The plan was to go to Salzburg, Austria and see the sights. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast and a bit rainy but we were up for whatever our friends thought was worth seeing. During the car ride, they kept telling us, with a chuckle, we were going to visit a very “interesting” castle. It’s very “funny,” they said. Uh, OK. What weren’t they telling us? The castle in question was Schloss Hellbrunn. And, boy, was it “interesting.”
Visiting Schloss Hellbrunn
We arrived just in time to join the other visitors assembled for the tour, which was given in English. Everyone huddled in the corner of the nearby architecture, under the rain to hear the tour guide. There was a definite nervous anticipation. Something was definitely up. The tour guide tried to get a visitor to sit at the stone picnic-style table in front of us. No one took him up on his offer. It was a good decision because the tour guide went to a hidden switch and all of a sudden jets of water were streaming from hidden holes in the benches of the table. What in the world?!
The History of Schloss Hellbrunn
It turns out that Schloss Hellbrunn is a Lustschloss — a sort of holiday home that the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, had built in the early 1600s. No one ever lived there, though, or even spent the night. It was only ever used for day trips. Hidden throughout the property are water-driven secrets with which the Prince-Archbishop could surprise (and soak) his unsuspecting guests.
The property is full of lots of fun things that are all operated by water. There are whimsical automats, grottoes covered in elaborate mosaics, beautifully crafted fountains and a few hidden water-operated tricks. What’s amazing is more than 400 years later everything still works.
Stay High & Dry…Maybe
Of course, the tour guide is in control of how wet or dry you remain so I advise you to befriend him or her. Quickly. I’m not sure if the guide took pity on my look of terror or the fact that I had my camera in hand but I, thankfully, remained rather dry. But, beware. There are secrets everywhere. That stag head on the wall? Yeah, not as innocent as it might seem.
The tour is incredibly fascinating when you take into consideration just how old it all is and that all of the mechanics and engineering are still water-driven and original. The greatest example of that is a detailed display of an entire town, which was added to the property at a later date. When the water is turned on, it powers the display to move: the people turn and twist and go about their daily lives. Likely an interesting reminder to the rich and powerful who might have originally visited the mansion.
There’s also a more serious side to the property, too. The mansion has a museum inside with an audio-guided tour. Unfortunately, again, the weather wasn’t so great the day we visited but the grounds were kept beautifully and I can only imagine how neat (and crowded!) the castle must be in during the hot summer months.
The Sound of Music
There is another surprise in the park of Schloss Hellbrunn. The pavilion from The Sound of Music in which Liesl and Rolf meet up and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is in the park. This is not the original location of the pavilion. But it was moved to the park at a later date.
If you want to visit Schloss Hellbrunn, be sure to plan ahead. The trick fountains and palace are only open daily March through November. However, the park is open year-round.
The palace is somewhat removed from the city of Salzburg. There is parking available for a fee. Schloss Hellbrunn can also be reached via bus.
All photos are my own.