Discover culture, luxury and plenty of milestones to celebrate in Vienna this year.
Part of the new Golden Quarter luxury precinct at the heart of the city’s historic district, and overlooking Am Hof Square, famed for its summer evening theatre renditions and winter Christmas markets, Park Hyatt Vienna is housed in the 100-year old heritage-listed former headquarters of the Austrian Hungarian Monarchy Bank. Many of its bank-era elements have been beautifully retained, from the gold tiles of the former vault-turned-swimming pool, to the main restaurant, named The Bank, to the imposing marble-clad lobby with its revolving door and elegant staircase.
It’s only a short walk through the Old Town to the Spanish Riding School, which has a daily performance starting at 10am. This traditional riding school, the oldest of its kind in the world, celebrates its 450th anniversary this year, held in the iconic Winter Riding School, which was built between 1729-1735. Named for the Spanish Lipizzan horses used in performances, the school has its roots in traditional cavalry training. Consequently it only accepted its first female students in 2008 after more than 400 years of history.
Alight from the tram where you started and cut through the stunning Volksgarten, the People’s Garden. Built over city fortifications once destroyed by Napoleon, the gardens wreath the Heldenplatz at the front of the Hofburg Palace and are famed for their rose beds. Beyond is the Palace; laid out by Ludwig Remy in 1821 the former imperial palace at the heart of Vienna has been the seat of power in Austria since 1279. Today it houses the office of the president of Austria, as well as the Imperial Treasury, the Spanish Riding School, the Imperial Horse Stables and the Burgtheatre. A guided group tour is the best way to explore this amazing complex; commencing at 2pm daily, the tour takes in the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments, while private tours offer access to the likes of the Swiss Wing, the palace’s oldest section dating from the 13th century; the Stallburg Imperial Stables, and the Leopold Wing, designed by Filiberto Lucchese. www.hofburg-wien.at
Head east from the Palace into the Museum Quarter, following the Ringstrasse until you reach the acclaimed Stadtpark, for lunch at Michelin-starred Steirereck, the leading Austrian restaurant in the country, which is located at the park’s centre. Here chef Heinz Reitbauer innovates on locally sourced ingredients, including a few rare finds like the Beta Sweet Carrot, a purple vegetable that’s cultivated in the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace. Reitbauer’s tasting menu includes the likes of Castelfranco with pine tips, Duwicker carrot and sesame; alpine salmon with white asparagus, sprouts and lemon savory; and malt with rhubarb, elderflower and coconut. www.steirereck.at
Better acquaint yourself with the central city with a tour on the Ringstrasse’s iconic tram line. The Ringstrasse celebrates 150 years since its inception by Emperor Franz Joseph I, who built the expansive, tree-lined boulevard in place of Vienna’s 13th century city walls, in a showcase of the grandeur of the Habsburg Empire. Half a century later and the result is a stately road that links a beautiful collection of neo classicistic, neo gothic, neo renaissance and neo baroque buildings, from the Austrian Parliament to the State Opera House, the towering City Hall, and the Museum of Fine Arts, all of which are set between sprawling parks and public gardens. You can go it alone with a cost effective day ticket or enjoy audio-visual guides offered by the multimedia system on the Vienna Ring Tram, whikch departs from the Schwedenplatz and is the only tram that completes the whole 5.3-kilometer journey without the need to connect. www.wienerlinien.at
Alight at the University of Vienna and leave the boulevard behind by delving down Schottengasse into the fascinating narrow lanes of the city centre. This is home to some of Vienna’s best retail therapy, including the stylish new Golden Quarter, a contemporary showcase of luxury local and international brands housed in two beautifully preserved buildings at the heart of the city’s historic centre.
Finish the night off at one of Vienna’s best kept secrets. The Sign lounge bar features a menu of classic cocktails inspired by the history if the humble libation, with influences from some of the mixology world’s leading legends, from Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson to Louis Eppinger, and Erik Lorincz. Expect beautifully presented cocktails in an elegant space that gets busy on weekends. 104-106 Liechtensteingstrasse, Tel: +43 664 964 3276; www.thesignlounge.at
Text and Photos by Nick Walton