When was the last time you experienced something effortless, or ‘requiring no mental or physical exertion’ as the dictionary puts it? Surely this effect must be the holy grail all fine hotels are after, or indeed any of those businesses in the high-end service industry for whom selling guests on the Zen-like states they will enjoy while in their care is a hallmark, writes Scott Armstrong.
Of course there are degrees of ‘exertion’, but at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Spa in Austria’s stunning capital city Vienna, the most stressful choice I faced was which steak knife to choose when tucking in to a meal.
I didn’t even know this was a thing. I’ve been to those formal dinners when you need to know which fork accompanies which dish, but being offered of choice of knives with which to attack my perfect medium-rare beef fillet from Simmental, almost qualified as ‘mental exertion’ for the briefest of moments.
I need not have worried though, the smiling chef clutching the formidable selection of weapons talked me though the pros and cons of each, the heft, the weight, and so on. I’ll admit I was tempted by the Japanese steel, but went with one from the chef’s home region in Germany. It seemed the polite thing to do, and I am always polite to men in possession of a vast array of sharp objects. All in all, I feel I made the right choice; the knife did indeed cut the succulent steak with ease, in fact you could almost say it was effortless. Certainly the consumption was, being delicious as it was and accompanied by hand-cut fries dressed in Parmesan and truffle oil.
This quirky episode in the Ritz-Carlton’s fabulously-relaxed signature restaurant, Dstrikt Steakhouse, was a perfect example of the tone this hotel tries to set. Refined relaxation, casually cool, presence without pretension. Put an easy-going, well-mannered hipster in a Savile Row tailored suit and you are getting close. It was totally refreshing and took me by surprise for I was expecting much more formality, both from a hotel in such a historic city and from the staff who worked there.
Four grand 19th century buildings situated in the beautiful Schubertring district make up the hotel. The historic structures, which feature intricate frescoes and ancient carvings in stone and wood, are complemented by contemporary interior design and warmed by the humour and energy of the team working within the walls.
The Viennese are an open and engaging and energetic people with genuine warmth and good-nature who love their city deeply. Not surprising, this was the home of the Waltz King Johann Strauss II, and listening to the locals it’s difficult not to get swept up in the enthusiasm, a little like listening to the most famous of the musician’s works, “The Blue Danube”.
The Viennese spirit is typified by Stefanie Möllner, who gave me a guided tour of the hotel and its facilities.
What could have been a somewhat dull history lesson was in fact a fascinating chat about the property’s rich heritage, delivered by someone with real passion for her city and her hotel. And once again, Ritz-Carlton’s people proved to be the key ingredient in the company’s recipe for success, something I’ve found to be true at all their properties (well, at least the ones I’ve visited so far).
Another dictionary definition describes ‘effortless’ as being something ‘achieved with admirable ease’. This one doesn’t seem quite so fitting to me, as it is apparent that to achieve this hallowed state for guests, the Ritz team works tirelessly, though they genuinely convey the sense that nothing is too much trouble. This was especially apparent in the intimate Ritz-Carlton Lounge on the seventh floor (access to which is a benefit of having a junior suite). Here you are put at ease by the ‘always on service’ in what feels like your own exclusive ‘snug’.
If you are in need of deep relaxation (apparently I was), then this Ritz-Carlton has one of the most exclusive spas in Vienna. Its 18-metre pool is the longest in the city and features underwater music, something I’ve yet to experience in all of the bling on offer in the Gulf. It’s also where the massage magic happens. My rule of thumb is that if I am so relaxed that I begin to doze off on the table, then the therapist is probably doing a good job. She was (my apologies for any snoring).
For anyone needing a dose of festive spirit, now is the perfect time to visit both Vienna and the Ritz-Carlton. Its Atmosphere Rooftop Bar not only transforms into the city’s highest Christmas Market, but also provides one of the best spots to ring-in the New Year. Situated eight floors up, it offers views across the city, including the fireworks display above St Stephen’s Cathedral that’s planned for New Year’s Eve this year.
I guess this being a hotel review I should give a passing mention to the rooms. Usually a brief ‘yes it had a huge comfortable bed and a lovely bathroom’ suffice, one expects nothing less from a five-star hotel, but the rooms at the Ritz-Carlton in Vienna do come with added drama. The cavernous bathroom awash with marble is cunningly hidden away behind wooden paneling while the décor of the bedroom is not your standard muted tones, but more expressive with deep, intricately patterned carpets and lush drapes.
They are fitting for this impressive property, which combines the classical with the contemporary in a way that’s dizzyingly good fun.
Much, in fact, like a Strauss waltz.