Vienna’s Splendor: Old World Luxury

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For the last five years Vienna, the capital of Austria, has won the Best City in Europe award based on its quality of life and high ratio of green space. Strolling along the Ringstrasse – a peripheral boulevard built exactly 150 years ago by Emperor Franz Joseph in the heyday of the Austro Hungarian Empire – you can feast your eyes on a showcase of gracious palatial facades, stunning government buildings, and elegant theatres.

Photo by Christian Stemper

Since 2001, the city center with its treasure trove of sculptures on facades, baroque entrances, and stairways has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of music, Vienna was the residence of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, Mahler, Schubert, Strauss, and Schoenberg and now boasts one of the world’s finest orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic. It’s also called “The City of Dreams” because Freud invented psychoanalysis within its walls in 1896. Today it thrives as a center for contemporary art, design, and fine living. This is no common capital — the Empire may long be gone, but the city is undeniably regal, magnificent and luxurious.

Whether you want to discover sumptuous Vienna museums or indulge in a one-of-a-kind shopping excursion, Vienna has plenty of both. The highlights of my visit were the Kunsthistorische Museum (Museum of Fine Arts), where the biggest collection of Bruegels is to be found, the Belvedere Museum with its Klimt masterpieces (The Kiss), the Museum Quarter, where the Leopold Museum hosts many erotic Schiele paintings. There is also the Albertina, the Museum of Applied Arts, several contemporary art museums, the Natural Science Museum, Mozart and Freud museums. That’s plenty for you to reminisce over as one of your life’s greatest cultural adventures. For shopping, I recommend the artistic district of Spittelberg with its romantic small streets and design stores, the Mariahilfer Strasse and the luxury boutiques in the 1st District are prime destinations. In the summer, enjoy the Ferris Wheel in the Prater Park and join thousands of Europeans who flock to the Danube Island Festival, Europe’s largest, free, open-air party in June.

If you want to treat yourself to some real Viennese luxury — and why wouldn’t you in the city that defined the standards of fine living for an Imperial dynasty? – there’s no better way than by visiting one of Vienna’s most glamorous 5-star hotels.

The Sans Souci is a delightful deluxe boutique hotel with 63 rooms designed by the Yoo Studio. It’s situated in a recently restored historical building right by the Museum Quarter. A local example of artistic whimsy and architectural cool at the same time, Sans Souci (which means “No Worry” in French and was also the name of Frederick II’s palace in Berlin) is the ideal oasis after a long flight and/or a day of excursion through Vienna’s palatial quarters. Modern art by Roy Lichtenstein, Allen Jones and Steve Kaufman in the communal areas lend a contemporary vibe, complemented by the designed furniture of Tom Dixon, and quaint Egg chairs by Arne Jacobsen. An ultra-modern Spa Club with a pool is open until 10 p.m., too.

Furnished in light colors, my room was impeccable with beautiful crisp linen, a luxurious bathroom with Bobby Brown toiletries, a bathrobe, slippers, hairdryer and fun purple deco glasses. One surprise was to find the television invisibly inserted in the huge gold mirror. After resting in my royal surroundings, I went to sip on a glass of champagne at Le Bar.

In the morning, I discovered a display of delicious breakfast treats in the restaurant La Veranda on the first floor. Different types of breads and buns, jams, honey jars, a platter of various regional cheeses, yogurts and cereals, fine fruit and salmon slices, charcuterie and much more created an appetizing and fine display. Coffee any way you desire it is available for the asking.

Plenty of the finest champagne is also offered, even at 6 a.m. On the top floor, “hotel-serviced residences” have been established in case you don’t want to leave the hotel or Vienna (a feeling that often hits visitors). The hotel has an exceptionally friendly, discreet and genuinely gracious staff. For more information, visit http://www.sanssouci-wien.com

If you long for the nostalgia of the old monarchy and dream of princely surroundings on a grand scale, I recommend visiting the hotel Palais Hansel Kempinski. A heritage site, it was originally built for the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873. Right on the Ring Boulevard, it is a 5-star superior establishment with 152 elegant rooms, suites, two restaurants (one of them, Restaurant Edvard, earned a Michelin star) and two stylish bars. The combination of historical details and effete contemporary design, splendid bouquets of flowers, extremely courteous staff, and a sense of limitless space, all create a unique and grand environment.

I stayed in a junior suite that had two small hallways, a large bedroom, an opulent bathroom with a digitally controllable bathtub, a shower with art deco glass inner doors, a bathrobe, slippers and luxury toiletries from the hotel’s own brand. After an afternoon excursion just an hour after arriving, I was delighted to notice upon returning that my room had been refreshed, coffee cups removed and my bed made ready for the night.

Visit the Ottoman-style Spa and fitness area, and don’t miss sitting in the lounge for afternoon coffee with Kuchen for a zen sense of ultimate repose. A magnificent breakfast is served in Die Küche that includes fresh green juices, bottles of Kombucha, different types of salmon, white fish, buns, breads, cheeses of the highest local quality — and all the possible combinations of breakfast food you can imagine. A hot breakfast can also be ordered directly to the chef at the buffet or from one of the waiters. In every way, Palais Kempinski deserves its reputation as the 21st Century Palais Hotel. In case you’re planning your wedding, know that the Palais hotel has a ballroom with 260 rooms! What could be more glamorous than one of Europe’s former imperial cities? Find more information at http://www.kempinski.com/en/vienna/palais-hansen

If you seek the finest European art of living, Vienna is one of the highlights of this unique tradition. This year Vienna celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Ringstrasse with special events all through the year. With all it has to offer from historical to modern, there has never been a better time to discover this gem of a city. Austrian Airlines has flights daily from Newark, and you can commute in 15 minutes with the express train Cat to get to your hotel in a blink from the airport. For more information about Vienna and special events for the Ringstrasse celebration, check http://www.vienna.info. Read our forthcoming second article about Vienna next month, which will include all of its special summer celebrations and events.

To read more, visit: http://www.vienna.info.com

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