Once upon a time only Austrian emperors could sleep at Schloss Schönbrunn. Now a corner of the estate has been converted into a lavish two-bedroom suite. Rachel Beard makes like a monarch and spends the night in a Viennese palace
A glass of bubbly, a hot towel, a chocolate on the pillow. There are some perks we've come to expect when arriving at a luxe hotel. But being handed the keys to the castle at check-in scores pretty high on the travel brag-o-meter.
I'm spending the night in a two-bedroom suite at Vienna's Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of Austria’s Habsburg emperors, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the latest addition to Jetsetter's arsenal of bucket list breaks.
On arrival (at the nearby Parkhotel Schönbrunn) I'm presented with a reassuringly heavy tasseled gold key fob, driven through the estate's wrought iron gates and escorted up a geheimstiege (secret staircase) to a lavish two-bedroom suite in the east wing of the palace. So far, so Sleeping Beauty.
Once home to Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi, the stunning lemon-yellow palace dates from 1642 and occupies a sprawling 435-acre plot taken up with Baroque gardens, Roman ruins and an intricate maze. And the best thing about staying here is that I have the grounds all to myself long after the gates close to the public.
Inside I'm pleased to find regal regalia (damask wallpaper, oil paintings of former residents) and fairy-tale furnishings including an ornate four-poster bed, a closet with tons of space for glass slippers and tiaras, and an indulgent freestanding bath. The suite sleeps up to four in two separate bedrooms, one overlooking the showstopping Gloriette (a hilltop pavilion) and one with an enormous bathroom fit for a queen. The floor space measures 1,798 square feet, so if you're staying as a foursome you'll still feel as though you have your own private quarters.
After an evening stroll around the gardens with nary a civilian in sight, I raid the wine fridge in the suite, flop on the four-poster and gaze out at the grounds. Suite dreams indeed.
Coffee and Culture
A Viennese institution since 1873, Café Landtmann is a grand coffee house where culture, caffeine and cake combine. It was Sigmund Freud's favorite spot and over the years has attracted the likes of Gustav Mahler, Max Reinhardt and Marlene Dietrich. Book one of the cozy booths in the lofty wood-paneled room and order a Franz Landtman Kaffee (double espresso with brandy, whipped cream and cinnamon) for a coffee with a kick.
Viennese Hot Dogs
The go-to snack in Vienna is a mustard-slathered hot dog and there's a sausage stand on pretty much every corner of the city. The best of the wurst title is hotly contended but for high-society snacking hit the Bitzinger stand behind the opera house for a traditional bosna (a spicy sausage with onions) and a glass of bubbly.
For enormous plate-flattening schnitzels, head to Figlmüller, a fourth generation family restaurant that started life as a small wine tavern in 1905. Go on an empty stomach; the schnitzels are 30 cm in diameter and are typically served with a pile of potato salad.
Hip Haute Cuisine
Opened September 2014, Kussmaul is a hip new spot helmed by Austrian chef Mario Bernatovic who cut his teeth on the New York restaurant scene working for the likes of Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. Expect innovative takes on classic Viennese dishes served from a sleek open kitchen, and an impressive selection of Austrian beers and wines.
Vienna has an impressive wine scene and is the only metropolis in the world to cultivate a top wine-growing industry within its city limits. There are plenty of bars to sample local drops but perhaps the hippest 'heuriger' (a traditional wine tavern) is Weinbau Göbel in the 21st district. Owned by architect Hans-Peter Gobel, this intimate spot combines white walls and dark woods and overlooks the three-hectere vineyard where the wines are produced. Sample a glass of the award-winning Blauberger.