Before starting on a tour of two remarkable hotels, let us look at sachertorte, one of Vienna’s most popular exports. Ever since Viennese pastry chef Franz Sacher created it in 1832 (at the time in the second year of his apprenticeship), the cake has grown in popularity. At last count, the Sacher factory in Vienna, Austria, produces over 360,000 cakes a year, using 75 tons of chocolate, 25 tons of butter, 80 tons of sugar and 1.2 million eggs. The largest cake, weighing 600 kilograms, had a diameter of 3.5 metres. How do you recognise a genuine Sacher? The outer paper wrapping is Bordeaux-red with a Biedermeier motif, the wood box inside must have four gold corners, and Hotel Sacher Wien on it, with ‘original’ on the seal and inside the lid, and on the chocolate disk atop the cake.
Every cake sold, from Buenos Aires to Brisbane, Seattle to Seoul, is another marketing coup for the Sacher brand, which is owned by the Vienna-based Gürtler-Winkler family. Just as it was Franz Sacher’s son Eduard Sacher who expanded to hotels, so, four years ago, leader of luxury style and taste Elisabeth Gürtler handed day-to-day control of the empire to her daughter, Alexandra Winkler, who runs it with her husband Matthias Winkler.
Eduard Sacher opened the first Sacher Hotel, a five-floor Vienna palace, in 1876. Today, with an additional two rooftop floors, it has a total of 152 rooms. The highly colourful public areas and more subdued sleeping floors are all perfectly designed by the mutually supportive team of Pierre-Yves Rochon and Alexandra Winkler. This June, GM Reiner Heilmann adds the alternative of opening room doors by the hotel’s app, although you can always continue using a proximity disk attached to a rather cumbersome leather holder bearing the room number.
I was in the Wiener Philharmonic Suite, number 106-108, notable for two spacious ensuite bedrooms, a salon and intimate office – and also for 1876-vintage parquet floors, six-metre tall ceilings formed of elaborate gold-highlighted white moulding encasing some delicated painted floral vignettes, and, in all, four double-hang multi-light chandeliers. Some walls were taupe- and white-patterned fabric, the same material as the window drapes. All walls bore historic oil portraits, some full length, and a five-metre white tiled decorative fireplace is, says Alexandra Winkler, her favourite antique in this entire establishment.
Yes, it may be full of history but it is bang up to the minute. Faultless connectivity was accompanied by a make-your-own hotspot tablet, and another tablet held all hotel functions. I loved the bathrooms, with flattering lighting, Geberit shower-type toilets, electric towel rails and deliciously heated marble floors.
Dinner was in the famous Rote Bar, looking out at the Opera House – it is open nonstop noon to midnight, and does two complete dinner services, one pre- and one post-performances. As its name implies, this traditional white-linen dining place has scarlet damask walls liberally hung with oil paintings in heavy gold frames. I ate traditionally, following the elixir of the most exquisite savoury sachertorte, a mélange of foie gras, with the lightest possible weinerschnitzel (yes, it comes in two halves, one and then, when the plate is empty, the other). The sommelier chose a Wachter Deutsch Schätzen 2017.
Wellness here is really special. The spa carries Ligne St Barth’s but nothing could have bettered my La Prairie facial. The Life Fitness gym is now 24/7 (the provided headphones are substantial new Hama sets, with a recycling box handy). At breakfast, I passed on the hotel’s winter smoothie – apple, pear, almond milk, spinach, grape, plum – and instead savoured the Mandl’s goat yoghurt and an array of dozens of different bread types, all clearly identified.
And then, after a 2.5-hour train journey – with the hotels’ Mercedes transport either end – I reached Salzburg, home of music, old and new. This is, in fact, a really special music year for Salzburg, as it is the centenary of the world-famous Salzburg Festival (unless you have tickets and a confirmed room reservation, you might want to avoid visiting this gorgeous town between 18 July and 30 August 2020 – though the extensive programme includes such names as Barenboin, Bartoli, Domingo, Jansons and Muti).
The 109-room Hotel Sacher Salzburg, right on the west bank of Salzburg’s Salzach river, dates back to 1866, and it is just finishing a complete new look by Pierre-Yves Rochon, with considerable minutiae input from Alexandra Winkler. GM is Angélique Weinberger.
Do ask for a river-facing room. Number 426 suited one person perfectly, though I had two chairs and a table on my balcony, looking down across the water to Salzburg old town, easily reached in seven minutes via the pedestrian bridge just below.
The room had all the comforts I had found in Vienna (the Time for Chocolate toiletries made me feel right at home). Once again, there is a big choice of eating venues, all, as in Vienna, highly popular with locals. I could have eaten finely in Zirbelzimmer gourmet restaurant but I chose contemporary-casual in the Sacher Grill. Here, pale wood furnishings include a communal table with herb planter and a wall of black-and-white photos of lead singers in the festival’s famous Jedermann performance. This was the night for another Austrian specialty, a slab of boiled beef on spinach purée, with accompanying bouillon dip, apple-horseradish sauce and cream cheese with herbs. On another occasion I surrounded myself with torte and coffee participants in the red-velvet Café Sacher.
Of course, being Sacher, the hotel has a gym (LifeFitness), but you also get lots of exercise walking the fascinating old town, with now-pedestrianised medieval streets and intriquing by-lanes of tiny boutiques. Here you also find Mozart’s birthplace, and, though you can visit most of the stops by yourself, I do recommend taking a Sound of Music bus tour. Yes, the 1965 movie is one of this city’s biggest draws and you spend a unique four hours in a bus of Americans and Asians all singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music”, word perfect.
Mary Gostelow is Editor-in-Chief of the free daily briefing luxury-te.com