|FIRST CLASS AROUND THE WORLD:
PALACE HOTELS INSPECTION
HOTEL IMPERIAL (VIENNA) (*****L)
By Gilles Malaisé
a great year for travellers: Jules Verne wrote “Le Tour du monde en
quatre-vingts jours” (Around the World in 80 Days), and Vienna celebrated
the grand opening of one of the world most famous and luxurious palace
hotel: the IMPERIAL. In that year Vienna had invited the world to visit
the city for its International Exposition. A large number of travellers
from abroad were expected. They needed proper accommodation: hotels were
built accordingly. The IMPERIAL was originally erected as a palace for
the Duke of Württemberg. But His Highness never really lived there.
He and his wife decided to move to a smaller palace in the suburbs after
the municipality decreed that a new street would pass through the grounds
of their home. The Württembergs were having none of that. The house
was bought by Horace, Ritter von Landau. He looked at it from a commercial
point of view. A hotel was an easy choice. Within no time he converted
the already elegant building. The name should reflect the aspirations of
its new owners. There should be an imperial flair to the hotel, hence IMPERIAL
was to be its name. In 1879 His Majesty Franz Joseph made his first visit:
which was not the last, as he liked coming there with Empress Sissi on
a regular basis.
Just peep into the lobby, and you still feel nowadays like a guest of the Habsburg: a painting representing Franz Josef stands over the monumental stair. Concierge staff, wearing long tail jackets, makes the place even more solemn. Impressive, even for a clientele used to stay in the leading five star deluxe hotels, the IMPERIAL remains different from the other palace hotels we have visited already. The building's architectural detail exemplifies the typical style of the "Ring". Once the only hotel raised to the status of " Imperial & Royal" (K & K), it has always been the home away from home for royalties and statesmen: from Otto Von Bismarck till Queen Elizabeth II, heads of state, politicians, representatives of economic, cultural and scientific life from all over the world have visited the IMPERIAL. Featuring Thomas Mann, Richard Wagner, Sarah Bernard, Alfred Hitchcock, Herbert von Karajan, Luciano Pavarotti, Charlie Chaplin and Arthur Rubinstein. Mussolini was secretly shepherded into the hotel through a backdoor on 13 September 1943, shortly after his spectacular escape from his Italian prison. How many hotels can claim that King Bhumibol of Thailand played saxophone in its halls? One evening His Majesty joined a band who played one of his own compositions, and jammed with them for a while. For the US and Russian presidents, this is somehow the local annex of the White House or the Kremlin. Therefore not only one of the best hotels in the world; but also one of the safest!
Accommodation includes 76 spacious and elegant guestrooms, and 62 amazingly luxurious suites. All equipped with satellite TV, IDD telephone, minibar, individually controlled air-conditioning, and palatial bathrooms with heated floor. 4th - 6th floor rooms and suites have been carefully restored between January and May 2000. This US$ 10 billions refurbishment includes a face-lift of the facade, and the addition of three maisonettes suites on the 5th floor. We actually enjoyed their style, volume and extreme comfort, and warmly recommend them. Our room was the Junior Imperial Suite 211. We loved it at first sight: it provides one of the nicest volumes in the hotel. With high ceilings, lavish period furniture, fabrics lavishly made out of wild silk, crystal chandeliers, large living space, and certainly the most beautiful bathroom, made out of precious grey-blue marble. States visitor are accommodated in the Royal Suites 101-102 or 121-122 (Hitler preferred the most "simple" room 103): where you feel like in a castle, and by no means in a palace-hotel. Most of the rooms and suites are still displaying those precious antiques capturing the spirit of 19th century Vienna. They come more comfortable than ever with up to date amenities. Fitness and sauna facilities have been installed on the 6th floor. Guests can also use the nearby "John Harris" health club: one of the best equipped in Vienna.
All major attractions and business stand a short walk from this strategically located hotel.
We like very
much the Cafe Imperial, which is a fine way to enjoy the great atmosphere
and service of the hotel when you can't afford it. A lot of Viennese people
made it their five o'clock meeting place, and the ambience at that time
is very "gemütlich". This is where you can touch the deliciously old
fashioned Austrian way of life. Later in the evening, music enthusiasts
come for a snack or a slice of the tasty though hyper caloric famous Imperial
Torte. The hotel makes an industry out of it, and can export it anywhere
in the world by express mail! The Restaurant
Imperial offers award-winning traditional Austrian specialities together
with a very creative and light international cuisine, served in an ambience
of understated elegance and typical Viennese charm. The cosy Maria
Theresia Piano Bar is one of the most relaxed places in the hotel.
Rates are upper scale, but still quite affordable for such an exceptional hotel. A double room is about EURO 510 - 625. Suites start from EURO 880 (Imperial Junior Suite in the low season), rising up to EURO 4,365 (Royal Suite, high season). The lovely Maisonette Suites are in the EURO 1,600 - 2,110 range; one of the best value in the hotel. Complimentary chauffeured limousine transfer from airport or railway station for certain room categories. Suites and Imperial Rooms confirmed at full rate include complimentary personal English Butler Service.