Three amazing hotels within five minutes’ walk of Vienna’s Opera House

Sacher Hotel




Visiting the Austrian capital is simple and easy. Unless you are travelling with dozens of suitcases do not even think of taking a limo or taxi into town. The 16-minute CAT, City Airport Train, runs every half-hour – €12, all credit cards accepted – and takes you nonstop to Landstrasse Wien Mitte, where a well-signposted transfer to the U4 U-Bahn, two stops to Karlsplatz, three minutes’ walk from my first Opera-centric hotel.

The word Sacher immediately conjures up the world’s best-known chocolate torte, of which 360,000, all made here in Vienna, are shipped worldwide every year. Sacher is also one of the world’s ultimate hotel names. In fact there are two: one in Salzburg currently undergoing major renovation, and the signature Sacher Hotel, just north of Vienna’s Staatsoper, and so intertwined with it that you could be forgiven for wondering where the opera house finished and the luxury hotel started. This property goes back to 1876, when Eduard Sacher and his wife Anna started the hotel, but wow is it up to date. Most of the main public rooms are like sets for Victorian melodrama, but you have continual elements of surprise.

The hotel’s Röte Restaurant is red, as its name implies, and it is full every night with locals. The manager, Wolfgang Ebner, has been here 45 years, and dishes include that Viennese classic, Sacher tafelspitz, boiled beef with apple horseradish, another horseradish sauce and plain grated horseradish. But you can also go for something surprising, say cucumber salad with gin and tonic sorbet and Szechuan pepper.

Matthias Winkler has now taken over the general operations of the entire Sacher group from his mother-in-law, the legendary Elisabeth Gürtler: he looks after the two hotels, two cafes, half a dozen outlets connected to Hotel Sacher Wien and all those cakes. Winkler’s wife Alexandra and her brother Georg, also titled co-CEOs, are constantly in touch and the three have formal meetings every quarter. The group invests, heavily, currently in the Salzburg hotel and in the Sacher Eck here in the Vienna hotel. It is only a few years ago that the biggest investment in a century saw two new floors added, here, to what had been a five-floor hotel. This visit I was right up on the top, in 717, named for Janáček’s opera Káťa Kabanová. Suite 717 is a Pierre-Yves Rochon triumph, a haven of powder blue and oatmeal, with two big terraces.

Next up was The Imperial, which also has a unique place in Vienna’s story. Music-lovers appreciate having the Musikverein concert hall two minutes’ away, to the south. This hotel is one of the most gorgeous of all Vienna’s 19th-century sculptured buildings, 1867-vintage. Inside, it has the equivalent of the Mona Lisa’s eyes. Just as her eyes follow you in the Louvre, Paris, when you walk from one side to another of Leonardo’s painting, when you come to Franz Xavier Winterhalter’s full-height portrait of Kaiser Franz Joseph I, his left foot, on your right as you finish climbing 72 red-carpeted stairs from this luxury hotel’s magnificent lobby, appears to swing around with you.

But before that, first-time and regular guests have to admire the glory of this redone hotel, now owned by Dubai-based Khaleef Habtoor. He had been a regular guest at The Imperial here in Vienna, so when the chance came he bought it, and his company, Al Habtoor, has since spent a lot of money making it even more beautiful. Look at The Imperial’s lobby, the sumptuous gilding, the marble floors. No wonder big names in the past loved staying here. Outside the front door on Kärtner Ring there is a plaque, dated 1933, to Richard Wagner, 1813-1883: the hotel’s leather-bound golden books record comments from previous guests from Walt Disney to Sir Mick Jagger, and a host of Royals.

This is a hotel that is full of activity. GM Mario Habicher told me that the hotel partners with Bösendorfer pianos, and concerts coming up include Italian Rodolfo Leone, playing Beethoven on Tuesday 3 October 2017 – it was only this June that the Italian won the 15th International Beethoven Piano Competition, right here in Vienna. Habicher also arranges jazz nights, Fridays from 8.30pm, free entry.

When I was last here I found out that Niki Lauda is a regular at breakfast, and apparently he still is – next time I must come to breakfast! This visit I was lunching, outside on the summer terrace, watching passers-by on Kärtner Ring as I sampled a tasty platter of gravlax and smoked salmon with masses of horseradish cream. Come back in the evening, urged Mario Habicher, and try the luxury hotel’s real gourmet-level food – its 30-seat dinner-only Restaurant OPUS, under chef Stefan Speiser, has a Michelin star.

Trying to find differentiation among Vienna’s luxury hotels requires imagination as all are at top level when it comes to world-class service. Visitors are amazed that everything here works, professionally and with a smile, and never once do you see a hand out, or eyebrows raised, waiting for a gratuity. And, as I have said, there are constant surprises. The Ritz-Carlton Vienna, five minutes’ walk east of The Imperial, has a running concierge, Philipp Voigt, a Berliner who says it actually helps not being a Vienna native as he is more curious about the minute details of this gorgeous city.

The hotel’s GM, Christian Zandonella, recently arrived from Bahrain, took me up to the eighth floor rooftop lounge, and wow, every seat was taken, by locals. Regulars know that this is the best summer evening cocktail venue imaginable, with 360-degree views of the city. Next it was 27 steps down to the Club Lounge, on the seventh floor. He takes it very seriously, does Christian Zandonella, and he deserves a medal for the number of spirits bottles displayed for guests to savour at cocktail hour, 42 different types, total (sorry, I forgot to count the number of gins). Add to this the eight wines in the enotheque machine, and the bubbly, and four decanters of home-made cocktails, include Negroni, concocted by the hotel’s top mixologist. The food was pretty good, too.

But, oh what another surprise. Last time I dined in DISTRIKT it was empty and uninspiring. The local celebrity chef had seen better days. Now that guy is gone and the hotel is totally in charge. Attractive blackboards, with descriptions of meat cuts, have been put up on some walls, and every table is taken, inside and out, on the Kärntner Ring terrace. It was difficult to choose from the A3-sized menu, on a heavy wood backing. Weight-lifting this worked up yet more energy for the 600-gram bone-in ribeye from Upper Austria that I eventually chose – it came on another heavy wood board, with two halves of garlic, and tomatoes on the vine, which added to the tomato salad I had just eaten, showcasing some of the 127 tomato varieties said to exist in Austria.

But surprises were not finished. As always on arrival I declined help in taking my beloved Porsche Design Rimowa wheelie as the handle was a bit wonky. This handle has been working nonstop since it was replaced while I was at Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne on 3 November 2010 (the Rimowa factory is nearby). Well, here at Ritz-Carlton Vienna the charmingly helpful Sebastian Naumann, in charge of guest relations, said well WE can get it replaced; I will take it personally, the Rimowa shop is only 10 minutes’ away. Two hours later I had a new handle, with compliments of Rimowa, and a quote from them in case I would also like all the scratches on the bodywork cleaned up. How is that for service? AND Sebastian Naumann brought two chocolates, as well. It is memories like this that differentiate luxury hotels. And then it was time to head back to Karlsplatz subway for that easy trip back to the airport, and away.

Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue,



The Ritz-Carlton Vienna
The Imperial Vienna


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