Walking round Vienna, you need your head in the air. Look up, at the superb Opera House, at the palaces around the entire Ring – five miles in all. Many were designed, by Danish architect Theophil Edward Hansen, ready for the 1873 world fair (sadly, that year the Vienna Stock Market crashed – the Panic of 1873 – and in July cholera swept through the city and the expected crowds stayed away, but Emperor Franz Josef helped organise an international month-long chess tournament to start July 19th, 1873, with high prizes).
Walk, today, past a city clock at midday and its doors might open, for its daily recorded clockwork-music entertainment. There is nowhere quite like this, says the gal, and she was here to see the newest of its splendid luxury hotels, the 202-room Ritz-Carlton, Vienna.
The hotel officially opened August 2012 with an amazing party, emceed by Liz Hurley no less, to show the world what a splendid place it is. Four historic 19th century buildings, most recently the headquarters of Erste Bank, have been lovingly converted and the owners have put more money into it by bringing in designer Peter Schilling.
They also brought in Vienna’s best-known chef, Wini Brugger, whom I first met when he was at the much-missed Hilton Hong Kong many years ago. The Austrian dishes on Dstrikt’s menu include not only the all-time favourite Wienerschnitzel but also Wini’s grandmother’s Carinthian cream cheese dumplings, with brown butter, mint and endive salad.
The 200 people who run this hotel are led by a one-time chef, Matthias Vogt, and they are one of the jolliest groups you could meet. They all seem to love what they are doing. Lose your way, temporarily, in what obviously has to be a little confusing (remember, there were originally four buildings, four staircases..) and someone instantly appears from nowhere, like a genie, and asks you, by name, if they can help.
Actually you have a jolly good time staying here, all round. The rooms are stunning, with tall-tall ceilings, the Jugendstil wood furnishings that are typical Schilling, and soft colours and beds that are made for, well, sleeping. This is Austria at its best (if you pretend the Asprey’s soap came from just down the Ring…)
The bouquet of flowers in suite 521 was so pretty I wanted to convert it to a hat – it would be ideal for Ascot, Chantilly or Melbourne. Next to it were three little glass containers of pumpkin seeds. One had cinnamon-vanilla coating, one chocolate-orange, one sea salt-pepper-chili.
Order up proper food, a private dining meal, and the waiter thoughtfully brings a selection of open bottles of Austrian wine in case you would like to buy a glass. If you want to be really local, by the way, choose the Wieninger Pinot Noir 2010, from the Vienna suburbs, that Matthias Vogt chose later, when we had dinner.
It is a blessing to stay in new hotels which, with a clean slate, automatically put in the best connectivity possible. Too many memories of ancient palaces remain, where even (or perhaps especially) in presidential suites, thick walls mean you cannot get good wi-fi.
Here, not surprisingly, I was instantly online and creating – for which read ‘writing’ – only to hear a slight hubbub outside, through the two sets of double-glass windows. There was some kind of demonstration going on, around Schubert Ring. But it was all amazing peaceful and jolly. Yes, there is that word again.
I headed down to the Guerlain spa – 142 steps down from my room but of course there is also an elevator right there if you prefer. The adaptability of the place meant the therapist said no problem when I asked merely for a half-hour back massage to ease away the computer knots.
Thirty minutes later, to the dot, I felt, miraculously, a different person. I went next door, first to the 24-hour gym and then to the pool, a divine 70-foot long stainless concoction, with inset vitality station.
Copenhagen had the first stainless pool I encountered, at the Copenhagen Airport Hilton, and the next was at the Dresden Kempinski. I like them, and they look good…. now for some more fun, at this most agreeable luxury hotel.