Choc around the clock


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

HOWto sur­vive a visit to Vi­enna with­out eat­ing choco­late? I am not a fan of any­thing choc-re­lated so a visit to the creamy, choco­latey Aus­trian cap­i­tal fills me with an odd kind of dread.

Will the Vi­en­nese be of­fended if I de­cline Sacher- Torte and Mozartkugeln? Will they be­lieve I’d rather have a fist­ful of jelly ba­bies or a pack of Turk­ish de­light?

Ho­tel Sacher, splen­didly lo­cated on Phil­har­moniker­strasse in the city’s cul­tural heart, is the home of all things to do with choco­late. Opened in 1876 by Ed­uard Sacher, son of the in­ven­tor of the orig­i­nal Sacher-Torte (there have since been many pre­tenders), the ho­tel feels like a royal res­i­dence, a minia­ture echo of the nearby Hof­burg Palace where it’s fun to visit the im­pe­rial apart­ments and see the sa­lons where Em­press Elis­a­beth ( Sisi) swished about and (con­tro­ver­sially) in­stalled ex­er­cise de­vices to keep her ( fa­mously) nar­row waist. ( A guide in­forms me the em­press’s favourite treats were not choco­lates but crys­tallised vi­o­lets — sold to­day in the ex­tra­or­di­nary con­fis­erie at Cafe Demel on Kohlmarkt.)

In June 2004, two floors were popped into the Ho­tel Sacher’s at­tic, adding 52 con­tem­po­rary gue­strooms and suites (some with pri­vate roof ter­races), a spa and a busi­ness cen­tre. Th­ese are the plush eyries of the rich and fab­u­lous, com­plete with orig­i­nal art cho­sen by hands-on man­ag­ing di­rec­tor (and owner) Elis­a­beth Gurtler, but any room in this ho­tel is exquisitely de­tailed and thought­fully equipped.

There was a full ren­o­va­tion in late 2011 and the ex­pected mod­cons are in ev­i­dence, with free WiFi ac­cess, even flat-screen tele­vi­sions inset into bath­room mir­rors so you can view soap op­eras from the tub while soak­ing in a choc bub­ble bath and feel­ing rather like a dessert souf­fle. I even no­tice an old- fash­ioned rope bell- pull marked SOS — send emer­gency choco­late, per­chance?

The ho­tel’s sig­na­ture line of body care and beauty prod­ucts is based on choco­late and if you ven­ture to Sacher Spa, ex­pect to be of­fered the Time to Choco­late treat­ment menu and lath- ered with choc but­ter, mas­saged with ‘‘pu­ri­fy­ing’’ ca­cao beans and en­veloped in a choc body mask.

There are more rou­tine ther­a­pies, too, some fea­tur­ing luxe La Prairie prod­ucts, and the spa do­main is el­e­gantly kit­ted out; it’s worth ar­riv­ing early for your ap­point­ment and us­ing the Ther­mal Suite — pools, herbal sauna, aroma salt steam room — and re­lax­ation lounge with fire­place and tent-like draperies. The Third Man­byGra­hamGreene; he was in­spired to write the book while stay­ing here and the city’s fer­ris wheel seen in the 1949 movie is still an at­trac­tion. Ide­ally lo­cated for Vi­enna’s must-do sights; pur­chase a Vi­enna Card for dis­counts and un­lim­ited un­der­ground, bus and tram travel over 72 hours; The ho­tel cafes are thronged with tourists and the Sacher-Torte trade can feel like an as­sem­bly line.

The ho­tel has crys­tal-chan­de­liered for­mal restau­rants and cof­fee sa­lons named for Kaiser Franz-Josef and his Sisi and a shop sell­ing tril­lions of take­away Sacher-Tortes (and ship­ping about 360,000 over­seas each year). But my favourite spot is its tiny jew­el­box of a bar where the Aperol spritzes come in gob­lets the size of aquar­i­ums.

Go past the concierge desk, through to the wood-pan­elled lobby and head di­ag­o­nally left to this lovely Blaue Bar. This be­ing Aus­tria, there are sausage snacks and fruity wines but the back­ground mu­sic is cool French jazz, the walls are cov­ered with deep blue bro­cade and the vel­vet couches and arm­chairs en­cour­age se­ri­ous lin­ger­ing.

Ob­vi­ously a ho­tel of such pedi­gree has at­tracted roy­als and VIPs ga­lore, al­though less salu­bri­ously, in 1945, mem­bers of the lib­er­at­ing Rus­sian army used the mar­ble en­try hall to sta­ble their horses. In 1969, John Len­non and Yoko Ono staged their fa­mous Bed In at the Ho­tel Sacher. I, too, would like to stay in bed here for more than a night or two.

As I re­luc­tantly check out, the re­cep­tion­ist hands me a tiny boxed Sacher-Torte; it’s a part­ing gift, she says, for all guests. I give it to my driver when we reach the air­port and he looks at me in as­ton­ish­ment. I lie that I have eaten too many al­ready. I don’t be­lieve this proud Vi­en­nese gen­tle­man would ac­cept any other ex­pla­na­tion. Su­san Kurosawa was a guest of Lead­ing Ho­tels of the World and Bri­tish Air­ways.

Cool French jazz plays in the back­ground at the Blaue Bar (left); the op­u­lent Ho­tel Sacher

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