13 DECEMBER 2021


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Article from BTNews 13 DECEMBER 2021

ON TOUR: New Year magic in Vienna

BTN Editor-at-Large Jeff Mills explores Austria’s glamorous capital city.

If you’re feeling flush and fancy shelling out upwards of €650 you may just still be in time to grab a ticket for the 2021/22 New Year’s concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, though you could instead try to acquire one of the tickets for many of the city’s other major ‘ball season’ attractions, including the world-famous Opera Ball itself, which is usually staged at the Opera House in February.

But ticket or not, if you find yourself in Austria’s spectacular capital city around the end of the year or the early weeks of 2022 you will still be able to immerse yourself in the glamour of the season.

And you will even be able to hear the New Year’s Concert simply by popping in to almost any of the hotels and restaurants in the city. You may also, of course, simply turn on the TV. The concert is normally also broadcast throughout the world.   

But no matter what time of year you visit, Vienna’s location, virtually at the heart of Europe, continues to serve the city now as it has in the past. The Romans chose to base a garrison here and call it Vindobona because the Danube flowing right by made transport reasonably easy.

The Habsburgs used it as their imperial base from the 13th century onwards and consolidated their position after they had beaten off various threats from the Turks, clearing the way for some of the most elegant – and decadent – eras the world has seen.

Much of the decadence may have gone, though some remains. These days the famous grand balls which take place throughout the winter season are just as likely to be the stages for some serious corporate hospitality as for the social showcases for which they were designed.

That said, the city still has one of the finest collections of baroque buildings to be found anywhere. There are certainly worse places to visit either for business or pleasure and there are few cities from where it is easy to travel anywhere in Europe in a few hours by virtually any method you may choose.

On the business front, the city plays host to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has its own stock exchange, the Wiener Bourse, and has been consolidating the position it held for some years after the end of the Cold War as the business gateway to the emerging markets of the former eastern Europe.

It is the area around the old town that you are likely to stay if you are visiting Vienna on business. This is where you will find the great hotels such as the 140-room Hotel Bristol (Marriott Luxury Collection), Grand Hotel Wien and the Sacher Hotel, which originally introduced the Sachertorte chocolate confection which, together with Mozartkugeln (globe-shaped chocolates with pictures of the composer on the wrapper) and Wiener schnitzel are among the area’s favourite delicacies.

And there’s plenty to occupy you when business is over, such as a visit to the Castle of Schoenbrunn, summer residence of the Habsburgs who dominated Austria, not to mention neighbouring Hungary, when they ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1713 and 1918. The 1,441-room palace has been the scene of many historical events, including Mozart's official debut, aged six.

Try to see the Vienna Boys' Choir (Wiener Sangerknaben), still one of the city's top tourist attractions. Vying with the Spanish Riding School as the visitors’ favourite, the choir can be heard singing mass every Sunday at 09:15 in the Burgkapelle, the chapel of the Imperial Palace.

And for something really different head underground and sign up for Vienna’s ‘Return of the Third Man’ tour of the city’s sewers, inspired by author and journalist Graham Green.  Directed by Carol Reed, and starring Orson Welles as Harry Lime, it featured the haunting theme tune by Anton Karas.

If you fancy high-tech designer accommodation in a gem of a boutique hotel try Das Triest (www.dastriest.at) on Wiedner Hauptstrasse, only about a 10min walk from the opera house, where you will find many of the features you may have come to expect in a minimalist hotel, a lobby where you almost feel you should dress to complement the rest of the décor and a bar so cool you almost get frostbite.

Accommodation, much of it in a former coach house and stables, is a mixture of rooms and suites designed by Sir Terence Conran, some of them a decent size and all fitted with the latest high-tech gizmos.

If you enjoy good coffee, some say among the best in the world, look out for one of Vienna’s famous, and often very old, coffee houses.

One of the best is the Café Hawelka at Dorotheergasse 6, much frequented by students, actors and poets. The owners will find you a chair no matter how crowded the place is and offer you the best oven-fresh Buchteln in town − a typical Austrian pastry made of yeast dough, stuffed with jam. It will be a long time before healthy eating replaces the good life in Vienna.

And if you fancy getting out of the city, though not too far out, take a trip to the heurigen villages of Grinzing, Neustift and Heiligenstadt for a glass or two of the ‘new’ wine for which the area is famous, together with some good, basic country-style food. They are essentially country inns, where you share long wooden tables and choose your food from an extensive buffet.

Be warned, though, the wine, served in beer-style glasses, may slip down easily but it has a mighty kick if you drink too much. And it is worth remembering the heurigen usually don't accept credit cards, so take cash with you.

There is a good selection of flights from the UK to Vienna, including those operated by Austrian Airlines, British Airways and Ryanair. Taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. The trip from the airport into the city, for example, takes about 30mins, but there is also an excellent system of underground trains as well as trams and buses in and around the city.

Although Austria is undergoing a form of lockdown due to Covid-19 most hotels are still open for business travellers, though some facilities may be limited. Images courtesy 




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