Choc around the clock
ROOM AT THE INN
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; wien.info. 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