Europe, Travel Guides

Untersberg: Climbing the Hill that’s Alive with The Sound of Music

In one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema, a young nun joyously sings and runs through lush meadows of green grass against a dramatic backdrop of mountain

In one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema, a young nun joyously sings and runs through lush meadows of green grass against a dramatic backdrop of mountain peaks stretching into the distance.

As she crests a summit, she twirls about and proclaims, “The hills are alive, with the sound of music.” Recently, we headed to Untersberg, the very mountain Maria sang on to find out if she was right.

The rather unattractively named Untersberg lies less than 16km from Salzburg and is the very mountain that appears at the beginning and end of The Sound of Music.

It is in fact a massif of six peaks, the highest of which is Berchtesgaden Hochthron at 1973m. While there are walking routes to the summits, most visitors ascend by the Untersbergbahn cable car which lifts passengers from the lower terminus at the village of St. Leonhard to the Geiereck spur at an altitude of 1,776 m.

Get yourself a Salzburg Card

For the best value ride, we recommend getting yourself a Salzburg Card. Many tourist-friendly cities around the world have visitor cards that, for a fixed fee, either covers the cost of entry to a handful of attractions or offers discounts. Salzburg’s offering is by far the best we’ve ever found, providing inclusive access to all of Salzburg’s major attractions, unlimited use of public transport and discounts on concerts and excursions.

Jade and I used our Salzburg Cards to get ourselves all the way from the city centre to the lower terminus of the Untersbergbahn by bus and then up the mountain. Individually, this would have cost around €24 each, around the same price as an off-season 24-hour Salzburg card. So even if you only intended on visiting Untersberg and one other attraction whilst visiting Salzburg, you’d save money buying a Salzburg Card.

It’s a no brainer!

Matt & Jade on UntersbergPin
Myself and Jade enjoying the views from on top of Untersberg.
Untersberg ViewpointPin
The views are out of this world!
View from UntersbergPin
We were exceptionally lucky the weather was as incredible as it was.

Ascending Untersberg

The ascent in the cable car only took around 8 minutes, but those 8 minutes were full of drama. The initial leg to the first pylon lifted us gently over the village of St. Leonard. Passengers shuffled around the cabin to take photos and murmured their appreciation to one another.

As we approached the pylon, the mountain felt like it was within touching distance. Suddenly, it felt like we were moving much quicker than before, though it was just an illusion of proximity. We crested what we thought was the summit, but discovered we were actually only half way there. Passengers audibly gasped as the mountain dropped away from us again and a huge cavern-like drop was revealed.

Cafe on UntersbergPin
A cute little bistro, rewards hikers for their efforts.
Untersberg SignpostsPin
Ubiquitous yellow signs point hikers in the right direction.

Upon arrival at the Geiereck spur, we both noticed two things. Firstly, it was much colder than it was 8 minutes before. We were glad we had anticipated this and put on some extra layers. Secondly, the views were breathtakingly spectacular. We had visited on a clear morning. Cloud was building, climbing mysteriously up the sides of the mountain face towards us, but still the views were wonderful. We could see Salzburg sprawling out into the countryside like a spider’s web to the north. To the north-west, we could see the farm lands of Bavaria stretching out to the horizon.

Having soaked in the views, we decided to hike towards another slightly higher peak in the distance. The route was well marked and wooden steps had been installed at the steepest sections. It was an easy and rewarding walk, made all the more exciting by swirling clouds of mist obscuring the pathways. Once we’d reached the summit, we found a bench and a large cross and not much else. We stood wordlessly and motionless and surveyed our accomplishment with pride.

Matt Climbing UntersbergPin
Pretending to be a mountaineer.
Untersberg PathwaysPin
A walkway zig-zags its way across the mountainous terrain.

Recreating that opening scene

The stoicism didn’t last. In our case, it rarely does. We were on the mountain made famous by The Sound of Music for goodness sake! We couldn’t come all this way and not recreate that famous opening scene. Cue Jade twirling about on top of a mountain and me slipping down a rabbit hole while I filmed it. 

Have we inspired you to climb every mountain, literally and figuratively? Have you got a mountain-related story to tell? Let us know in the comments section below.

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