None of us meant to be ill. Not me, certainly, about to celebrate an unimportant birthday with the usual vigour and vim. Not my dear wife, who had been talking gaily for weeks about how she planned to demonstrate her own inimitable version of the Viennese Whirl. And certainly not Rose, whose natural bonhomie and good humour had been somewhat challenged by the recent one-two punch of a cold and teething, but who seemed to be looking forward to our holiday as much as the rest of us.
We were heading to Vienna with the intention of having a jolly family trip away. Unfortunately, the evil and creeping infection known as the norovirus lay us all low to a greater or lesser extent, meaning that our planned adventures had to be somewhat curtailed. Rather than the trips to wine bars and museums, we spent an awful lot of time in hotel rooms. It was just as well, then, that the hotels that we were sequestered in were of the standard that they were.
First up was the Park Hyatt, situated in an old bank in one of the city’s most salubrious areas. Like most of the other properties in the group, it all but radiates the kind of civilised and simpatico atmosphere that means that everyone from well-travelled (and, unavoidably, well-heeled) business travellers to families can arrive here, and breathe a sigh of relief at the comfort that lies before them.
The rooms are large, exceptionally well-appointed and the marble bathrooms redefine the term ‘palatial’. It is a compliment to describe the whole affair as pitched perfectly halfway between European old-world sophistication and the finest traditions of innkeeping that only the best American chains can offer; nobody is ever going to stay here and be disappointed.
Particular praise, however, has to go to the restaurant, aptly named ‘Bank’. Anyone who has ever been to any of the soaring, opulent Viennese grand cafes – or even The Wolseley – will have a fairly good idea of what to expect; absurdly high ceilings, the kind of ambience that makes you wish that you’d worn your finest white tie and tails, and precision-trained staff who deal admirably with all requests, not least a small child’s apparent obsession with eating crayons.
The food is firmly in the Austrian tradition, and excellent at that. Snail fricassee and bison stroganoff were enough to put the hairs on anyone’s chest, and were accompanied by a very fine Gruner Veltliner; the quality and variety of Austrian wine is such that, even in our debilitated state, it would have seemed the height of folly not to have sampled some.
All good things had to come to an end soon, but we were, at least, relieved that we exchanged the Park Hyatt for equally grand digs in the form of the Sacher. Vienna’s answer to The Ritz, the hotel has attracted a dizzying variety of celebrities over its 140 years in existence, and is remarkable in that it is still family-owned, rather than part of a larger group.
It also gave the world the famous sachertorte cake, which is a deliciously moreish chocolate cake that has some of the sweetness taken away from it by the inclusion of apricot jam, rather than the expected gooey chocolate. If a small child didn’t have any, it was because of a lack of appetite, rather than any attempt on her parents’ part to deny her.
As one might expect from the Sacher, every comfort and luxury imaginable is presented alongside the very best of service. They take an especial joy in being family-friendly, and gifts of a small teddy bear and a particularly well-attired bath toy dressed as one of the door staff were most welcome. For parents, meanwhile, a lavish and comfortable suite (named, as all of them are, after the great operas) proved an all too glorious refuge to sink into, not least because of the inclusion of what we shall euphemistically describe as a Japanese-style loo (and if you know what I mean, consider yourself well informed).
Although illness frustrated a visit to the excellent-looking main restaurant, breakfast the following day proved a fine smorgasbord of everything both nutritious (several different kinds of flavoured water) and rather more decadent, with the sachertorte making an entirely welcome appearance, along with some superb apple strudel. Something that we noticed, rather to our English surprise, is that there are substantial quantities of sparkling Austrian wine being served on tap, as it were; those of a bibulous nature could choose to get really quite merry. We did not indulge. Perhaps, in another world, we might have.
It was something of a pity to have visited Vienna and only to have scratched the surface of a wonderful, complex city; the few brief forays that we did have to museums, galleries and through the streets offered a mixture of grand 19th century elegance and surprisingly homely comfort. However, as we staggered back to England, we made two vows; firstly, to return in higher spirits, and secondly, to ensure that we would once more eat bison stroganoff at Bank and sachertorte at the Sacher. Then, and only then, could we consider that honour had somehow been satisfied.
For more information about the Sacher, including details of the infamous sachertorte, visit www.sacher.com. And for more information about the Park Hyatt, visit www.parkhyatt.grandluxuryhotels.com. For more information about Vienna, including when to visit, what to see and do, visit the official Vienna Tourism website at www.wien.info.