Vienna for hedonists
t’s not enough to be rich, you have to be seen to be rich. This is how the Austrian royal family, who lived amidst gold and velvet until the demise of the Empire in 1918, must have felt. A visit to Vienna’s Hofburg Palace offers a brief glimpse into the small universe of opulence and ostentation where no excess was too much for the most powerful court of the day. Bohemian crystal chandeliers, porcelain from China and Japan, and personalised silverware—Sisi’s with a dolphin—are just some of the treasures to be discovered at the former Habsburg residence.
The Imperial family’s penchant for exclusivity extends beyond the palace gates to the gold “U” formed by Kohlmarkt, Graben and Kärntner Strassen. Shop windows once dressed by suppliers to the Imperial court now belong to Cartier, Gucci and Tiffany & Co, although some like the Demel patisserie—whose sugared violets were Sisi’s favourites—Knize tailor’s and J. & L. Lobmeyer’s glass factory remain as they were. The k.u.k. (kaiserlich und königlich, imperial and royal) distinction was bestowed on more than 500 shops at the service of the Viennese court. The seal was—and is—a guarantee of quality, as demonstrated by the custom-made leather shoes from Rudolf Scheer & Söhne for over 200 years and seven generations. Each pair requires 60 hours’ work in the Bräunerstrasse workshop.
Afternoon shopping and nights at the opera: there are no cheap pleasures in Vienna. Still, you don’t have to be a millionaire to delight in some little luxuries. Less than 15 euros buys you a slice of—the real—Sachertorte and a Viennese melange (like cappuccino with milk froth) at one of the most exclusive cafes in town. Located inside the Sacher Hotel, the café claims to be the only place to follow Franz Sacher’s original recipe, the very same that brought the illustrious guests of Prince von Metternich to their knees in 1832.
Another of the city’s most elegant coffee houses is Café Landtmann, which, thanks to its velvet upholstery and historic clients, is quite the institution. It was a favourite of Sigmund Freud, whose office was nearby on Berggasse 19. Sometimes he would be accompanied by one of his patients. What better therapy than Gugelhupf, a crown-shaped jam sponge made popular by Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria, who ate it at breakfast. Or apple strudel, made to the recipe of the Schönbrunn Imperial Bakery.
The Landtmann lends the ultimate finishing touch to an original luxury dinner menu on a carriage ride around Vienna’s most important places. A butler serves the gourmet dishes at the Zum Schwarzen Kameel restaurant while diners enjoy the stately air of the city streets. All washed down, of course, with a good Austrian wine.
Another important tradition in the capital is winemaking. You can find a host of wineries to indulge in the flavours and nuances of Viennese wine. The Palais Coburg Wine Cellar is one of the most beautiful in the city and offers a guided wine walk through five cellars with more than 60,000 bottles and a tasting at each one. Another cellar is dedicated entirely to champagne. To complete the experience, reserve a night in one of the suites. It’s not the Hofburg Palace, but the Imperial family would certainly feel at home.