Tempus fugit, and all that. Suddenly, four years have flown by – where did they go? – since The Budapest Times spent a few days at the Palais Hansen Kempinski hotel in Vienna almost immediately after it opened in March 2013. It is time to go back and find out how they are getting on. And, while we’re at it, we should also enjoy ourselves a bit. Four years is too long between pleasures.
Even if we hadn’t been there before, we would know what to expect. Kempinski is Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, since 1897, and they are difficult to outdo when it comes to five-star stays. The Budapest Times should know, having bedded down at eight other Kempinskis, strictly in the line of duty and working hard, of course, to inform the trusting public.Thus it is then that, first of all, Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna is to be found not on any old backstreet but slap-bang on the Ringstrasse, the city’s showpiece boulevard built at the end of the 19th century to replace the former city fortifications. Here are one after another of Vienna’s splendidly magnificent buildings and palaces interspersed with grand parks.Originally built as a hotel for the World Exhibition in 1873 and now a heritage-listed building, described as Renaissance Revival architecture, the Kempinski is on the Schottenring section of the Ringstrasse, next door but one to the former stock exchange, the Bourse, and just before you reach the Danube Canal.
The uniformed doormen are a clue that you have arrived, and perhaps some impressive automobile machinery outside. Surrender your keys and they whisk away the car, underground.As we enter, it still seems comfortingly familiar to someone who hasn’t been back since 2013: the colourful and aromatic flower and lifestyle shop is still there just inside the hotel door, then the four reception desks facing each other. Beyond the reception is the spacious and elegant Lobby Lounge and Bar, where horse-drawn fiaker carriages once turned in in a past age.Now, hotel guests and well-to-do Viennese take leisurely afternoon tea, cocktails, coffee specialities or pastries from the in-house patisserie. This is a home away from home for travellers and a second home, or living room, for the locals.
The receptionist has some good news: out of the 152 rooms and suites available on seven floors, we have been kindly upgraded and will inhabit not a Superior Room, not a Deluxe Room but a Grand Deluxe Room. On our earlier visit our room faced out onto the Schottenring and the imposing former military barracks on the opposite side of the tram lines. This time we are facing inside, down into the hotel courtyard that is on the first floor above the Lobby Lounge and Bar.
The glass lift at the rear of the lounge area takes us up to the room, where our luggage has appeared courtesy of the fellow who took away the car. There are 45 square metres to play around in, with a bed big enough for a ménage a trois, and perhaps even a ménage a quatre, a lounge and coffee table, bedside tables and lamps, a work desk and a flat-screen TV big enough to show the full horror of Barcelona football club’s painful defeat to Juventus later that day.The décor is contemporary and there is WiFi, a laptop-size safe and a mini-bar with Nespresso coffee maker.
The bathroom is five-star too, with separate bath and shower, floor heating and a toilet cabin with a heated seat for those cold-bottom blues. Bath robes and slippers are supplied. A hallway and walk-in wardrobe complete the ensemble.
A nice feature is the bedside iPad entertainment system, which enables guests to manage every function in their room plus order room service, book spa treatments and read daily newspapers. The iPad has all the traditional hotel information, with details of the Kempinski’s two restaurants, the bar, the ballroom and six conference rooms, the cigar lounge, a “private event” location and the Ottoman-style Kempinski The Spa with its fitness centre.
Within minutes of arriving in the room, there is a knock on the door and it is a young lady bearing a sweet temptation called a “Berliner Luft”, specially created by the hotel’s pastry chef, Georg Hölbl, because the Kempinski hotel group is celebrating its 120th anniversary this April.The young lady reveals that the classy confection comprises caramel panna cotta, lemon and “Berlin air”, not to mention the raspberry and little fluttering candle on top. It is based on an original recipe from 1897, the founding year of Kempinski hotels.
