I was five when I first saw The Sound of Music (same age as Gretl, the youngest Von Trapp). I saw it again when I was seven, eight, 10 (twice) and 12. I vividly remember seeing it when I really was "16 going on 17" (August 1976, at the tiny ABC in Tenby). As my children caustically pointed out when we forced their father to sit through it the day before we left, I'm now closer in age to the coiffured Baroness than to Maria.
But who cares? As well as being named after its star, I know all the songs and great chunks of the script by heart. And Maria and I and have so much in common! Hopeful optimism laced with breathless ineptitude; even our taste in men. Jonathan has often petrified visiting children with his more than passing resemblance to Captain Von Trapp (attitude, I'm afraid, not looks). And, of course, he absolutely hates The Sound of Music. Sometimes the kids pretend to be on his side to spite me, but they still clamour to watch it at every opportunity.
'Let's start at the very beginning'
I hooted with derision at last year's cheesy documentary in which the "Von Trapp children" (now a bunch of oldish, plumpish, genial has-beens) returned to Salzburg and skipped stiffly round those same hills. But a large part of me hankered to be up there doh-re-mi-ing with them. Which explains how we found ourselves on a boiling May afternoon piling onto an airless coach in Mirabellplatz for the Sound of Music Tour.
For some, Salzburg means music festivals and Mozart. Not for the Myersons. "When do we see the place where the baddies chase them with guns?" Raphael, nine, wanted to know.
"Come on," I said. "We've come all this way. You want to see the alive hills, don't you?"
"No, I just want the bit with the Germans."
Our guide said the four-hour tour would take in some of the best locations from the film. In between she would be playing us favourites from the soundtrack. "You so owe me," Jonathan growled.
Apparently the Sound of Music coach tours started soon after the film was released. It inspired hordes of fans to come looking for the movie's castles, lakes and bridges, so the drivers who'd chauffeured cast and crew during filming, and knew not only locations but gossip, too, leaped into this obvious gap in the market.
The tour is an efficient way to see Salzburg – if all you want to do is take snaps and tick things off your list. We were shuffled on and off the coach with ruthless speed, sometimes only snaffling mere glimpses of the privately owned landmarks, such as the yellow palace that was the front of Captain Von Trapp's house (remember where Maria goes: "Oh help"?). I believe we saw it for a full three seconds in the distance.
'I am 16, going on 17...'
The rear of the von Trapp mansion was played by Leopoldskron – now a seminar centre – and can only be spied from across the glassy lake where Maria and the children famously fell in when their boat overturned. We stood at the water's edge as our guide explained that in real life little Gretl almost drowned in that scene. She was pulled out by a cameraman who later married Gretl's sister – who was acting as chaperone.
Next stop was the unforgettable (no, really) "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" gazebo. The guide explained that we were, indeed, photographing the original. "Well, the wooden structure is the same. The foundations and glass have, of course, been replaced and the benches are not quite the original 1964 benches, but other than that it's genuine," she said. ("And other than the fact that it's been moved here from Leopoldskron and all the interiors were shot in a replica in Hollywood anyway," muttered Jonathan who had been reading our "Sound of Music keepsake souvenir book".)
'The hills are alive ...'
It was as the coach sped on into the really breathtaking Salzkammergut that I began to feel the hills were truly alive. Huge chocolate-wrapper mountains, green Alpine meadows, flowers that might possibly have been edelweiss, deer herds and laughing, tripping brooks. I had no idea that the Austrian alps were so very, very beautiful – but then again, maybe I had. This might be my first time here in real life, but all these images were lurchingly familiar – bedded in the imaginative backdrop of my childhood. "You are 40, going on 41," sang my daughter Chloe.
'Schnitzel with noodles...'
Back in Salzburg, as we sat and sipped our evening drink at Café Tomaselli (the oldest café in Salzburg, ablaze with shocking pink pelargoniums) the bells from all those convents and churches began to toll evensong. I suddenly realised where I'd heard them before. "Listen kids, this is the bit just before 'She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee' on the soundtrack." "Yes, Mummy," they all sighed.
This is a gloriously easy place to come for a family break (a 90-minute flight followed by a 10-minute taxi to our hotel in the Altstadt). The children remained in a state of perpetual, intoxicated delight about Herren in Lederhosen; the bumpy pony and trap ride around the cobbled streets; the T-shirt-staining yet delectable Schwarzer Johannesbeersaft (a sort of Ribena but blacker).
There's plenty to divert the grown-ups, who can stroll in and out of cool, gilded churches or palatial residences, or just up and down the old city's alleys. We lingered at dusk in St Peter's Cemetery. Mozart's sister is buried here, but, far more importantly, it's where the Von Trapps hide just before their final escape – and yes, Raphael was transfixed.
I flicked water in the faces of the horses in the huge Pegasus fountain in Residenzplatz (just as Maria does in "I Have Confidence") and we ran through the mimosa-covered archway in Mirabell Gardens, arabesqued around the fountains, jumped up and down the steps, and raced across the little Mozart footbridge. We Did It All. "Well?" said Jonathan with a Captain Von Trapp flicker of derision, "has the film finally been put to rest for you now?"
"We've got to watch it all over again," piped up Raphael, "to see if all the places look the same."
'My favourite things...'
In the middle of our last night, there was a thunderstorm. I lay and breathed it all in – the wet night air, the moonlight on the hotel curtains (certainly voluminous enough to have made play clothes for seven children). I half expected my three to come running in, begging me to comfort them with a quick rendition of "My Favourite Things". But no, the little blighters slept right through. And then all they wanted to do was watch MTV.
'All together now'
Return flights to Salzburg with Ryanair cost from £109 per person one way in July. A two-night trip to Salzburg with Crystal Holidays (0870 888 0252; www.crystalcities.co.uk) costs £324 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights and b&b accommodation in a three-star hotel. The Original Sound of Music tours can be booked through Panorama Tours (00 43 662 883 2110; www.panorama tours.com). Further information: Austrian Tourist Board (020-7629 0461; www.austria-tourism.at).