For a guaranteed injection of Christmas spirit, book your self a trip to Salzburg.
Running from late November you have the Christkndlmarkt, a fabulous and expansive Christmas Market selling everything you could wish for at Yuletide.
Set in the vicinity of the imposing baroque cathedral – the Dom St. Rupert, the market houses dozens of wooden cabins selling a plethora of decorations, ginger bread, toy soldiers and delicious stollen, a gorgeous and calorific Christmas cake.
The atmosphere is wonderful – you feel like you have stepped straight into a greetings card as you watch ice-skaters whilst sipping on glühwein and munching a satisfying bratwurst. For true romantics, take a horse drawn carriage around the Old Town’s cobbled streets.
Salzburg is of course most famous as the birthplace of Mozart (you can visit his birth home, where he grew up and a number of concert venues dedicated to him), but those of you that don’t know your concertos from your concertinas need not worry, there is loads to keep you occupied.
Apart from the medieval fortress that overlooks the city like a brooding monolith and houses some fascinating museums, Salzburg is also home to fabulous restaurants serving the likes of chestnut soup, venison stew and of course apple strudel – perfect for warming you up on a cold December evening.
You also have the luxurious Sacher Hotel – even if you can not afford the five star accommodation prices, you can still enjoy a day time hot chocolate accompanied by some world famous Sacher Tort – a unique chocolate cake whose recipe has remained a secret to all but a chosen few since 1832.
The Sacher is also the perfect venue to wind down with a cocktail accompanied by melodious piano playing in the sumptuous lounge.
Salzburg centre is very small – the Old Town and the main shopping street, Linzergasse, are separated by the River Salzach and each side is reached via 3 central bridges, 2 of which are pedestrian only.
The Salzburgers are lovely people – you get an overwhelming feel good aura and could never feel safer anywhere in Europe.
Salzburg literally means ‘salt mountain,’ and you can take a trip to the ancient salt mines in the Bavarian Alps to see how salt was mined over the centuries – today you can also enjoy train ride down to the depths of the mine shaft and a raft ride across the Salt Lake.
Other excursions include following in the footsteps of Maria and the Von Trapps on the Sound of Music Tour, which was filmed of course in the city and the hills that surround it (the film is fifty years-old in 2015, just like me!) – sing along obligatory. Also, take a trip high up in the mountains to discover Hitler’s infamous Eagles Nest or a visit to Salzburg’s lake district.
A train trip to Zell am See is also well worth the effort to take in the picturesque lake flanked by snow-capped mountains.
You should also make a point of visiting the splendid Marionette Theatre to see a production of Snow White, Hansel & Gretel or the beloved Sound of Music.
There are some strange goings on in the city during the days of Advent. The bestial Krampus (pictured below) accompany St Nicholas all around the city punishing those that have misbehaved throughout the year.
You will hear them first as they adorn themselves with cowbells and chains – you can expect to get a light whipping around the shins for any misdemeanours that you are likely to have perpetrated.
It is not all bad though – St Nicholas will reward your good deeds with sweets and nuts.
Mrs. Wilbur and I stayed in the comfort of the Hotel Mozart (B&B £130 a night), just of Linzergasse, and flew Ryanair from Stansted arriving Saturday night and departing Wednesday afternoon (about £90 each with hand luggage). You can also fly BA, with two outbound flights a day from Gatwick.
You could also do what I did once by taking a cheaper flight to Munich and getting the train through the Alps and into Austria (one and a half hours, from €19 each way).
Salzburg really is the perfect place to kindle your Christmas spirit – you will not be disappointed.