Exploring this hotel, we catch our first glimpse of the Lady in Red, a Kempinski institution. The lady in a red suit is there to look after those guests who may have special needs – or perhaps special temperaments that make them a little more difficult than the average, more compliant guest.
For instance, the Palais Hansen Kempinski Lady in Red, we learn, was recently approached by a guest who had bought an expensive lavishly illustrated coffee-table-type book as a present for someone, but the bookshop had been unable to provide a nice presentation box to go with the book.
The Lady in Red enlisted the help of the hotel’s technical staff and they managed to find a well-used wine box that they sanded down, painted and decorated. Result: impressive book in suitably impressive box, and one satisfied guest.Talking of football, which we were: some top-end hotels like to name their famous guests and some don’t (probably mostly the latter). The Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna is among those that keeps mum on this topic, for privacy reasons, but we do at least manage to extract from a member of staff the more-anonymous tidbit that Austrian football teams are regular guests whenever they have a big game on.
Also, a Viennese cigar club holds its regular meetings in the Kempinski’s dedicated smoking room round the back of the lifts on the ground floor. In such a room, with its historical columns and glass walls, aficionados can choose from a wide selection of fine cigars and permanently rent their own humidors.
But – shock, horror! – next year the government will bar all indoor smoking, and Austrian puffers will find themselves out on the pavements. The hotel has not decided yet what to do with the room but it may continue as a club-type hideaway. Fine cognac, rum and whisky haven’t been barred by the rule-makers.
As for the disgruntled smokers, well, they could point perhaps to such famed head-in-a-cloud-of-smoke personalities as Winston Churchill, who never seemed to be seen sans-cigar and who contentedly puffed away over a long lifetime, not dying until he was 90. Or another famed cigar man, Che Guevara, who might have reached 90 if he hadn’t had an unfortunate encounter with an executioner with a gun at age 39.
But we digress …
One thing that has changed at Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna is that its restaurant Edvard now has a Michelin star, as well as 16 Gault-Millau points. Edvard serves seasonal dishes with Mediterranean influences and aims to get the best possible taste out of every ingredient, all carefully selected. The name is a tribute to the famous architect of Palais Hansen – Theophil Edvard Hansen. The restaurant provides 40 seats, tasteful stucco decorations, dark wooden floors and fresh shades of lime green and white.
The second restaurant, Die Küche (The Kitchen), with two walls covered in living greenery, hosts daily one of our favourite features of a Kempinski: the huge breakfasts where 100 items are considered standard, meaning multiple fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, cereals, salads, trout, salmon, sausages, breads, cheeses; you name it.
In the evening, at this time of year the seasonal menu is centred on asparagus, and the succulent white vegetable is served up in soup, or with parsley potatoes, truffled ham, Scottish salmon fillet and medallion of beef tenderloin.
It is time to visit Kempinski The Spa, where a young lady – a lady in blue – explains that their various treatments aim to restore the body’s inner balance. She particularly recommends the HydraFacial, apparently a rarity even in Austria, and which is a non-invasive method to improve the appearance of the skin: it targets fine lines and wrinkles, oily and acne-prone skin, the skin disease rosacea and hyper pigmentation. It improves the skin texture and tone and helps repairing sun damage. Popular in Hollywood, the lady in blue says.
Well, it may have to be next time for that one. It is time to leave, and we mention to the Lady in Red that it was nice to see things remain pleasingly familiar even after four years have passed. “We keep up our standards,” she responds, and it would be wrong to argue.
Schottenring 24, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Tel.: +43-1 236 1000
Closest public transport stops: Schottenring (U-Bahn 2 or 4) or Börsegasse (Tram 1, D, 71)
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral 1.2 km
- Schönbrunn Palace 7.1 km
- Vienna Zoo 7.1 km
- Shopping/ Fashion Street (Golden Quarter) 1.0 km
- City hall (Rathaus) 1.5 km
- State Opera House 2.2 km
- Museum Quarter 2.3 km
- Giant Ferris Wheel (Prater) 3.2 km