Amid the flickering candles and ornate ceiling of the Baroque Hall at St Peter’s Abbey, the programme implores us to ‘be a guest of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’.
A high note in kitsch? Absolutely – but when you’re being poured a glass of riesling before a three-course dinner interspersed with hits from Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and The Marriage Of Figaro, all sung by up-and-coming opera stars, it’s hard not to be seduced.
Especially when you’ve spent most of the day on the Mozart trail: hearing about his early life in an apartment above Salzburg’s main shopping street and visiting his residence on the other side of the River Salzach.
Wolf pack: Salzburg is one of the prettiest cities in Austria – and the whole of Europe
It’s fair to say that if you don’t care for Mozart, the Austrian city of Salzburg might be of little interest. He is everywhere — outside shops as a cardboard cut-out, on posters advertising piano recitals and, of course, staring imperiously out of the massive statue erected in his honour in Mozart Square.
The big ticket here is the annual summer festival that reaches a crescendo at the end of August.
We arrive shortly after this jamboree, which means we practically have St Peter’s to ourselves and don’t have to queue for the funicular that whisks tourists up to the castle above the city.
We could walk, but our excuse is that my 87-year-old father-in-law is with us and he might find it a stretch. But this city is wonderful for someone of his age. One square leads into the next, and everything but the castle is on the flat.
Salzburg is organised, clean and a lot more manageable than I’d thought.
Only 150,000 people live here, but more than 7 million look in for a few days, many of them (my wife Joanna included) because The Sound Of Music, shot here, is their favourite film.
As we reach Mirabell Palace, Joanna breaks into Do-Re-Mi; when we cross Residenz Square, she hums I Have Confidence; outside the riding school from where the von Trapp family escape, she sings Edelweiss.
Hear the music: Salzburg was the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1756
It gets tricky when we have dinner at Gasthof Goldgasse, a minute’s walk from the cathedral and Joanna sees a man in lederhosen and one of those jackets with trimmed lapels that look pretentious worn anywhere outside Austria or Germany.
‘Christopher Plummer was my ideal man,’ she says. ‘I wish you would dress more like that.’ Thankfully, our menus arrive and the subject is dropped.
This is a charming restaurant, packed with locals.
Austrian cuisine is not over elaborate. My wienerschnitzel comes with just boiled potatoes and creamy cucumber, but I wolf it down with gusto.
We opt to stay just out of town, at a hotel called Schloss Fuschl, perched above Lake Fuschl. The castle dates back to the 15th century and the view from the restaurant, across the lake, is so enchanting that I expect Joanna to break into Climb Every Mountain at breakfast.
The hotel has a deck with steps down to the lake. And my father in law has his first experience of a whirlpool bath in the spa but doesn’t quite see the point of simmering in bubbles.
But we do all agree that Salzburg is ideal for a short break and, for those with even the slightest ear for music, it’s close to perfect.