I returned from my trip to Austria dreaming about the spectacular natural beauty of this small country. I am in awe of the historic architectural and art masterpieces, the delicious culinary offerings and the kind people. I am still humming to Mozart and I came home knowing how to waltz.
A visit to Austria should be preceded with a brief history lesson on the Imperial Habsburg Dynasty. The Habsburgs ruled in Austria for more than 600 years. For most of this time they were also Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Some were successful warlords. Others were successful politicians. Having a basic understanding of the Imperial Habsburg Dynasty gave me a greater appreciation of what I experienced when visiting Austria for the first time.
Vienna, the capital of Austria, lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. My visit to Vienna was full of Imperial history and art, music, great food, wine and Wiener schnitzel. It comes as no surprise that the historic city center is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
Recommended Exclusive Experiences in Vienna:
- Privately Guided City Tour – Your guide will show you Vienna’s most historical and beautiful sights such as the Ringstrasse, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Graben, Vienna’s most exclusive shopping street.
- The Spanish Riding School Behind the Scenes Morning Training Private Tour-The Spanish Riding School is the only institution in the world where classic equestrian skills have been preserved for over 400 years and is still practiced in its original form. Many years of training fuse the stunning Lipizzaner horses and their riders into an inseparable unit. Guests are treated to an unforgettable experience by the precision of movement of the horses in perfect harmony with music. Considered the most beautiful riding hall in the world, it was designed by baroque architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach between 1729 and 1735. It was originally built to provide aristocratic youth with the opportunity to take riding instructions. Guests experiencing this VIP Tour begin with a champagne reception and private welcome and introduction to the history of the school followed by a Meet & Greet with a rider. Guests then experience the morning exercise with music in a VIP Ground Level Seating Area. At the conclusion of the morning training guests continue with a tour of the stables and the tack room.
- Attend a Concert or Opera– In Vienna, music is literally in the air. More famous composers have lived here than in any other city in the world. Every night in Vienna over 10,000 music fans are treated to classical music. Each year the Vienna concert schedule includes more than 15,000 events of various sizes and genres. Mozart, Mahler, Haydn, Beethoven and Johann Strauss, the king of the Viennese waltz, all worked in the city. Guests who would like a true insider experience can enjoy a pre-concert meet and greet with the performers followed by VIP Concert Seating.
- Waltz Lessons or Your Own Private Concert – For centuries, Vienna has been known for glamorous and exclusive balls and galas. Today the tradition is still part of the cultural and social identity of the city. Each year the city hosts hundreds of traditional high society galas, all trademarked with the traditional Viennese waltz. Having changed ballroom dancing and etiquette forever, the Viennese Waltz signifies a genuine living cultural heritage. Clients can experience a Private Champagne Reception or Dinner with String Quartet followed by a Waltz Lesson to experience first-hand the tradition that has been influencing the city’s identity for over 200 years.
- Behind the Scenes tour of Kunsthistorisches Museum – This stunning art history museum was built in 1891 on the Ringstrasse near the Imperial Palace. It houses the treasures collected over 600 years by the emperors and patrons of the House of Habsburg. The collection includes the largest collection of Bruegels in the world and features his most famous works such as The Tower of Babel, Children’s Games, The Peasant Wedding and Hunters in the Snow. The Museum also showcases unique Dutch and Flemish paintings by Rubens, van Dyck, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Clients on the Behind the Scenes Tour will take a look at the restorers at work in their workshops and look into the storeroom of the Egyptian Collection.
- Tour of the Leopold Museum – The Leopold Museum houses the world’s largest Egon Schiele collection of paintings and graphics. This outstanding collection offers a unique overview of the work created by this great painter, who is also the most important graphic artist of Austrian expressionism. The museum also shows several key masterpieces by the founder of the Vienna Secession movement, Gustav Klimt. The Leopold Museum has made a name for itself as the museum of Viennese art nouveau.
- Guided Tour of Schonbrunn Palace – The former summer residence of the Habsburgs is one of Europe’s most impressive baroque palace complexes. The Imperial Family had 1,441 rooms to choose from! The adjacent palace park contains a number of architectural masterpieces such as the Palm House and the zoo, which has been awarded Europe’s Best Zoo three times. Today, the palace is a UNESCO cultural heritage site. Guests on the VIP tour have exclusive access to Queen Maria Theresa’s private quarters.
Viennese Culinary and Wine Offerings:
Viennese cuisine is the only type of cooking in the world that is named after a city. Vienna is also the only city in the world that grows enough wine within the city limits to be worth mentioning. The restaurants, coffee houses and wine taverns (heurigers) are the pillars of Vienna’s food culture.
The Viennese coffee house is known around the globe for its informal pleasantness and was added to the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO in 2011.
Favorite Viennese Coffee House: Cafe Demel is the former Imperial and Royal Court purveyor of sweets and breads. The sales and serving staff at Demel have been exclusively female for over 200 years. They served the best Wiener schnitzel I tasted in Austria. And I tasted several!
Favorite Vienna Restaurants:
- Restaurant Labstelle – This is a new restaurant and has quite a decorative ambience with outdoor seating and a guest garden. The focus is on regional, Austrian food. Traditional dishes are served in a very creative way.
- Restaurant Konstantin Filippou – Half-Austrian, half-Greek – Chef Konstantin Filippou was recently awarded one Michelin Star. Filippou’s cooking reflects his multicultural background and is a delicious approach to food.
Recommended Vienna Hotels:
- Hotel Bristol Vienna – Located next to the Vienna State Opera House and named after the English town of Bristol in 1892, the hotel combines beautiful antiques with modern comfort. It has a very luxurious, old-world Viennese flair.
