Freeze frame on Hotel Sacher
First day, 9:10 a.m. – I left Paris two hours ago and just landed at the Vienna-Schwechat airport, feeling freshly inclined to walk the streets and dance on the various squares of the cradle of European classical music. We're 12 miles away from the sumptuous Hotel Sacher, the cab driver chooses a radio station that lulls me all the way to the sound of Johann Strauss' Radetsky March. Kindly welcomed by suited doormen, I set foot in the mythical building, housing the lustre of Viennese traditions since 1876: the harmony of golden framed paintings, grandiose crystal chandeliers and scarlet velvet curtains that give out an atmosphere of days gone by to the hotel bedrooms, living rooms and roofs, all in communion with the rich past of the Austrian capital.
Philarmoniker Strasse 4
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For the love of Viennese coffee
10:30 a.m. – Since I left my luggage at the hotel, I am free as a bird and ready to enjoy the gourmet pleasures that Vienna holds. Locals sometimes stop for coffee several times a day. I quickly decide to imitate them and take a seat at Café Central, a true Viennese institution made famous by two centuries of intellectual, politician and artist circles. I take great pleasure in choosing a table drenched in the morning sunlight that comes through arched windows, filling columns and vaults with a bright glow.
I order a freshly squeezed orange juice, a small moka with frothed milk and an apple strudel with honey. According to tradition, Viennese cafés are also reading salons – the Wiener Kaffeehauskultur (culture of coffee houses) was even inscribed to the national inventory of immaterial culture heritage – and I take my time to delve into the various papers available. As I plan for the afternoon, I order a slice of beigli (a sort of long poppy seed or nut roll).
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Uncontrollable emotion with Viennese art
11:50 a.m. – Vienna's Museum district being only a few minutes away from Café Central, I cross the historic Heldenplatz (the Heroes' square) covered with grass and cobblestones. The former Habsburg stables made way for a large ensemble of galleries and museums called Museumsquartier Wien, recipient of Viennese creativity since 2001. The buildings' bold architecture mingles both Baroque and Contemporary elements. From Austrian painter and poet Egon Schiele's collections to pieces dedicated to famous Vienna Secession member Gustav Klimt, all culture and art enthusiasts will find their groove. Between two improvised concerts by talented musicians, I decide to venture in the large alleys of the Leopold Museum, the Mumok, the Kunsthalle and the Austrian Architecture Museum. I don't know where to start, facing that much beauty.
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In Vienna's lyrical temple
5:00 p.m. – I treat myself to a lyrical parenthesis at the Vienna National Opera at nightfall. For a long time directed by Herbert von Karajan, this opera house has established itself among the continent's most beautiful. A few months ago, I booked my 13th row seat, which I'll find after a brief guided tour of the building: from the marble staircase to the backstage, I'm charmed by so much splendour. I'm so eager to discover Richard Strauss' one-act opera Salomé, which was adapted from Oscar Wilde's eponymous play. Up till then, the composer was known for his symphonic poems, but when the work was first performed in 1905, it first caused a scandal before achieving blistering success.
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Steirerek's well-deserved stars
10:00 p.m. – After a full day spent walking in the city, how sweet it is to enjoy a delicate meal in an elegant setting. The opera just ended and I take a seat among the white tablecloths of Steirerek. Former student of French chef Alain Chapel, Heinz Reitbauer has been running the establishment with his wife since 1996. Inspired by the best Austrian gastronomy has to offer, he mixes flavours with exquisite boldness, from mountain trout cooked with cep mushrooms, cucumber and passion fruit to goat meat with asparagus, rhubarb and cabbage. All produce is beyond reproach, chosen among carefully selected suppliers and family farms. Thus, I get to experience the best Vienna has to offer when, having a bite of my prime rib with nectarine and blue poppy seeds, I remember why the restaurant was awarded two stars by the Michelin guide. Back at Hotel Sacher, I go to sleep whistling Salomé's gracious tunes.
Am Heumarkt 2A
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A meeting with imperial history
Second day, 8:40 a.m. – On that sweet autumn morning, I take the opportunity to wholeheartedly explore the secrets of a great European family, on the Viennese steps of the Habsburgs. I have barely started walking that I already bow in admiration to the magnificence of the Hofburg, seat of power of Austrian dynasties for six centuries. I visit the royal apartments, still bearing the mark of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Sissi. I carry on my visit into the heart of this singular dynasty in Hietzing, in Vienna's 13th district. Schönbrunn Palace, also known as the Austrian Versailles, shines a very Baroque light dating back to late 17th century. As the steps of court ladies echo in official banquets, a find myself transported into a large park bordering on the oldest zoo in the world, filled with tropical plants, flowerbeds, ponds and statues.
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Gourmet follies at Skopik & Lohn
1:30 p.m. – My stomach reminds me of past favours. On the way back to downtown, I meet an old man whose friend runs an intimate cafe singularly decorated: long and hypnotic curves cover the walls and ceiling of Skopik & Lohn, courtesy of local artist Otto Zitko, commissioned by owner Horst Scheuer. A few steps from the Karmeliter district, the restaurant keeps plates filled with typically Viennese dishes, with a French twist: on the menu, salmon trout with lime avocado for starters, then braised lamb with white polenta and mint-pea purée and rose water île flottante for dessert. Demanding food lovers usually hurry to the restaurant, eager to plunge back into the Viennese Roaring Twenties.
Skopik & Lohn
+43 (0)1 219 8977
From St. Stephen's Cathedral to the Prater
3:10 p.m. – As I plan to rub shoulders with locals in the midst of their favourite walk, I take a small detour by the St. Stephen's Cathedral, the soul of the Austrian capital. Construction of the largest Gothic structure in the country started in the 13th century, turning into the city's symbol, of which inhabitants are extremely proud. Under a large roof of coloured diamond-shaped tiles, the monument displays sumptuous gothic style, filled with sculptures, paintings and exceptional bas-reliefs. Legend has it Beethoven noticed he was deaf when a flock of birds suddenly took off and he didn't hear the bells ringing.
My flight back to Paris is scheduled for tonight. I therefore linger along the banks of the Danube, in what was Emperor Jospeh II's former hunting ground that he opened to the public in 1766. My program includes some relaxing in the Prater's shady alleyways and some fun at the various rides of the nearby fair, overlooked by the giant Ferris Wheel.
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