The hills are alive

In Salzburg, there are three kinds of people; those who love the movie, those who abhor it and those who make a living from it. This is surprising considering Austrians were unaware of The Sound of Music before America and Hollywood thrust it down their throats.

The women on The Sound of Music Tour bus are excited, the men slightly embarrassed. A couple of American children keep fidgeting, clueless as to what the fuss is all about. Then the stories begin. The first tale concerns a lady from Australia who took this tour and ended up in tears while the sound track played towards the end. She was accustomed to watching the movie at home every Saturday (in the company of a bottle of good wine) and was overcome by emotion when finally seeing where the film was shot.

The 1959 play and then the film, released in 1965, took a lot of liberties with the real story of Maria von Trapp and her family. When the genuine von Trapps escaped Nazi rule in Salzburg, they hiked to the nearest train station and went to Italy. The last scenes of the film show them escaping into Switzerland, a five-hour drive away; these were shot near Berchtesgaden, Germany, close to Hitler's 'Eagles Nest', so it is unlikely the von Trapps would have headed there.

All this is told to us by Vincent, our guide, who loves his mic and keeps us entertained throughout the morning.

Edelweiss, he tells us, is not a popular Austrian folk song (as the film would have you believe). It was composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the last project the duo worked on before the latter died.

Edelweiss is the brand name of a popular Austrian beer today, but young men were once required to climb the Alps to pick for their love an edelweiss flower.

As these interesting titbits flow, we travel through serious Sound of Music country, beginning with the Leopoldskron Lake, with the palace to the side, where scenes of the movie showing the terrace of the captain's home were shot.

The most interesting story is told at our next stop, the gazebo at Hellbrunn Palace. It is here that Liesl, Captain von Trapp's oldest daughter, was 16, going on 17, with her boyfriend, Nazi sympathiser Rolf, who was a year older. Vincent informs us that the gazebo has been closed to the public since an 85 year-old tourist (obviously going on 17) broke her hip trying to jump from seat to seat in the manner of young Liesl.

The highlight of the tour is the drive through the Salzkammergut ('lake district'), with the stunning views of the Austrian countryside that were so well captured in the opening scenes of movie. There is a mandatory stop at Mondsee, to take in the cathedral where the grand wedding scene between the captain and Maria was shot.

On the way back to Salzburg, the sound track from the movie is played on the bus (for once, Vincent is silent) and people begin to sing along, hesitantly at first and then lustily, as their confidence grows. The Sound of Music works its magic, or perhaps the magic is that of the countryside, as middle-aged men begin to hum along to 'these are a few of my favourite things'.

I complete this pilgrimage the next morning with a visit to the gardens of Mirabell Palace, which, I am told, played a key role in the movie; Do-Re-Mi was sung here, for example.

The Sound of Music may have been a product of somewhere else but Mozart certainly wasn't. Salzburg does not let you forget that the great composer came from here. As well as the city's WA Mozart Airport, there are the Mozart Geburtshaus (where he was born), his Wohnhaus (where he lived) and assorted tourist memorabilia; everything from chocolates to pen holders and fridge magnets, all with his name and face on them. And there are people on the main streets dressed as Mozart, and best avoided, peddling cheap tickets for classical concerts.

Salzburg is a city capable of charming any visitor, although the ubiquitous signs that scream of past glories detract from rather than enhance its appeal. Austria's fourth-largest city, it was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997 and the Altstadt (the old town) impresses with its well-preserved Baroque architecture.

Restaurants and bars buzz in the spring air, late into the night. The bridges over the Salzach River and the lanes by the side are used by locals and tourists as forums in which to meet and chat, and watch the world go by. On narrow Getreidegasse, the main shopping street, everything is strictly old world; even the sign for McDonald's is a graceful arch in metal and muted colours, in keeping with the tone of the area. Several hours can be spent here, exploring the hundreds of shops and boutiques tucked into narrow arched by-lanes.

The sun is setting, casting golden shadows across the Salzach, and from the Hohensalzburg fortress, the city skyline is impressive, bathed in a mellow light. Far below, on Kapitelplatz, the people look like ants making their way through the street stalls. A giant chessboard painted on the ground is also active, the pieces seeming to move of their own accord.

As I watch the evening descend over the city, I imagine I can hear echoes of the sound of music coming from far, far away.

Getting there: Lufthansa ( flies from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, and from there to Salzburg. The Sound of Music Tour is run by Panorama Tours (