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Mountain magic - Salzburg, Austria

Mountain magic - Salzburg, Austria
Michelin-starred Pfefferschiff
Austria might not be known for its cuisine – yet. Anna Maria Espsater discovers a few rising star restaurants around Salzburg.

“How about trying some of our 16 local cheeses now?,” says Klaus Fleischhaker, the owner and chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Pfefferschiff – literally The Pepper Ship, but known as Salt & Pepper in English – just outside Salzburg. After the sumptuous 8-course dinner, I’m not sure I can manage, but the cheese trolley is looking simply irresistible. “And now for the schnapps, also produced nearby,” Klaus enthuses and I nearly keel over before even trying it.

Klaus and his wife Petra have been running the Pfefferschiff since 1991, using the best of regional produce with an added creative touch, in dishes such as spaghetti of beetroot with pickled tongue of veal or filet of char with apple-celery cannelloni. The restaurant, set in a 17th-century house, complete with a fascinating history, further enhances the cosy feel of having stepped back in time to gourmandise. The small chapel outside was built in honour of St Anthony of Padua as a token of gratitude for the safe return of a ship laden with peppers, thought to have been lost at sea, thus giving the place its name.

Austria still isn’t very well-known for its cuisine, but the years of stodgy fare are numbered, giving way to some seriously adventurous chefs, many educated abroad, who have returned to Austrian soil to make the most of what’s there, using fresh local produce to the hilt. A number of restaurants grow their own vegetables and herbs, sourcing dairy products from nearby farms, fresh water fish from the many Alpine lakes and also local meats and game. The long harsh winters mean pickling is popular and to really keep the cold away there’s of course schnapps.

On this lovely spring day, though there is no need to keep the cold at
Mountain magic - Salzburg, Austria
bay; the sun’s beating down on the many church spires and the towering, white castle walls of Salzburg. I’m here to find out more about this city’s past and present, as well as exploring the culinary delights it has to offer. If last night’s dinner is anything to go by I’m in for a treat, albeit an exceedingly calorific one.

The city of Salzburg has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for twelve years now and the cobbled streets, tiny courtyards and quaint coffee shops of the Old Town simply scream romance. Established at the end of the 7th century, Salzburg, meaning “Salt Fortress”, has a long and illustrious history, apparent at every turn – shops dating back centuries, architecture taking you back in time – history is everywhere.

I step into a shop, the Jahn-Markl, where they’ve been making traditional lederhosen since 1408. It’s a remarkable place, your nostrils instantly assaulted by the not-unpleasant-smell of leather, in various stages of being turned into trousers, jackets, hats or gloves. The proprietor explains the different colour codes for the different villages; “now these dark green socks will need to go with the dark brown “hosen” – turn up with blue socks instead and you would have been run out of the village in the past.” She probably isn’t kidding and I can’t help wondering what would happen if this stern-looking lady had an only child who said, “but mom, I don’t want to make lederhosen, I want to become a hairdresser”, thus attempting to break a tradition going back generations...

Salzburg is proudly conservative and old traditions rule the day here – doing things the old-fashioned way is genuinely celebrated and encouraged. That’s not to say the city is a place gone stale, but rather all that is old is still blossoming, from Mozart’s house of birth to St Peter’s Cemetery and Catacombs, in the heart of the Old Town. The former isn’t only famed for his music in Salzburg, but also for some rather delicious truffles and I figure it would be a shame not to try them, having come this far.

It was at Café Fürst that confectioner Paul Fürst first invented the original Mozartkugel, or Mozart truffle, in 1890. So popular did it become, that he won the Gold Medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1905 and the rest, as they say, is history. Containing pistachio cream, nougat and chocolate, the truffles are made on the premises and sold in four Salzburg outlets, including of course the original house where they were first made. “My great-grandfather was a strict man,” says the current owner Norbert Fürst, “and in order to make sure the staff wasn’t eating the pistachios, he used to make them whistle the whole time.” Stuffing my face with truffles I can see how whistling might be hard to pull off with your mouth full.

To wash it all down there’s nothing for it but to head to Sporer Wine & Spirits down the road, inside a narrow building dating from 1407 that’s still standing tall, while producing some wonderful homebrews of the fortifying kind. As well as stocking a variety of Austrian wines, there is a large and positively intoxicating selection of liqueurs and schnapps that can be sampled by the glass or bought by the bottle. The sweet concoction of blackberry liqueur slips down all too easily and the house blend of herbs tastes like a fresh Alpine meadow. All set up and fortified I feel distinctly ready for lunch.

Sneaky Spa Visit
The Grand Hotel in Zell am See, a short train journey from Salzburg, has one of Austria’s best spas and there’s no better way to relax and unwind than in the fresh Alpine air right by Lake Zeller See. The Grand Spa is truly a spa with a view, panoramic vistas from the balcony taking in the lake and surrounding mountains. Choose from spending time in the sauna area, the training area, on the sun deck or try one of the many treatments on offer from facials and beauty treatments to a wide variety of massage, such as the signature “Wiener Waltz” massage or the Hawaiian temple massage.

Flights to nearby Munich airport with Lufthansa,
A place to stay in Salzburg, the Rosenvilla,
The Pfefferschiff restaurant,
Jahn-Markl Lederhosen,
Mozart truffles,
Sporer wine & spirits,
Grand Hotel, Zell am See,
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