By Joe Alexander
The Life Ball
Vienna’s Life Ball is one of the Austrian capital’s and Europe’s splashiest charity events. Elton John, Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, Dita von Tease and Liza Minneli have all attended this extravaganza held every May. Founded in 1992 by Gery Keszler and organized by AIDS LIFE, the charity is devoted to helping people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS. The evening kicks off with the Life Ball Song, which has been performed by Adam Lambert, Candice Glover, Amanda Lepore, Nina Hagan and Judith Hill. There is also a fashion show; over the years Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Roberto Cavalli and Donatella Versace have all graced the runway.If you are planning to go to Vienna here are my suggestions on where to stay and what to do. lifeball.org
The Hotel Imperial Vienna’s Grandest Address
The Hotel Imperial in Vienna, Austria celebrated its 140th birthday last year with a meticulous 20 million dollar renovation by Starwood Hotels. This is Vienna’s most regal and exclusive address. The halls and suites of this five star hotel are filled with history, character, charm and luxury. For almost a century and a half, The Imperial has hosted Emperors, Kings, Heads of State and movie and pop stars including Lady Gaga, Queen Elizabeth II, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Barbara Streisand, Charlie Chaplin and Sarah Bernhardt. Guests of the state usually stay at the hotel, such as Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the Emperor and Empress of Japan who were there recently. The restoration has reinforced the hotel’s imperial grandeur while creating new restaurants and lounges where the elite of Vienna and sophisticated travellers now meet.
Designed by architect Arnold Zenetti in 1863, the Imperial was originally planned to be the city palace of Prince Phillip of Württemberg and his wife Marie Therese, Archduchess of Austria. In 1873 it was converted into a hotel, opening just in time for the Universal Exposition. This celebrated hotel is situated in a prime location on the city’s Ring Boulevard and offers easy access to all the cultural highlights of Vienna.
The Imperial’s interior design reflects nineteenth century Viennese elegance with accents of ornate marble, hand-carved statues and massive crystal chandeliers. The Royal Staircase in the lobby led us down hallways with high stucco ceilings to our suite. The Royal Suite, the hotel’s grandest quarters, reflects the rich historic grandeur that the hotel was built upon. The rooms boast 23-foot high ceilings with private balconies that offer scenic views of the Altstadt skyline and come with your own butler. The suite is filled with precious oil paintings, antique furniture and orchids. Like the staterooms of all historic palaces, the Imperial Suites were located on the lower floors to spare the guests of yesteryears the inconvenience of climbing several flights of stairs. But even though today an elevator whisks you to your suite, ascending the princely staircase makes a fitting overture to entering your own imperial quarters.
Try the Imperial’s elaborate breakfast buffet featuring exotic Viennese pastries and, at dinnertime, reserve a table at the hotel’s OPUS Restaurant, where Executive Chef Rupert Schnait blends creativity and the culinary arts with Imperial traditions. Order the Austrian Alpine beef, wild trout or free-range organic chicken. Don’t forget to order the Imperial Torte for dessert. This orgasmic chocolate truffle is a specialty of the house and is based on a secret recipe created for Emperor Franz Joseph when he opened the hotel. I suggest booking the Royal Suite for a minimum of five days at $2,800 a night.
The Belvedere Palace
There are many interesting things to see and do in Vienna, including attending a concert at the Vienna Philharmonic, which shares an entrance with the Imperial, seeing the astonishing Gustav Klint collection at the Belvedere Palace, spending the day at The Imperial Menagerie which is the oldest and arguably the greatest zoo in the world, listening to the Vienna Boys Choir and sipping hot chocolate and eating apple strudel in the old world cafés that dot this enchanting city. That said, the most spectacular show in town, after the Life Ball, is the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions. From the minute you enter the grand Spanish Riding School of Vienna, you are transported back to the 16th century and the glories of the Hapsburg Royal Court. Magnificent chandeliers, the size of a small cottage, are suspended over the show ring and when the lights dim and the parade of the dancing white horses begin, it’s sheer, unforgettable magic. belvedere.at/en/schloss-und-museum
The Royal Lipizzans
The Royal Lipizzans are the most aristocratic and rare breed of horses in the world. Until the 20th century, no more than 300 have ever existed at any one time. General George Patton saved this priceless bloodline from the Russians during World War II. Walt Disney made Miracle of the White Stallions, a movie about the Lipizzans’ miraculous escape in 1945. Colonel Ottomar Herrmann, Sr. and his son smuggled the horses out of the country from behind enemy lines, riding at night and hiding by day. He said, “The Lipizzans are more precious than jewels.” As you see the white stallions making their daring leaps, turns, jumps and plunges, bear in mind that this form of horsemanship was created 400 years before the birth of Christ. It was used by the Calvary to inspire terror in the hearts and minds of foot soldiers during holy wars. Today, this demonstration of elegant equination inspires awe and wonder. Don’t miss it. srs.at/en
The Vienna Boys Choir
Do go to a concert or a Sunday service at the Hofburg Chapel to see the Vienna Boys’ Choir, established in 1498 by Maximilian I of Habsburg to provide music for the Viennese Court’s church masses in the Middle Ages. There are now 100 choristers between the ages of ten and fourteen made up of trebles and altos. They do not disappoint; their voices are as pure and inspiring in life as they are in recordings. The composer Franz Schubert and the conductors Hans Richter and Felix Mottl were just a few of the famous musicians who were once members of the group. In 1924, the Vienna Boys’ Choir was officially founded as a private not-for-profit organization and replaced the imperial military cadet uniform that included a dagger with their signature blue and white sailor suit and hat. Walt Disney also made the classic Almost Angels about the Vienna Boys’ Choir in 1962. The choir has four touring companies that perform 300 concerts around the world for 500,000 people a year. wienersaengerknaben.at Visit Vienna, it’s an adventure you’ll treasure for lifetime. wien.gv.at