Waltz off to Vienna!

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Waltz off to Vienna!

Louisa Walters explores the Austrian capital’s passion for music, art and strudels and discovers the rebirth of Jewish life after the Holocaust

Louisa Walters is a features writer

Vienna makes for a charming Austrian capital
Vienna makes for a charming Austrian capital

Location, location, location. Nowhere is this more important than your hotel on a city break. But the closer to the centre, the more you pay – and even if you were to afford it, can you justify such prices when your time is spent outside the hotel?

I had just this dilemma on my recent trip to Vienna. Of course, I wanted to stay at the sumptuous Sacher hotel, as richly decadent as the iconic cake that shares its name and located in the centre of the city, but then I discovered Motel One, a short way away on foot and a long way away on price.

For around £75 per night, you can stay in a beautiful old building that has been beautifully renovated and fitted with all the mod-cons that today’s traveller needs.

My advice is to book room-only and have breakfast at one of the many tea salons for which Vienna is famous. Demel, well-known for its apple strudel, is just a short walk away, but we preferred Gerstner, with its grandiose former ballroom on the first floor. Who says you can’t have apple strudel for breakfast?

Vienna is rich in imperial grandeur with grand palaces, gothic churches, wide boulevards, imposing galleries and sumptuous tearooms.

Yet there is another side to it too – street food, markets, contemporary art, buzzing restaurants and music.

In the magnificent opera house, the glittering palaces, concert halls and even the churches, Vienna celebrates the music of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Haydn and Mozart, all of whom lived or worked in the city.

Our first stop was MozartHaus, home of the famous composer from 1784 to 1787 and now a museum.

It charts the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (whose first name was actually Johannes), a child prodigy who composed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the age of five  and went on to produce more than 600 works, but tragically died young at 35.

Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss

Still on the music trail, we attended a concert in the beautiful White Gold room at Schloss Schonbrunn. The former summer home of the Habsburg family is a magnificent palace with stunning interiors and baroque gardens.

We had the best apple strudel of our trip in the café at the palace, and for those who want to learn how to make it themselves there is an hourly strudel-making demo.

We also visited the Staatsoper (Opera House) and toured the auditorium backstage, as well as the stunning foyer and tea salon.

Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold painting, made famous by the eponymous movie, now resides in New York, but The Belvedere, a light-filled baroque palace, houses a large collection of his other magnificent works, including The Kiss, which is to Vienna what the Mona Lisa is to Paris. I’ve come home with a mug and umbrella depicting this magical embrace.

St Stephen’s cathedral (Stephansdom) is the most prominent landmark in the city, and its spire can be seen from almost everywhere.

This gothic grand old lady hails from the 13th century and is well worth a visit; admittedly our favourite view was seeing it lit up at night from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the seriously cool bar of the Do&Co hotel directly opposite.

Significant of all to us was the Holocaust memorial in Judenplatz, which sits opposite the Jewish Museum and on top of the excavated remains of a synagogue destroyed in a pogrom in 1420.

British artist Rachel Whiteread designed the monument, also known as the Nameless Library and comprises a large concrete block made up of books with their leaves facing outwards so their titles cannot be seen.

Our guide said it represents the stories of those who died, whose identities are hidden forever. The names of the concentration camps in which 65,000 Austrian Jews perished are engraved into a wide plinth surrounding the memorial.

The Wiener Stadttemple is the only Viennese synagogue that survived the war, and this was only because the records of the Jewish population were housed within the building.

Inside the bar and lounge at the Motel One Vienna-Staatsoper

Our vivacious Israeli guide brought the Jewish history of Vienna to life as she talked about the growth of the community, its sad demise during the war and its slow, but steady rebirth afterwards.

A highlight of any visit to Vienna is a tour of the Spanish Riding school, home to the world-famous Lipizzaner horses. They are trained at this Austrian institution, housed in the baroque Hofburg Palace and performances, known as the Ballet of the White Stallions, take place in the stunning Winter Riding School.

Café culture is huge in Vienna. Sachertorte at the Sacher hotel is a rite of passage, and lunch at Café Centrale, with its magnificent vaulted celling and finest display of patisserie in the city, should not be missed.

We also stumbled across an Israeli restaurant in the historic Naschmarkt. NENI, owned by Austria’s answer to Ottolenghi, Haya Milcho, and her sons, Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv, and Ilan – after whom the restaurant is named – has introduced Israeli cuisine to the city and transformed the must-visit traditional food market into a gastronomic hotspot.

A mix of beautiful buildings, cultural must-sees, great food and Jewish interest, combines to plant Vienna firmly at the top of anyone’s must-visit list.

Louisa stayed at Motel One Vienna-Staatsoper (www.motel-one.com) where rates start at £73 per night. Flights to Vienna start from £40 (one-way) with EasyJet (www.easyjet.com)

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