It was December, Cheeky and I were travelling to the mountains of Salzburgerland to ski, so naturally we flew into Salzburg but it would be rude to pass through without taking in the delights of the city; so we had arranged to stay downtown at the 4 star Hotel Stein. Being this time of year and seeing the city cloaked in snow certainly started to fill us with Christmas spirit as our taxi drove us along the streets of Salzburg. Eventually we arrived at Hotel Stein to be greeted by a very natty dressed doorman who gathered up our luggage and showed us to reception. Apparently the first hotel in Salzburg, being founded in 1399 the building must have quite a history, but what awaits inside is not a dingey, small old building but a beautifully designed, spacious reception. The low ceilings are one of the few characteristics that give away the vintage, but the eclectic interior design portrays a modern style with hints of design classics, such as the ornate Venetian glass chandelier by Barovier & Toso, a design feature that echoes throughout the whole hotel with hand made blue glass around every corner; do not miss the gigantic blue glass light installation that hangs down the centre of the staircase and spans what seems to be all seven floors of the building. The bedrooms were no exception, low ceilings yet expansive light airy spaces, with modern furniture culminating in cosy yet modern suites. Once again, the capacious bathrooms are particularly well equipped, we especially liked the totally natural Saint Charles Vienna-Berlin cosmetics.
Once we had settled in and the daylight had long gone, we made our way to the 7th floor to experience the hotel restaurant Seven Senses. Despite the darkness we could see that the views from up here were outstanding; the river Salzach down below gave a little distance between the hotel and the town so that one could see Salzburg castle and the old town lit up with the snow adding even more light and atmosphere. The lounge/bar area had a cool, laid back feel which connected into the restaurant where the atmosphere continued with the same spirit of tranquil style and class. The service was impeccable and super-friendly, as our waiter took us through the menu, Cheeky squealed with excitement as she noticed that her very favourite food – soft shell crab -were in town today! Hard choices had to be made, as much of the menu looked utterly delicious. Eventually Cheeky opted for the Foie Gras which turned out to be a huge slab and I went for the Salmon tartare with a little side taster of Beef tartare – I was hungry! Both were beautifully presented and equally as delicious especially when washed down with a Dockner Tom Gruner Veltner. For the main course I settled on the Saddle of Venison in Nut Crust, certainly one of my favourites, whilst a very excited Cheeky went with a serving of Soft Shell Crab and a serving of Sashimi accompanied by sides of Sweet Potato and Pistachio and Sauteed Leaf Spinach & Pignolia, we were in culinary heaven; Paul Achs supplied a Pinot Noir from Bergenland. After pigging out on various delectable dishes we decided to share a rather exciting Seven Senses ‘Original Beans’ Chocolate Delight with Berries and Praline Crunch served with sweet wine Kracher Spatlese Cuvee. This is one restaurant that I highly recommend and would visit even if not staying at the Stein Hotel.
It goes without saying that if staying in Salzburg then one must venture out to explore the city. Salzburg is the most Italian city north of the Alps due to the Italian influences going back to the 16th Century; the urban layout that still exists to this day was designed by the Venetian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi and these are streets that are certainly worth getting lost in, the City was made a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1997 for good reason. To really dig deep and learn more about Salzburg we met with Salzburg City Guide Christian Laserer of Salzburg Smile Tours, nothing like a little local knowledge. Very likeable and a gargantuan mind of information, Christian starting our walking tour directly from the Hotel, which is perfectly placed for the beginning of a walking tour. Everywhere one turns the buildings are steeped with a history dating back to the beginning of Salzburg’s birth in the Neolithic period; It has been a busy place what with salt mining, being the seat of the Archbishop, centre of the Counter-Reformation, three Universities and of course the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After exploring the streets and various religious architecture, we jumped aboard the bell tower funicular with Christian, which took us up above the streets to Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. The views from the fortress walls are spectacular, the perfect place to study the Baroque buildings down below and general layout of Salzburg, further afield the long distance views of the surrounding mountains and even Germany show what an amazing position this castle holds. After just two hours with Christian we felt like we knew the city like an old friend.
One very good reason to visit Salzburg at this time of year is for the Christmas markets. The Christkindlmarkt in the heart of Salzburg on Cathedral Square is the oldest in Austria, dating back to 1491! Open from the 22nd of November there are 95 stalls including artisan craftsmen peddling their handmade gifts, traditional decorations, glühwein and festive cuisine. Hellbrunn Advent Magic is a very romantic and atmospheric market with over 700 conifers decorated with 10,000 red Christmas balls, the palace itself is transformed into a gigantic advent calendar. These are many more markets to be found in Salzburg and the surrounding region. However, Salzburg is not only about markets at this time of year, the city is full of events and experiences to be had from hearing spin-tingling carols sung in the cathedral, keeping out of the way of Krampus to eating one’s way through the festive treats or visiting the Christmas museum. Christmas or not, Salzburg has much to offer in the way of culture, history, entertainment and cuisine and Hotel Stein is the perfect base to explore the city, just do not miss out on the gourmet food at Seven Senses.
Tip: Be sure to purchase the Salzburg Card for use of public transport and admission to all the city’s attractions, discounts for cultural events, reduced prices on selected excursions.