The Vienna Travel Guide: Having a Ball
“This means nothing to me”, Midge Ure once said of a love affair in the Austrian Capital city of Vienna. Luxury travel writer Mark Southern found out if it should have meant more.
Traditionally, art and science haven’t always been the closest of bedfellows. Art says Science is too stuffy, and Science is forever moaning at Art for stealing the duvet and squeezing the toothpaste in the middle.
Sometimes, however, these two opposite forces attract rather than repel, and something magic happens.
In sport this happens from time to time, giving mere mortals a glimpse of great masters combining their artistry with science; think Ayrton Senna making his car purr, a young Tiger Woods wowing the Masters in 1997, or Sachin Tendulkar’s complete mastery of both physics and flair for two decades.
But whilst the odd individual can channel both concepts simultaneously, few cities in the World can claim such an accolade.
However, one most certainly can.
Vienna is a city of such undisputed culture that if extra-terrestrial life descended upon the place, they would fly off assuming every Earthling was blessed with innate grace, exquisite style and a fabulous ability to make any musical instrument sing, before picking up a paintbrush and creating a masterpiece. It’s a place where the vagrants wear Versace, and children are taught to waltz by the age of six.
However, it’s also a city with a proud history entwined with science; a place with learning in its blood, and an incessant Teutonic efficiency giving it a clockwork core to keep it running smoothly.
Because Vienna isn’t like most weekend destinations. Yes, it looks lovely, but then so do many European cities. And, yes, it is well catered for tourists, but then it’s hardly unique in that respect. No, the essence of what makes the Austrian capital a must-visit is the smooth and seamless blend of the old and the new; the cultural and the technological; the beauty and the brains.
It’s the city that Mozart made his home (and, boy, do they ram that point home time and time again), and is the same that Strauss composed his world-famous waltzes, that Beethoven and Haydn created wonders in, and that Klimt produced his most celebrated works of art. However, it’s also the city that taught Sigmund Freud, and helped give birth to a new way of thinking for the entire world. It’s a city that knows its history, but hasn’t stopped looking to the future too.
Culture and pragmatic modernism can exist in the same town, and that town is Vienna. Go visit; you’ll have a Viennese ball.
As you’d expect from a luxury city, Vienna is full of quality hotels, but the best is the newish The Ring Hotel, situated in the town centre on the famous Ringstrasse road, which encircles the city.
A self-styled ‘casual, luxury boutique hotel’, The Ring is a stunning love letter to luxury, wrapped up in cool, clean lines and chic décor. From the moment you arrive you cannot help but be seduced by the beauty of the place, and it’s a welcome relief from the more stuffy traditional hotels nearby.
What’s more its around the corner from the business district, so is a perfect place to entertain clients in a cool, but not too showy way.
Book the best suite you can and embrace every second in what is undoubtedly a hidden treasure overlooking the busy shopping high street.
If you find time, make sure you check out the spa in the hotel too, as it’s a step-up from almost any you’ll go to.
The Ring is a genuine destination hotel, and will be the best base for your Viennese adventures.
Vienna is famous for its food, its cakes, and its coffee shops (locals drink 2.6 cups of coffee per day, apparently) – and presumably its statistics on caffeine consumption too.
This fame is well deserved, and good food can be found on every corner. Indeed, some of the most mundane looking cafes proudly boast Michelin Stars in their window; this is not a city that takes its food lightly.
For fine dining, you can do no better than heading to the Grand Hotel Wien for a selection of exceptional restaurants, the best of which is Le Ciel. This high calibre spot serves outstanding classic French cuisine, and is often noted for its ability to attract VIP dignitaries of royal and political persuasions.
For those looking for a more authentic Vienna experience, daytimes should be spent meandering through cobbled streets in search of a café with outdoor tables that takes your eye. They flow through the city like the Danube, and are an excellent way to spend a lunchtime.
Evenings however should be spent enjoying food and the local delicacy of the most wonderful music you’ll hear – as you’d expect from a city with such a aural heritage. Get along to Wiener Rathauskeller, a fabulous hidden delight in a cellar in the Town Hall, which serves spectacularly good Austrian food with musical accompaniment.
It’s worth noting that, whilst the locals are exceptionally friendly, and night-time atmosphere remains relatively buzzy, Vienna isn’t famed for its hedonistic party scene with good reason. Bars are frequently spotted, but infrequently frequented, even on weekends, and the notorious Gurtel Road district (a Viennese Soho, in reputation at least) is remarkably calm and middle-class.
However, there are gems to be discovered, and you should take in Sky Bar with its stunning panorama over the city. Strawberry Daiquiris are the only thing to drink here, and are famous throughout the city. Perfect for a summer’s evening.
Vienna is an unlikely gambler’s playground, with a host of classy casinos offering live entertainment, Vegas-style, and big buy-in games.
The best is the Vienna Casino, with its split-level gaming rooms, and sophisticated bars. Here you’ll find the high fliers of Viennese society, and more gaming opportunities than you’ll know what to do with.
There simply aren’t enough words to describe the wonderful cultural sights in store, and 48 days wouldn’t be enough to fully appreciate the beauty that is housed in the city, let alone 48 hours. However, if cramming everything into a weekend, you should get down to the Museum Quarter, where you’ll have dozens of museums and exhibitions to go along to, depending on your tastes.
A really great way to see as much of the cultural city as possible is on a Segway Tour. These amazing gadgets allow you to zip through traffic and pedestrians alike, and the guide will chat you through the remarkable history and architecture that will surround you. Be warned though; you will be guaranteed to want one afterwards, as plain old walking will seem so passé.
There’s only one place you’ll find the real cream of society on a Saturday night, and that’s at the Ball. Like a real-life fairy-tale city, Vienna lives for the pomp and ceremony of dancing at the opulent Balls that take place in the major venues around the city.
These black-tie events are wondrous and terrifying places in equal measure; simply sensational events to be at, but awfully scary if dancing to you means shuffling around on the same bit of carpet. Here, children are expert ballroom dancers by the age of twelve, and it can be quite intimidating to join the dance floor, when everyone else is so clearly excellent at it.
You can reduce the fear-factor by attending a dance lesson in the daytime before, and you won’t find better than the award-winning Elmayer’s Dance School. Elmayer himself is the Austrian equivalent of Len Goodman on Austrian TV’s version of Strictly Come Dancing, and he is utterly charming, and a great teacher, who will guide you through the basics and help you enjoy the Ball so much more.
BMI has just launched new routes to the city, flying from Heathrow.
It’s also worth noting that their business class is outstanding, and now is the equal of any of its competitors with its exceptional comfort and service.
Main image above copyright: FreeImages.com/K3yboard3r