Another busy day in Vienna, but there is always so much to do in this exciting city. First, the lovely Elisabeth Gürtler, so proud of the empire that she runs, has already shown off the Hotel Sacher, and now she takes the gal 30 metres across the road, from Hotel Sacher, to the Hotel Bristol, which the Elisabeth Gürtler Foundation bought in 2010. She has asked, as at Hotel Sacher, her good friend Pierre-Yves Rochon to do the tweaking here. He has already turned a former hotel restaurant into ten stunning rooms and now he is working on the lobby. Hotel GM Gerald Krischek is on hand to show how reception has been moved back, from a somewhat cramped front lobby with impressive marble walls, to what was an oval lobby lounge behind. Now this is such an elegant space, white and light, with a stunning slightly-curved reception desk, like an art work (it reminds me somewhat of the Table That JJ Built at InterContinental Hong Kong). Lampshades in the new look are gorgeous, too. Now I cannot wait to see what Rochon does to the restaurant, to be renamed the Bristol Lounge. The original 1892-vintage plaster ceiling has been revealed, and, on the upper cornice, the hotel’s logo will hang high over a big, real-log fire. The restaurant has a street entrance, come out, turn left and you will find yourself in another new dining concept: the Fashion Café, by Fashion TV owner Michel Adam (Lisowski), who lives in Vienna, but this is nothing to do with the hotel.
Next we headed through the jam-packed Saturday morning crowds to get to the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg. Some tourists were taking rides in open-topped carriages. We walked, quickly. I urge anyone, even a non horse-lover, thinking of going to Vienna to book a performance, now, as far ahead as possible. The 80-minute show is sheer perfection, what Vegas would love to do but cannot. This is natural confidence, that the riders achieve after a minimum of 15 years’ training, with Lippizzaner stallions who are schooled from about the age of four (from six years always with the same rider). The performance includes demonstrations of Kapriole, all four legs leaping simultaneously; Piaffe, springing from one diagonal pair of legs to the other; Passage, or Spanish trot, springing from one diagonal pair to the other; Work in hand, one-to-two riders walking to help manoeuvres; Half Pass, simultaneously move forwards and sideways, and, as shown, Courbette, standing on rear legs for a series of forward jumps.
There is so much that can be written about the Spanish Riding School but since photos are not allowed, I have none. Take the grooming of the riders, in their black tricorn hats, brown coats with hidden pockets for sugar lumps, beige buckskin jodphurs and over-the-knee black leather boots. Take the setting, the horseshoe-shaped Winter Riding School, built 1729-1735 near the Hofburg. 55 metres long by 18 metres, it is 17 metres tall, to allow for three tiers of spectators. Before the show begins, skilful blue light highlights three gigantic crystal chandeliers, which rise to the ceiling to signal the start. Every year, the School’s sand flooring is tiled over for the Fête Impériale summer ball – book now, for June 27th, 2014. The versatile Elisabeth Gürtler will not only be belle but boss of the ball.
She is, you see, MD of The Spanish Riding School – she rode dressage herself until taking over the reins of her family’s hotels (she was taught by The Spanish Riding School’s then Chief Rider, Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg). She has added lots of new things to the School’s appeal. Year-round, take a trip behind the scenes, or watch practice sessions. During the Summer, visit them at their stud at Piber, 145 miles south of Vienna. In winter, visit their stables, a few yards from the Riding School. The MD has also arranged joint performances with the Vienna Boys Choir – she certainly is creative. Elisabeth Gürtler also, of course, heads the family’s sachertorte empire.
In one of Hotel Sacher’s own cafés, a selection of sizes of sachertorte is displayed. Buy one and is packed, with padding, in a solid wood box and tied with gold ribbon, ready, like 299,999 others this year alone, to end up somewhere else in the world. Sachertorte is everywhere. Hotel Sacher’s bespoke bathroom toiletries are chocolate-scented, and there are cakes on its breakfast buffet. Here, in this gorgeous luxury hotel, a point of interest arises. Two cakes are displayed, one chocolate and one obviously not. Both are labelled sachertorte, so what is the story? Is this an albino cake? And what about the Spanish Riding School riders – are they, too, sachertorte addicts? They keep lumps of sugar for rewarding their horses. Bet they do not keep crumbs of cake in their pockets.