Two Nights in… Salzburg

The destination

I initially chose to fly to Salzburg simply because it was the most convenient of BA’s Austrian destinations for continuing on to Hallstatt. But a bit more research revealed it to be my kind of place, with a mixture of historic architecture sufficient to earn a spot on the world heritage list, set against a backdrop of mountainous scenery. So although on first arrival I just transited through, I returned for a couple of days to explore the city before my flight home.

The flights

With a few exceptions, short haul business class flights in Europe are more about reclaiming the comfort factors that have since been phased out of economy rather than an exceptional hard product. These flights were a case in point: a recently ‘densified’ A320 and an already tightly packed A319 meant just 30″ pitch in Club Europe. Although the middle seat goes unused, it no-longer shrinks to boost width for the window / aisle spots; I lucked out and got all of 2ABC and 3DEF to myself for my flights. The A320 featured the remarkably thin pinnacle seats, although these do come equipped with USB and mains sockets; on the A319 I got a bit more padding but no power. Wifi is not yet available on the BA short haul fleet.

LGW-SZG: BA Club Europe seating, A320 in CY180 config.
SZG-LGW: BA Club Europe seating, A319 in CY144 config.

One difference from down the back is that you do still get a meal included in Club, and I was happy with these. Precisely what you get depends on flight distance – Salzburg is a ‘band 2’ route – and time of day.

On the outbound there were thus a variety of breakfast options: an omelette; a platter of cold meats and cheeses; or my choice, the full english. Although airplane bacon will probably always be a disappointment, someone seems to have cracked scrambled eggs at altitude. From many a domestic breakfast aboard services to EDI, I was expecting a flavourless powder but these were creamy and boosted by the inclusion of chive. However, service was let down a little by a lack of attention to detail: the first two rows were served trays with the foil still on; a passenger behind me asked for sparkling water but got still; my preferences regarding ice and lemon were asked for but then ignored. (Nor were eurotravellers prevented from wandering into the cabin to queue for the bathroom.)

LGW-SZG: BA Club Europe band 2 breakfast

As my return flight departed after 5pm, I received dinner rather than the lighter afternoon tea; although on band 2 routes this turned out not be a hot dish. Nor was their a choice, although that may have been because I was in the last seat; so some sort of chicken salad it was!

SZG-LGW BA Club Europe band 2 dinner

The salad part is not my kind of thing, but I enjoyed everything else: the salmon and potato was a decent starter; the flavouring of the chicken was good; and the (at a guess) passion fruit and blackcurrant cheesecake was a definite highlight. By contrast with the first flight, service was excellent too, with each passenger’s meal being couriered by hand from the galley rather than dispensed from a trolley.

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With one of the legs booking into D class, this short trip was particularly kind to my Executive Club account, adding 3101 avios to the stash. As standard for Club Europe, I also received 80 Tier Points – at less than £4/TP that’s reasonable value, albeit they’re worthless unless I pick up at least another 220 before February.

The tourist attractions

Not being interested in Salzburg’s two main tourist draws – Mozart and the The Sound of Music – I spent most of my first day tracking down curiosities in the old town. A helpful foundation for this was Rick Steves’ audio tour; from a start point conveniently close to my hotel, this leisurely hour’s stroll helped me get my bearings, learn some history, and pick some areas to explore further.

Along the way, I also tracked down a few niche attractions from Atlas Obscura. Most notable of these was the ‘cyclorama‘ – a huge panoramic painting of Salzburg and its surrounds from the 1820s. Where once it allowed a glimpse to a far away place – the artwork toured Europe throughout the 19th century – now it allows us to look nearly hundred years back through time.

Salzburg as depicted in the 1820s
Salzburg as it looks today

I was able to compare it to the modern view the next day, which I devoted largely to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. There has been some form of fortification here for almost a thousand years, and today it’s one of Europe’s largest and best preserved castles. A funicular railway takes the strain out of the ascent, and the open air restaurant was a wonderful lunch spot.

On the subject of food, I also have to pass on the recommendation I found for the Balkan Grill. Tucked away on one of the many arcades that run between Getreidegasse and Universitätsplatz, it’s the original home of ‘bosna’ – a Bulgarian / Austrian twist on currywurst that makes an excellent street food snack.

The accommodation

Unable to find any redemption availability, and with even uninspiring chain options like the Holiday Inn looking expensive, I decided to give an independent property a try. Rates at the Hotel Stein were higher than I’d normally go for, which I justified by booking through the Amex hotel collection. As well as a guaranteed fortress view, this included breakfast, free minibar, $100 in further dining credit and a chance at an upgrade. Still, between the hefty price tag and the self-congratulatory language on their website, the bar had been set high – yet wasn’t quite met.

Breakfast with a view – the rooftop terrace at Hotel Stein

Let’s start with the positives. The location is excellent – although about a mile from the central station, it’s otherwise perfectly placed, on the new town side of the Salzach. This affords excellent views across to the old town and fortress, which they make the most of with a rooftop restaurant and bar including an open air terrace. Also nearby is access to the Kapuzinerberg – a great place for an evening stroll – and trolley buses to the airport. The size and features of the room (and in particular the bathroom) were also decent, despite the lack of an upgrade. So I’ve no complaints about the hard product.

Hotel Stein standard room
Hotel Stein bathroom

The disappointments, sadly, were mostly service related:

  • I was welcomed ‘back’ on arrival, as they’d erroneously linked my booking to some other Mr Taylor from the UK, whose personal details were thus disclosed to me.
  • Due to the delay with my trains, I decided to order room service on my first night instead of scrub up for the restaurant. I was advised this would take 45 instead of the quoted 30 minutes – after 90 I called back to discover that they’d simply forgotten my order. A claim of it arriving in the next 2 minutes was optimistic by half an hour; what was eventually delivered managed to be simultaneously burnt on the edges and undercooked in the middle. Although they proactively comped it, as I had the dining credit this didn’t actually benefit me.
  • The free minibar consisted of two bottles of water and some fruit juice, whilst a welcome gift, grandly presented in a box wrapped with a ribbon, turned out to be… a packet of tissues and a tube of cardamon seeds.
  • The gym was hopelessly under-equipped.
  • Several items were missing from the fancy-sounding breakfast tower. Some could be collected from a small buffet area instead, but the rest were simply unavailable. Attempting to serve myself a glass of water at the buffet lead to chastisement that the jugs were for staff use only – only for one to then be delivered to my table (where presumably it was safe for me to operate).
  • At checkout I was presented with a bill for twice the correct amount, after they entered the total as a nightly rate.

Apart from the room service issue, none of these are disastrous. Several – the minibar, the gift, the still-decent breakfast tower – would be plus points if they’d been unexpected, and only failed by over-promising and under-delivering. But combined it all seems a bit… careless, especially for somewhere that makes high claims of ‘attention to detail, the exclusivity, and the quality of service’.

Fundamentally, it’s just not quite as good as it thinks it is.

The Photos

As usual, I’ve put together a gallery, which is here.