Destination: Austria: Vienna
Housed in an imposing eggshell-yellow palais built as a private residence in 1863, the Imperial is the grandest of the city’s hotels. The soaring lobby, complete with a mezzanine, channels the opulence of the Austro-Hungarian empire with a stucco ceiling, glittering chandeliers and a sweeping red velvet staircase adorned with large portraits of Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph. (It’s hard to imagine that at the end of World War II, when Vienna was divided into Allied zones, Russian soldiers used part of the hotel as a stable; miraculously, the Imperial was hardly damaged, except for a Cyrillic word etched into the colored marble wall that’s visible as you head up the stairs.)
The 138 elegant rooms—those on the lower floors have ultrahigh ceilings—exemplify 19th-century pomp, with polished antique furniture, silk-covered walls, crystal chandeliers and lavish carpets. The multi-colored marble bathrooms are spacious, and most come with a shower and a freestanding tub. The hotel’s location, on the Ring boulevard, means that the Imperial does not have the panoramic city views that guests enjoy from the top-floor rooms of the Sacher, but travelers who prefer to be a bit removed from the buzz of central Vienna will be happy here.
The staff is professional and efficient (according to Indagare Insider Anne Marie Victory, their concierge team is top-notch), though overall I found the atmosphere a bit less personal than at the family-owned Sacher. Rooms from $536.
WHO SHOULD STAY: First-time visitors who want to feel like royalty.
WHAT TO KNOW: Be specific when you book and request a room on one of the recently renovated floors that face the Ring boulevard (the courtyard view is billed as “tranquil,” but it’s not much of a vista). Couples should also ask for king-size comforters; here, as in many European hotels, the beds come with two twin-size blankets. Junior suites and higher categories are assigned a butler who takes care of everything from unpacking luggage to ironing the morning paper (this is Vienna, after all).
Hotel Sacher Wien
This legendary hotel, opposite the State Opera and within walking distance of the Albertina, opened in 1876, and even today its chandelier-lit reception halls and antiques-filled drawing rooms exude old-world elegance. The 152-room family-owned property occupies a city block, with six connected buildings, but its clever layout and cozy public spaces make for an intimate ambiance. Most of the cheerful rooms, designed by owner Elisabeth Gürtler, are done in a sumptuous 19th-century style with high-quality reproduction antiques, silk-covered walls, white stucco along the ceilings and original paintings from the Sacher’s private collection. I loved the attention to detail, from an Art Nouveau–inspired wooden coat stand inside my room and an Egon Schiele print in the bathroom to the terry-cloth-covered pillow on the edge of the tub.
Rooms on the first floor have the highest ceilings; those on higher floors have better city views (request one that faces the opera). In 2005, the hotel opened two additional floors—not an easy feat in a city whose skyline is dictated by strict zoning laws—with rooms boasting balconies and fantastic panoramas. The in-room design scheme on these floors is more modern, with sleek black lacquer furnishings, bathrooms with floor heating and flat-screen TVs, and the layouts tend to be smaller than those on the lower floors.
Considering that the Sacher is one of the city’s most traditional hotels, service is refreshingly down-to-earth, friendly and efficient. The concierge team is excellent, most likely due to the fact that the hands-on Frau Gürtler, who has been running the Sacher since 1990, is one of the most plugged-in owners in town: she was the chair of the Viennese Opera Ball for eight years, is president of the Hofburg and was recently named the director of the Spanische Hofreitschule.
A major perk is the tranquil Sacher spa on the fifth floor, which is also open to nonguests (currently, the Sacher is the only five-star in Vienna to have a spa, though one at the Grand is in the works). It has a short but terrific menu of treatments featuring Ligne St. Barth’s and La Prairie products. The renowned Café Sacher is located on the ground floor of the hotel, and a miniature version of the famous Sachertorte, which originated in the hotel’s pastry kitchen in 1832, is placed on your pillow during turndown service (guests are also given the treat at check out).
WHO SHOULD STAY: Couples and families with older children who want to stay in beautiful 19th-century interiors but be cosseted by a modern-day sensibility when it comes to service and amenities.
WHAT TO KNOW: Located at the beginning of the Kärntnerstrasse, one of the city’s main shopping hubs, the Sacher is steps away from the Albertina and the State Opera, but be aware that it is an area buzzing with tourists, especially on weekends. And thanks to its famous café, the Sacher is on most people’s to-do lists, so it is not the most serene setting.
UPDATE 2010: The Sacher Hotel has undergone massive renovations; owner Elisabeth Gürtler collaborated with star French designer Yves Pierre Rochon in the redesign of seventy rooms and suites, all updated without losing their traditional Viennese charm. Anna restaurant was redone as well.
WHAT’S NEARBY: The Albertina, the State Opera, the Dorotheum and the Hofburg are all a short walk from the hotel. Nearby recommended restaurants and cafés include the Palmenhaus, Steirereck and Kleines Café.
INDAGARE AMENITIES: Upgrade on arrival subject to availability; Daily Buffet breakfast for up to two in room guests served in the Marble Hall; One ‘Time to Chocolate’ 30-minute treatment per room (reservation required at least 7 days in advance to guarantee appointment)
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