The Sound of Music: a cycling tour behind the scenes

The Sound of Music - love it or hate it, what you can't escape is the fact that this movie is Salzburg's biggest tourism cash cow.

While there is no shortage of Maria-related tours you can sign up for, you can just as easily see most of the film locations by hopping on a bike. That includes favourite things like the Sixteen Going on Seventeen gazebo in Schloss Hellbrunn's gardens; Residenzplatz where Julie belts out I Have Confidence in Me and the Do-Re-Mi steps in Schloss Mirabell's gardens, with Hohensalzburg Fortress in the background. You can even go one better and stay the night at the real von Trapp family home.

Villa Trapp. Photo by Andy Christiani

The Villa Trapp trail

From the Altstadt, it's a gentle 20-minute pedal along the banks of the River Salzach to the quiet Aigen neighbourhood, where you'll find Villa Trapp at Traunstrasse 34. Marianne and Christopher recently converted the place into a guesthouse - for guests only, I might add - and have done a stellar job in keeping away the tour buses and souvenir tack. If you want to learn the truth behind the Hollywood legend, this is the place.

The villa itself is more understated than the opulent mansion in the film, but still with a pretty fancy staircase for sweeping down and a breakfast room overlooking Salzburg's biggest private park, free-roaming rabbits and all. It all feels ever so homely; the rooms crammed with family snapshots and heirlooms, including the baron's model ships and a photo of guest and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour strumming Edelweiss (well, it makes a change from Comfortably Numb).

Mirabell-Garden

Fact vs fiction

So how true to life were the portrayals of the characters? I had to probe Christopher a little further to find out who the von Trapps really were. It turns out there were ten, not seven, children, the eldest of whom was Rupert (so long Liesl). And quite unlike the heart-of-stone father in the film, the real baron was a gentle, family-loving man. He did have a whistle, but it was more a bit of fun, used to gather the brood in a pre-mobile age.

Maria, on the other hand, was kind but no soft touch. Though the clothes-out-of-curtains scene is pure fiction, she was indeed an enterprising gal and managed to save the family from financial ruin by renting out rooms during the Great Depression. When the Nazi annexation of Austria happened in 1938, the baron and baroness - instead of climbing rather a lot of mountains to Switzerland - left quietly for the United States, where the Trapp Family Choir was a resounding success.

Schloss-Hellbrunn_Gazebo

And there you have it, the true tale behind The Sound of Music, as seen from a place where silence reigns and Maria - God bless her! - ceases to be a problem.

Kerry Christiani is researching the Austria guidebook in Salzburg