Cities like Bern, Bruges, and Prague have always been some of your favorite winter spots. You love sipping mulled wine, listening to holiday music, and waiting for the snow to start falling as you walk through traditional Christmas markets. But the magic usually ends when the holidays are over. Most people look toward warm beaches, not Europe, in January. Which might make it the perfect time for you to explore an old favorite.
Salzburg, Austria’s fourth-largest city, is truly postcard worthy. Rolling plains sit to the north. The Alps lie to the south; Untersberg, a prominent peak, is just 10 minutes from the city. The now-icy Salzach river winds through the center. While Altstadt, one of the best-preserved old towns in Europe, is filled with Baroque architecture, Gothic churches, a large fortress, and lots of classical music.
Your itinerary might change due to the frigid temperatures and the snowy forecast, but your hotel does not. Hotel Sacher is the only place you’d stay in Salzburg. Usually, you’d look for a hotel with minimal decor, a hip bar, and a lobby that looks like a living room, but here, you revert to Old World charm. The hotel was built 1866, when the city joined the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Courteous doormen welcome you to the still-grand hotel. Though they’ve been renovated, of course, the rooms still have printed wallpaper, coordinating linens, and marble bathrooms (now with heated floors). The rooms, as well as the salon and the café downstairs, overlook the river, the pedestrian bridges, and the Old Town. While the smell of chocolate lingers like a perfume in the air.
What causes the sweet smell in the hallways? The hotel is home to a confectionery that sells cakes, chocolates, and, most importantly, the famous Sachertorte. The torte is made with dense chocolate cake, a thin layer of apricot jam, and dark chocolate icing. Plus it’s topped with real whipped cream. So it’s not surprising that Café Sacher is your first stop after settling into your room. You sink into a red velvet booth, order coffee, and stare the river while you wait for a slice of heaven to arrive.
This afternoon you plan to bundle up to explore the city. Mirabell Palace, especially its gardens, will be deserted. You’ll have Hohensalzburg Castle, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe, practically to yourself for the first time. Salzburg Cathedral will be silent, as it’s meant to be. You’ll hear the music, not other voices, as you visit Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace, former home, and foundation. Candlelit taverns, serving rustic venison and Brussels sprouts, will have plenty of open seats. While vendors at the markets, still lit with white lights, will tell you about local specialities and let you taste their homemade treats instead of rushing you along.
You’ll definitely feel like a local by the end of your long weekend. A local who knows she should order an extra Sachertorte to bring home.