Anna gets Wagnerian in the city of sachertorte and finds the pace surprisingly easy…
A city spa is something of an oxymoron. Surely, when you’re in a spa you want to relax and how are you going to do that with the din and chaos of city life going on all around you? Well, you could start by picking your city very carefully. So, how about Vienna, voted best city for quality of life three years running?
Can a city actually be relaxing? According to Mercer, the polling organisation, Vienna is the best city to live (and presumably visit) in the world and it’s easy to see why. There is a fantastic public transport system (love the trams!) and hardly any traffic. If you were driving, you could park easily but you wouldn’t want to as the heart of Vienna – where you’ll want to be – is actually very small and just about anywhere you’d want to go is walkable. There is plenty to see and do, it’s easy to get in to everything, there are lots of fabulous restaurants and a café culture that has nothing to do with Starbucks. The Viennese believe the coffee house is an extension of their living-rooms and will stay there all day, reading, working, meeting friends, people watching and, oh yes, drinking coffee. Go to Demel for a real Viennese café where you’ll find the emphasis is on chocolate or Café Landtmann, opened in 1873 and popular with everyone from Sigmund Freud to Gustav Mahler, Marlene Dietrich to Hilary Clinton.
So this is, to put it mildly, an historical city, indeed an imperial one and built on an appropriate scale. The Ring, created by Emperor Franz Joseph in the 1860s, is a parade of magnificence – opera house after university, palace after massive church, interspersed with shaded gardens designed for outside summer concerts. You can walk around the centre (inside the Ring) or take a romantic Flaker tour, one of the two-horse open carriages that have been in business since the 17th century. There are some definite must-sees – the Hofburg, Belvedere and Schonbrunn Palaces, the great Baroque Karlkirche and St Stephen’s cathedral – as well as many lesser known delights.
Mozart’s Figaro House is a wonderful museum to the composer. The Music House (Haus der Musik) takes you room by room through the history of Vienna’s great composers and on to the Sonosphere a twilight maze where you experience sound interactively, creating your own music from a sea of voices. They save the best till last, though. In the top floor apartment where their founder lived, a virtual Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is there on screen for you to conduct yourself. After watching a number of other brave attempts with the electronic baton – usually measured in seconds rather than minutes and producing a mouthful of vitriolic German abuse from the French horn player or the percussionist as the orchestra refuses to continue – I took it up with trepidation. The on-screen orchestra put up with my attempts at Eine Kleine Nacht Music almost till the end but I didn’t quite make it to the point when they get up and applaud you. Instead, a furious oboeist told me to get off the podium and hand the baton to a professional (at least I think that’s what he said…).
So there’s a lot to do but it’s all very relaxing and you can take your time. The Viennese do – they have a different pace of life (slower) and they enjoy life and especially music and food. Even the hot dog (or rather bratwurst) stalls are high quality and sell the odd little bottle of champagne on the side.
All in all, Vienna is not a place to come to lose weight but it is one where you can relax. So you can fit your spa sessions around your sight seeing. To really appreciate Vienna you need to stay in the centre and I was at the Ring Hotel – a specialist in casual luxury with a great bar (check out the cocktails, they’re very serious here) and a rooftop spa. Now this isn’t a huge space but it’s one of the few places I can think of where the sauna has a view over the domes and spires, towers and rooftops of an imperial city. There’s a steam room and gym, too. And the hotel brings in therapists to order who specialise in the treatment you’re after.
I started with Sunny, my first therapist, and a “3 in 1” massage. Sunny was Thai, tiny and as happy and benign as her name but she had a pressure in her thumbs that could make a strong man cry. The combination of massages included Thai. This was done without the normal pyjamas directly on to the skin and used oil rather than the normal dry massage. The oil, in fact, was something she described as “honey oil” and it smelled very sweet and relaxing. This was probably just as well as Sunny delivered a manipulation of limbs and a massage so penetrating it seemed to get far beyond the muscles and into the nerves and bones. Certainly the joints were given a proper workout (my arms were bent back over my shoulders, and my heels were pressed back to fold the leg in two) and she finally climbed on to the massage table with me to do my back. There was reflexology, too, and finally a scalp massage which was gloriously relaxing.
In fact, I might have dropped off except that Irina arrived almost immediately. Originally, a Muscovite she’s lived in Vienna for over 20 years and loves it. “It’s the culture, the mountains, the pace of life where everyone has time.” Yep, everyone loves Vienna.
She was going to give me an intensive cosmetics facial and began by checking out my skin under a very bright light and came to the conclusion it was tired and sensitive. She was right and, to be fair, I’d been to a ball the night before and got back to the hotel at 4.30. But given the sensitivity she decided rather than go for the ISHI high tech I’d suggested (that would have been too hard on my skin) to use a combination of the ISHI with Cellucur that she felt would be gentler. Intensive cosmetics or cosmeceuticals have active ingredients that can have profound results but also reactions. I would still be using the cosmeceuticals but going for something a bit less intense.
There followed a cleanse, two lots of peeling, two masks, massages, serum, moisturisers and a special ingredient Irina likened to Red Bull for the skin in terms of its energy-giving properties. There were products that removed dead cells, others that heated the skin and stimulated the circulation (also a diuretic, she warned me), and some that aimed at regenerating the skin and promoting cell renewal. It all sounded too good to be true in just an hour. I went back to my room and immediately stared in the magnifying mirror. Every single one of the fine lines around my eyes had disappeared.
So, not a bad result and a last evening in Vienna still awaited. And now it just be the choice between the hot chocolate and sachertorte or the Sekt and bratwurst…
British Airways (www.ba.com) offers return flights from London to Vienna from £135 per person.
Bedrooms at The Ring Hotel start from €219 (Approx. £162) excluding breakfast. For more information or to book visit www.theringhotel.com.
For more information about Vienna visit www.vienna.info