I traveled to Vienna this year to attend the Life Ball, the largest fundraiser for AIDS research in the world. The event is televised on Austrian TV and is notable for the procession of elaborately costumed partygoers walking the red carpet to the ornate City Hall. This year’s event included President Clinton, Ricky Martin, and Conchita Wurst, the Austrian drag queen who won this year’s Eurovision song contest.
Vienna is a gorgeous city. Everything seems to be perfectly cared for and in place, and its baroque-style buildings evoke the city’s imperial past. I enjoyed exploring the Graben pedestrian zone, St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Opera House, the Museum Quarter, and the Belvedere Palace and its flower garden. Walking around the city center, you can get the impression that the city is just full of tourists, but head up Mariahilferstrasse, a busy shopping street, to see more locals.
Vienna has no shortage of fine hotels. For a smart splurge, my favorite by far is the Sacher Hotel. It’s conveniently located just across from the Opera House and is small enough that the staff can remember every guest. Service is outstanding and you’ll feel like you’re staying in a private mansion instead of a hotel. The property boasts luxe contemporary rooms on the upper floors, and more classic décor on the lower floors for those who may prefer old world ambiance. I prefer a warm, contemporary style, and the Sacher’s spacious bedrooms and marble bathrooms are exceptionally comfortable and attractive. Many rooms offer stunning views of the Opera or the Albertina Museum. Be sure to have lunch at the Red Bar (where I tried the wiener schnitzel and famous Sacher torte, which is even better with rum). The hotel also features the cozy Blue Bar, which is great for an evening drink. To unwind after a long day of walking, consider the “jet lag massage” at the spa.
Of course, there are other 5-star properties in Vienna (the Bristol, the Ritz, the Imperial), but none, in my view, match the Sacher’s intimacy and contemporary -- yet unstuffy -- elegance.