A healthy hedonist's guide to Vienna
Imperial palaces, equine ballet, unicorns, a magic flute and speakeasy-style studios in large aristocratic houses… see what our editor got up to during a healthy(ish) city break to Vienna…
Vienna, Austria’s capital, the stomping ground of Mozart, Beethoven and Freud. A city known for its Imperial palaces and works of art by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Yet, here I am, at the Imperial Treasury, entranced by a Unicorn horn. Could I be any more of a millennial? Turns out, the inalienable heirloom is most likely a giant narwhal tooth. How disappointing.
Whilst some see these magical creatures as the symbol of a generation struggling to grow up and start ‘adulting’, there’s no denying their commercial value throughout centuries. Traded by Vikings and coveted by royalty, there was a raging trade in powder and tableware made of unicorn horn for how it was seen as an antidote to poison and an aphrodisiac. Fast forward to the 21st century and these ‘grammable’ beasts are traded for ‘likes’ all pink and covered in glitter, slathered on toast and churned up in Starbucks Frappuccino’s. Seems rather a downgrade for the noble beast. But I digress…
I am in Vienna on what I thought was to be a riding holiday with my Dad – a weekend jaunt to take his mind off his impending retirement. Whilst both seasoned hackers (the equine kind), our palms start sweating at the prospect of taming boisterous stallions at the world famous Spanish Riding School. Like any elite profession, becoming a rider here is a long, methodical process spanning nearly a decade. I’m not sure a brief stint at pony club really cuts it. To our relief, it appears that we will only be observing the performance from the stands.
Travelling with a parent at the age of 30 isn’t something to be taken lightly. Ever the lawyer, the old man can’t resist making edits to our itinerary. Who’s in charge here? The power struggle results in us arriving punctually at Gatwick instead of Heathrow. We snag two remaining seats on the next flight, leaving ample time for me to polish off some emails and him to do some shopping – what a role reversal.
We spend the flight sipping gin and tonics next to a Nun straight out of the Sound of Music on route to St. Stephen’s Cathedral and land just in time for our tour of Viennese Modernism. As we inspect Otto Wagner’s austere lines and aluminium at the Postal Saving Bank with painstaking detail, I confess my heart longs for an Aperol Spritz. Dad meanwhile seems enraptured by the snore-worthy tour, reminiscent of a GCSE art trip. Give me a unicorn horn and a shimmering agate bowl at the Imperial Treasury any day…
Our 12,000 steps are rewarded with apple strudels served by surly waiters at coffeehouse Prückel. I test my flexitarianism with sausages at the Bitzinger stand and somehow make room for dinner at Georgian restaurant Ansari, where I chastise myself with asparagus.
The next morning, we smugly swan past queues of tourists to claim our VIP seats at the Spanish Riding School for a spot of equine ballet, where seasoned pros steer fine Lipizzaners through movements of classical dressage. In true tourist fashion, we dine on Viennese schnitzel at Meinls Restaurant in Meinl am Graben – Vienna’s answer to Fortnum and Mason.
After racking up thousands more steps touring St Stephen’s Cathedral and the Imperial Treasury, we decide against a visit to the Pratersauna, (I’m not sure pool parties and techno are really Dad’s vibe), and instead take a gentle tram ride out to the countryside vineyards for some wine-tasting at Mayer am Pfarrplatz – Beethoven’s local haunt. An atmospheric, alfresco dining spot with live music and picnic benches nestled under a canopy of trees.
Here I indulge in yet more asparagus – it’s Marchfeldspargel and they happen to be in season – but this time it’s the deep fried variety, smothered in cheese.
More sightseeing. First stop, the Belvedere Palace – and no, it’s not the residence of the famous Polish vodka, but the home of Price Eugene of Savoy, who after being snubbed by Louis XIV for service in the French army, transferred his loyalty to arch rivals the Habsbergs. By the state of this baroque architectural jewel, he seems to have done rather well out of it.
Belvedere is also home to the famous “Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, but as with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, you must first battle hordes of tourists that seem more concerned with taking selfies with it than gazing upon it at all.
That evening we enjoy a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute at the Volksoper opera house, followed by supper at lively dining spot Fabio’s.
I leave Dad at the Kunsthistorisches Museum to peruse the world’s largest Bruegel collection (it’s all about compromise), whilst I steel away to explore Vienna’s fitness scene.
Studios appear to be concealed speakeasy-style in large aristocratic houses. My choice is a boxing class at Backyard Vienna, a spin session at SuperCycle or yoga at Yogaria – all conveniently clustered near tantalising brunch spots.
Being a Sunday, most classes appear to have wrapped up for the day. I make do with a visit to Cafe Fräulein’s, a quaint little brunch spot – famed for their cinnamon swirls. The sort of place where the lycra crowd come to feast on chai lattes and Avo toast and make use of the complimentary wifi.
But with so much art and history to discover (Vienna has over 100 museums), it feels like an insult to this city to spend time chasing spin classes with avocado toast. Make time at the end of your trip if you desperately need to, but instead focus your fitness on racking up thousands of steps exploring the wonders that this cultural gem has to offer… that, or the 700 hectares of vineyards during Vienna Wine Hiking Day taking place on September 29th – 30th 2018.
At this annual event, healthy hedonists can hike among the vineyards, learn about the city’s wine culture and sample the local grapes with regional culinary delicacies. Other highlights along the trail include stops at palaces and estates. I’m pretty sure that still counts as sightseeing…
Visit the Vienna tourist board for more information
Main image: View from Meinls Restaurant