- Hotel Sacher Vienna – Located across the street from the Opera House, around the corner from Hotel Bristol. The luxurious decor can be described as timeless style with modern comfort.
- Hotel Imperial Vienna – This beautiful, centrally located luxury hotel has many different room types, making it favorable for my Virtuoso clients upgrade possibilities.
- Ritz-Carlton Hotel Vienna – Although a bit off the beaten path, this hotel combines the charm of four historic palaces with a modern interior design. This hotel has the only Virtuoso-Preferred Hotel Club Lounge in Vienna, making the extra walk well worth it. I love the views from the Atmosphere Rooftop Bar.
- Park Hyatt Vienna – Situated in Vienna’s new Golden Quarter, overlooking Am Hof square, this beautiful Park Hyatt property occupies a 100-year-old former bank building. Our dinner at The Bank Restaurant within the hotel was one of my favorites. This hotel has a premium location if shopping is on your agenda.
- Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski – New to Vienna, this beautiful hotel has a contemporary design with bold colors.
Recommended Day Trip from Vienna:
- Esterhazy Palace – Located in Burgenland, a one hour drive from Vienna, you can step back in history and learn of the Esterhazy Family. The Esterhazy Princes played a prominent part in European history for centuries. Today, the Palace is a museum and venue for cultural events. The palace is home to an exceptional private collection of the family’s dynasty. One popular permanent exhibit pays tribute to the musical genius of Joseph Haydn and illustrates the composer’s incredible life and patronage to the Esterhazy Princes. Joseph Haydn served the princes for over 40 years. During this time he composed masses, operas, symphonies and chamber music. Visitors can admire some of the maestro’s personal and professional documents and original instruments. The Haydnsaal, with its lavish frescoes, was originally commissioned by Prince Paul Esterhazy I as a Baroque banqueting hall. In the 20th century this Great Hall was renamed Haydnsaal and is now a concert venue.
- Forstenstein Castle – Dating back to the 13th century, Forchtenstein Castle was acquired by the Esterhazy family in 1622. It was here that the Esterhazy’s weapons and armor were stored and Prince Paul I, founder of the dynasty, established his unique armory. Covering 10 rooms, the exhibit “Grenades, Flags, Grenadiers” offers insights into life in uniform.
I have now seen first-hand why W.A. Mozart adored Salzburg, and I join him in his love for the “many-towered city.” The magnificent past of Salzburg blends with the charm of a very active present. It truly is a jewel located on the edge of the majestic Alps.
Recommended Private Exclusive Experiences in Salzburg:
- Guided Walking Tour of the historic Old Town – Visit Mozart’s Birthplace, the Festival Halls, University Church, Salzburg Cathedral, Farmers Market, Mirabell Palace and baroque gardens, St. Peter’s Church and Cemetery and Mozart Square.
- Piano Concert and Opera Solo in the home of a Mozarteum Professor – Enjoy a private serenade by a professional Opera singer accompanied by the Professor on the piano while sipping champagne. Following the concert, take a tour of the historical home that is typical for the period of Mozart.
- Guided bike tour from Salzburg City Centre to Hellbrunn Palace with the unique water joke fountains. The original gazebo from the filming of the Sound of Music has been relocated to the palace grounds so it can be enjoyed by visitors.
- Tour Salzburg Palace – This striking city palace of the Salzburg archbishops takes you on a journey through two centuries of style history. Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles are featured in architectural harmony here.
- Tour Hohensalzburg Fortress – A powerful symbol of the archbishops during the Middle Ages, the fortress is the largest completely preserved fortress in Central Europe. It contains unsurpassed views of Salzburg and the surrounding countryside. Tour the medieval State Rooms (including the Golden Hall), the romantic courtyards and the Fortress Museum.
Recommended Day Trips from Salzburg:
- Sound of Music Tour – Sound of Music Trail in Werfen. Stop at the original “Do-Re-Mi” filming spot and feel the spirit of Sound of Music as if you are singing with Maria on the meadow.
- Visit to Fortress Hohenwerfen – This 900-year-old fortress is one of the best preserved late medieval fortresses in the world. The Falconry Center is impressive with daily demonstrations of the art of falconry. The view of the Alps is amazing from the base of the fortress.
Recommended Salzburg Hotels:
- Hotel Sacher Salzburg – This landmark luxury hotel is located just across the River Salzach from Old Town. It features very traditional elegant decor combining historic art with antiques, as well as stunning views of Old Town and the River.
- Goldener Hirsch – One of the most historic luxury hotels you will ever experience dates back to 1407. This traditional inn-style hotel is located directly on Getreidegasse, the main shopping street of Old Town. The decor is very rustic with exposed wood beams and decorative hunting trophies.
- Schloss Fuschl – Just a short drive from Salzburg, located in Austria’s “Sound of Music” Salzkammergut region, overlooking Lake Fuschl, this storybook luxury resort dates back to 1450. It is world-renowned for its spellbinding natural beauty and atmosphere.
Favorite Salzburg Restaurants:
- Restaurant Goldener Hirsch – Delicious traditional Austrian specialties. Reservations required.
- Stiftskeller St. Peter – Listen to Mozart operettas and enjoy a 4-course dinner in Europe’s oldest restaurant, founded in 803. Food that is based on historical recipes and the performers are dressed in period costumes while performing the music of Mozart.
- Restaurant Fuxn – Typical Austrian restaurant very popular with the locals. Regional Austrian cuisine.
Austria is a country that appeals to visitors of all ages. The primary language is German. English is widely spoken. The currency is the Euro.