can make perfect sense. But Salzburg is a unique city because while it is a city with a lot to see, in reality it is still quite small and completely surrounded by beautiful nature. And in fact, the surrounding countryside should be a part of anyone’s visit to Salzburg. Salzburg was the first city in Europe where I learned to abandon the whole guidebook mentality and simply experience it untethered. Roaming, wandering, detouring down small alleys, and with one extra day in Salzburg and a little good luck with the weather, renting a bike and getting out of the city. I find the latter to be one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of all my visits to Salzburg.
A highly recommended bike ride is one that follows the Salzach River all the way to the village of Hallein and back. This is Sound of Music country, so along the way there are a couple stops at famous Sound of Music landmarks. In a more obscure way, this is also Silent Night country, the classic but somber Christmas carol. This ride has two sites related to the lyricist and composer of that song. But ultimately this ride must include beer and the highlight is a visit to a brewery with an intriguing history.
|Starting Point||Bike rental station near Staatsbrücke|
|Travel Time||1h 57m|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
Before the ride really gets started, one block from the Staatsbrücke is the Steingasse, a historical street in Salzburg known for its interesting houses all crammed together around a narrow lane, butting up against the Kapuzinerberg. At one time, this was an area of local artisans and poor people. One of those poor people was Joseph Mohr, who was born into poverty on this street just months after Mozart’s death in 1792. In a true irony of the universe, the death of a rockstar made way for a one-hit wonder. Mohr was the lyricist and co-writer of the mega-hit Silent Night. But that wasn’t for another 143 years when Bing Crosby gracefully swooned it in 1935 to the tune of 10 million sales.
Feeling culturally energized, I set off along the Salzach River south towards Hallein. There are paths on both sides of the river so to minimize the backtracking, I rode to Hallein along the east bank.
Hallein is a small town, one of several built up around the region’s rich salt mining industry. To me, the village has an Italian feel to it. It is situated on a hill and I rode to the top where the Stadtpfarrkiche and the Stille Nacht Museum are found. In front of the museum is the burial place of Franz Xaver Gruber, the composer of the music for Silent Night.
During the heyday of the salt mining industry, this region belonged to an ecclesiastical state called the Archbishopric of Salzburg. The wealth from the salt mines went to the Archbishop making him a very powerful ruler. The Prince-Archbishops were ruthless businessmen and not content to just control the rich salt mines. They also set out to establish a monopoly in another business area… beer brewing.
The brewery which today is called Hofbräu Kaltenhausen was founded in 1475 by the Mayor of Salzburg. After he died, his sons sold the brewery to the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. For the next 300 years, the Prince Archbishops would try to control the trade of beer in the area. At one point, Hallein refused to sell the Kaltenhausen beer in the city limits and meanwhile the Prince-Archbishop stopped at nothing to prevent their beer from being sold outside the city. This domination continued in some form even after the secularization of Salzburg in the early 1800’s.
The brewery passed from royal family to royal family (hence the term Hofbräu in the name) and at one point in the 1800’s was bigger than the next five biggest regional breweries combined, which included Stiegl Brewery. It wasn’t until the economic hardships of the early 20th century and the World Wars that the brewery fell on hard times, changing ownership and names several times. Today the brewery only produces on the level of a microbrewery while its major brands Edelweiss and Kaiser are brewed at other facilities. The beer brewed today is called Moasterbräu.
After the brewery, the ride then follows the west bank of the Salzach back towards Salzburg.
After an enjoyable segment along the river enhanced by a slight beer buzz, the ride veers off towards one of the areas most famous landmarks, Schloss Hellbrunn, the yellow palace with the crazy fountains. There are also some extensive gardens which are free to stroll. The palace was built in the early 1600’s by the Prince-Archbishop presumably with money from the salt mines and brewery. The fountain show is worth the admission. I did them back in May 2014, but on this visit, I was only interested in a famous Sound of Music prop. The gazebo from the Sixteen going on Seventeen scene.
Just in case you forgot or have never seen it. The scene is at the same time extremely cute and cringeworthy in its sappiness and dated courtship roles when you consider how things are today. Let’s hope we never lose our ability to watch these movies without filtering out the beauty and spirit of them by judging them from strict modern criticisms.
After a break at Schloss Hellbrunn, the next quick stop is a small shop called Kalea, where they sell craft beer and also offer beer tastings. More information call be found on the Kalea website.
After Kalea, it is a short ride to the next Sound of Music site, Schloss Leopoldskron on the Leopoldskroner lake. Schloss Leoploldskron served as the backyard and lake for the Von Trapp’s estate in the movie. Today the Schloss is a hotel, and the view that you see in the movie is not accessible unless you are a guest,
Just beyond Schloss Leopoldskron is one of my favorite shots of Hohensalzburg fortress. What a different character it has from the backside without the city laid out at its feet. From here, it has a much starker atmosphere.
The final segment of this ride includes both the Stiegl and the Augustiner Bräu breweries to make it officially a Three Brewery bike tour. I already featured these breweries in my Brewtiful Salzburg post.
Three Breweries, two Sound of Music and Silent Night sites, and one craft beer shop later, I was back at the Staatsbrücke returning my bike. If you want to know where all of the Sound of Music sites are, then here is a blog post I recommend. The first time I did a ride similar to this was November 2014. That ride was simply to Hallein and back without the breweries and other stops. That was one of the first times I remember going off-script in my European travels and improvising a fun day without any expectations. In a strange kind of way, it was this untethering from my typical city tour conventions that probably planted the seed for what would become my 4th Dimension of Travel and what would inspire this website. Sticking to only the highlights in a guidebook is a suboptimal way of missing out on the copious adventures that inspire our memories of the places we visit.