It seems that every week I hear of yet another name to add to the growing list of grand luxury hotels of the world. And often it’s a celebrity designer colleague or starquitect who has been asked to stamp their personality on a city. Many a times these hotels, while quite “in”, still lack something which I can’t pinpoint … perhaps it’s a lack of “soul”. It’s like meeting a super attractive person and then finding out they lack depth of character.
So with this in mind, I start my adventure uncovering hotels around the world that opened during the golden age of travel and which have survived and surpassed the trendiness of the current design hotel mania to offer their guests a bit of stylish history. Today we take a look at three of Vienna’s grand luxury hotels that had their celebratory openings over a century ago.
Grand Luxury Hotels: The Imperial
Built in 1866 as the town palace of the Duke and Duchess of Wurttemberg, the Imperial (images above and below) has been welcoming guests to Vienna since it was converted to a hotel in 1873. It has often been called the Austrian State’s “guest house”, as visiting heads of state – including many a crowned head – have chosen to stay at the Imperial. This is a grand hotel in all senses. From the lavish public rooms to the suites and smaller guest rooms, you really feel like you are being pampered and properly being cared for. The lobby is richly clad in marble while portraits of the Wurttembergs keep an eye one arriving visitors. Rooms are elegant, if not a bit formal for my liking, but again, this hotel keeps to its Imperial roots and presents itself with a stately regal air.
The Imperial Café has been renovated since I was last there and I am glad to see Wiener Werkstatte style Thonet furnishings mixed with funky new lighting fixtures. It retains the history of the place while bringing it into the 21st century. Imagine sitting in the table next to Wagner or Strauss as they discussed their latest musical scores? The Imperial is still the place for Sunday brunch when their chefs fill tables in the Festive Halls with culinary delights that the last Austrian Emperor would have loved.
Grand Luxury Hotels: The Bristol
Situated on the Ringstrasse directly across from the Vienna State Opera, the Hotel Bristol (images below) is more my cup of tea. Opened in 1892, the hotel has long been famous for its well-appointed interiors. In the 1930s, Edward VIII spent time here with Wallis Simpson at the height of their affair and the hotel still retains a wonderful Art Deco sensibility. The Bristol Lounge is a great place to enjoy a drink before or after the opera as the Viennese have done for over a century now. Warm paneled walls lend the perfect backdrop to deco furnishings. I love, love, love how the Bristol beautifully mixes antiques with modern styling to create exceptionally handsome and comfortable rooms.
Grand Luxury Hotles: The Sacher
Right around the corner from the Bristol behind the Vienna State Opera sits another one of the city’s grand luxury hotels, the Hotel Sacher (images below). Founded in 1876, the hotel catered to the aristocracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, serving as their home in the capital. Anna Sacher (wife of the founder) kept the hotel an exclusive enclave for such aristos even after the fall of the monarchy in 1918. Unfortunately her willingness to lend credit to impoverished nobles after the Great War while at the same time trying to keep the doors shut to paying guests led to bankruptcy in the 1930s.
The hotel’s reputation and fame largely reside in their fabled (and delicious) Sacher Torte created by the founder of the hotel. This delectable Viennese pastry is still a top seller and no trip to Vienna is complete without at stop at the hotel’s café for Viennese coffee and a bite of torte. In fact, Edward VIII so fell in love with the hotel’s restaurant during his stay at the nearby Bristol, that on his return to Vienna after his abdication, he chose to stay at the Hotel Sacher. The hotel’s grand public rooms are filled with rich luxurious textiles and furnishings (image below) – which don’t do much to pull me in – but the guest rooms are something else. How beautiful, chic and dreamy is this guest suite (last image) mixing modern sensibility and style with classic French antiques.
Grand luxury hotels capture the spirit of a city in unique ways. Many have stood the test of time outliving trends and fashions and still bear witness to the truth that great style is timeless and never looks dated. While I’m all for checking out the flash hip new hotels for fabulous finishes and wondrous architecture, it’s refreshing to know that in Vienna, these grand dames of luxury hotels are always waiting in the wings to offer respite to travellers as they have for over a century.
Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a design studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising services.
image credits from top to bottom: grand luxury hotels: Imperial Hotel; Bristol Hotel; Sacher Hotel – Vienna.