Two days seems crazy for a transatlantic trip, but a weekend in Vienna sure does make for a romantic-sounding plan—especially if the rest and relaxation begins before you even get there. With its recently upgraded business class, Air Austria promises to deliver passengers well fed and fully rested to their destination. I decided to put this offering to the test on a lightning getaway from Toronto.
Friday Evening: Air Austria flight from Toronto to Vienna
Shortly after takeoff, our on-board chef comes by, in full whites and toque, with an Austrian Specialty Coffee menu. I order a Fiaker—coffee with cognac and whipped cream—then get cosy under a blanket, my seat set to massage mode, for my film of choice: The Sound of Music (don’t judge!). My dinner—roasted goose, potatoes, asparagus and blister skinned cherry tomatoes on the vine—is meanwhile prepared on-board, in an actual kitchen.
By the time the von Trapps have retreated into the Alps, I’ve polished off this entrée, then plump, fresh strawberries and a vanilla custard-layered pastry from the dessert cart. Sated, I recline my seat in flat-bed mode. Before there’s time to say “Schlaf Gut,” I’m out for the night.
Saturday Early morning: Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna
I check into my hotel, Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna. A top-to-bottom remodelling in 2013 readied this opulent property—built for Vienna’s 1873 World Exhibition—for its new life as a hotel. It oozes old-school charm, with its marble columned lobby, cigar lounge and the type of grand staircase that makes you half expect a trumpeter to announce your descent.
11 a.m.: Historic Inner City Tour
Europe’s grandest boulevard turned 150 in 2015. The Ringstrasse takes a circular route around the old city walls and makes for an awe-inspiring walk. As well as baroque-, neo-gothic-, classical Greekand Italian-renaissance-inspired, stately buildings, I take in gilded statues and immaculately groomed public gardens, where the rustling of leaves
intermingles with the sprinkling of water fountains.
I stop at the Winter Palace Himmelpfortgasse—once a dwelling, built for Prince Eugene of Savoie in the late 17th century, and now an exhibition space. I wander gold-painted exhibition rooms, look up at dreamy ceiling frescoes and tiptoe across red carpet to climb the grand staircase, where heroic marble figures are carved into colonnades.
1 p.m.: Labstelle
Peckish, I opt for a more contemporary locale for lunch: Labstelle. This regionally focused restaurant, hidden away on Lugeck, in the 1st District, is named after the medieval word for eating and the contemporary German word for place and is a gathering place of sorts for Vienna’s young and hip.
The polished concrete, black steel and bleached wood setting is lightened up by fun touches, such as boxer and prima ballerina symbols for the washrooms and floor-to-ceiling shelves where stacked logs, wine bottles and baguettes create their own blocks of texture and pattern.
I feast on a salad of pickled plums, warm toasted nuts and soft, fresh goat cheese, then pancakes topped with sour cherry coulis that have been covered in silky crème anglaise, poured right at the table by my tattooed and charming server.
4 p.m.: Spanish Riding School Stables
After lunch, I wander over to meet some of Vienna’s most famous—and graceful—residents: the Lippizaners at the Spanish Riding School. These intelligent white stallions with Arabic, Spanish and Italian ancestry are trained to perform in highly sophisticated classical dressage shows. Today, they’re nonchalantly nibbling hay in their stalls.
I take a peek at the white arena; with its Corinthian columns, oversized chandeliers and vaulted ceilings, it’s decked out like a grand palace ballroom—only with sawdust floors. I vow that next time I’m in Vienna, I’ll catch the full spectacle.
Before dinner, I sip a citrusy and herbaceous Gin Basil Smash in the Kempinski’s Lobby Bar. It’s early, but already the buttercream leather armchairs and sofas are filling up, both with hotel guests and Viennese patrons.
8 p.m.: Edvard
I move next door to the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Edvard, to sample the Mediterranean-influenced cuisine of Chef Anton Pozeg. Highlights from my seven-course tasting menu include juicy Donauland lamb with rich eggplant, creamy tzatziki and polenta; and an amuse-bouche of briney oyster with yogurt, fennel and purple curry.
Sunday, 8 a.m.: Jog through the old town
Vienna is not exactly overrun with runners, I discover, as I jog through the old town past the Opera House and zigzag-roofed St Stephen’s Cathedral, then along the Danube—one of three routes on the Kempinski jogging map. The city is, however, teeming with coffee aficionados.
As I pound the pavement, I get a peek into Viennese daily life: Downtown office workers don’t rush to work, Starbucks cup in hand, like North Americans do; instead they sit down to read magazines and newspapers from well-stocked racks in elegant coffee houses, or they lean against the bar at a coffee stand, properly savouring their first espresso of the day from a tiny cup, with a square of dark chocolate—nary a cellphone in sight. So civilized!
10 a.m.: Dine around
I combine breakfast and lunch on a private culinary tour with Gabriela Steiner-Scharfetter of Wienkultours. We start at Vienna’s oldest coffee house, Café Frauenhuber, where Mozart gave his last performance in 1791. There are 30 specialty coffees to choose from. “You specify what kind, with or without milk, then with or without alcohol,” whispers Gabriela, as a server dressed like Downton Abbey’s Carson approaches to take our order.
Next, we take the glass elevator in the Steffl Department Store up to the seventh floor and the SKY Bar Restaurant. There, seated at the bar beside two elegant young women and a fluffy white dog, we sip weiner gemischter—a unique Austrian blended wine of varietals all grown in a single vineyard. We can actually see Vienna’s urban wineries on the city’s edge, from our perches at SKY.
We stop at interior design store, Flamant, for a pop-up cookies and pralines event. There we nibble on moon-shaped cookies and chocolates studded with pearls, gold leaf and tiny red stars.
Then, we’re lured by the neon-pink sign of Aida, a specialty pastries and cream cakes store, where ladies in powder pink uniforms tempt us with hazelnut and nougat-layered biedermeier torte and mohnbeugels—pastries stuffed with a sweet poppyseed paste. “The Viennese are sweet addicts,” confesses Gabriela.
We do lunch backwards, tucking into wiener schnitzel next at Gastpost. Then, we ogle the
window display at Le Cru: a life-size mannequin in a chocolate, bonbons and icing swirls dress with Madonna-circa-Vogue bustier top. Finally, we pop into Loos American Bar—the smallest bar in Vienna at four by six metres and a wonderful art deco spot for classic cocktails.
4 p.m.: Elmayer Tanzschule
As I make for the wood-panelled practice room, at Elmayer Tanzschule, several alarmingly elegant 16- and 17-year-olds are coming out the door, in full ballroom attire. Our instructor, Peter Oismüller, says they’re preparing for the debutante ball. Balls are a big deal in Vienna, and this school has been teaching kids like them—and late starters like me—to waltz, foxtrot and polka for over 70 years. Soon, I’m circling the parquet floor, one-two-three…one-two-three, with Peter. Over the course of an hour, I’ve worked my way up from plod-plod-plod to what now feels like gazelle steps. As we whirl in synch, I can’t help thinking of this waltz as a metaphor for the weekend I just spent—a little
breathless, but a lot of fun, and oh so elegant!