There is something wonderful about bringing a person you love to a place they have always dreamed of visiting.
Have you ever asked your nearest and dearest? You might be surprised where their heart settles. But the dream is always there, nestled in the back of their mind, when the dull repetition of life creeps in and they yearn for something far away from home.
My mother’s wish was for Vienna. So when we arrived, and she had nestled into her white fluffy dressing gown (we had a quick pit stop at our beautiful hotel The Park Hyatt for one of her many, many wardrobe changes) just seeing her enormous smile took my breath away.
Located in a century-old former bank at the heart of the city, the Park Hyatt is possibly the best hotel in Vienna, if not, one of the best five-stars I have stayed in. The breakfast, alone, is to die for. We’re talking long thin flutes of crisp champagne – on tap – white truffle scrambled eggs, crispy warm sour dough toast with mashed avocado and a sizzling full Irish fry. The buffet is akin to a social occasion each morning, and the first meal of the day can easily turn into a two hour chit-chat before you peel yourself off the couches and make your way out into the morning sun.
The rooms are luxurious and spacious and a spot-lit marbled bathroom and separate styling area give that extra star quality when you’re getting ready for a night out. Check out the uber-chic Pearl Bar where you can sip ice-cold spritzers and watch the style go by as Vienna’s beautiful fashionistas make their way to the nearby shopping district.
If we never left the hotel it would have been enough. But we had four days ahead and my mother planned to squeeze every ounce of joy out of them.
Which wasn’t going to be hard given that Vienna has been crowned the greatest city in the world for nine years running by the annual Mercer Quality of Living survey. With its coffee houses and grand architecture, it has provided inspiration to the world’s greatest intellectuals, artist and writers. Our first stop then was to the grand Cafe Central. It is here that Hitler, and Stalin, and Trotsky, and Freud once sat – separately – over coffee and cake, probably musing about coffee and cake.
Staff wear crisp white shirts and smart black waistcoats and serve you wine, lunch and their world famous pastries and cakes from a tantalising display in the centre of the marbled room. Queues form outside early in the day but once you’re tucking into warm apple strudel or the local speciality sachertorte (chocolate cake) it is all worthwhile.
Next, we took the two-minute stroll to the Hofburg Imperial Palace where the colossal statues of the labours of Hercules adorn its facade. The fountains, cobbled streets and horse drawn carriages give it an other-worldly feel.
The old heart of Vienna knows only one form of architecture: epic – and there is a treat on every corner. To feast your eyes on one major sight after the next, take the city’s famous ring road, the Ringstrasse, and enjoy four miles of sheer extravagance built at the end of the 19th Century.
You can choose the convenience of the tram or one of the hop-on/hop-off buses or simply enjoy the fairytale walk. Once you’re finished the historical tour of the city, it’s good to know that the Viennese do museums like the Irish do pubs. The only problem is having to choose. For our visit, we focused our time on the Belvedere.
The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt is the most famous Austrian painting and the highlight of the Belvedere’s permanent collection. Other masterpieces on display include works of Jacques-Louis David, whose heroically windswept portrait of Napoleon Crossing the Alps – sat on a rearing white Arab stallion – famously captured the public image of the emperor and spread his reputation throughout Europe. That’s why he had five versions painted and distributed around Europe.
The Schonbrunn Palace is another absolute must-see. It pulls in over 2.5m visitors a year. My mum is an avid gardener and was in heaven as we wandered around the colourful beds of flowers, through the tunnel of red roses (the grounds are an Instagrammer’s dream) and among the acres of trees.
Under the hot afternoon sun, we whipped out our picnic blanket and settled down to have a champagne picnic before climbing the hill to enjoy a fantastic view of the city. Entry to the grounds is free.
Chocolate lovers among you should take a wander through the enormous Lindt boutique in the grounds of the palace. It is the millennials’ equivalent to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
While on the subject of indulgence, pay a visit to the Nautilus seafood restaurant in the Naschmarkt, for its famous fresh catches. We heard a lot about the quality of the food here before we arrived and it lived up to its good name.
And if you are going to the State Opera then the nearby and uber-trendy Do&Co Albertina restaurant is also delicious. Which brings me to our night in a private box at Vienna’s Royal State Opera…
For anyone hoping to entertain a romantic date, you won’t regret it. The red-and-gold auditorium sets the scene for world-class opera and ballet, with the celebrated Vienna Philharmonic in the pit.
We saw Verdi’s masterpiece La traviata where thunderous cheers of “Bravo! Bravo!” rippled through the audience (yes that doesn’t just happen in the movies) as fans threw bouquets of roses at the feet of Placido Domingo no less! When the lights came on we could see the emotion his spellbinding voice had left behind.
What a treat. What a city. Take a visit and make your own – as well as that special someone’s dreams – come true.
Niamh stayed at the Park Hyatt Vienna – where sumptuous rooms cost from €309 per person per night
* For an extra special treat check out their Arany Spa, located in a former bank vault. Inspired by the Hungarian word “gold”, it uses high-class materials such as gemstones and mother of pearl to provide a relaxing sanctuary in the midst of the city.
* There you can indulge in treatments such as aromatherapy, massage therapy, facials, and full body massages.
* For a detailed Vienna State Opera schedule and ticket prices, visit www.concertvienna.com. Seats sell out very early such is the huge demand so be sure to book well in advance.
This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.
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