Last week during MQ Vienna Fashion Week, I stayed at one of the most luxurious and historical hotels in Europe: the Hotel Imperial. This formidable building begins its life as a palace for the Duke of Württemberg in 1863. The architect was Arnold Zanetti from Munich. The Duke must have been pretty jaded though, because he sold the building soon after, in 1866, and it was then converted into a hotel which was opened by Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, in 1873.
Fans of The Grand Budapest Hotel will enjoy this tidbit: the Imperial’s legendary Chief Concierge, Michael Moser, was an inspiration of Ralph Fiennes’ concierge in Wes Anderson’s film. Moser served at the Imperial for 31 years and, retired right before my arrival at the hotel. He will stay on as an archivist, but unfortunately I did not get a chance to met him. Anderson spent considerable time interviewing Moser for research for his film.
The famed Royal Staircase, which leads to the Royal Suites, topped by Hans Gasser’s Danube Mermaid and a portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph. (Don’t mind the vacuum-cleaner cord–it’s just one way they keep the place constantly spotless!) Gasser’s sculpture, crafted in the mid-1800s, covers what used to be a secret entrance to a servant’s hallway. Oh, the intrigue!
A portrait of Prince Philipp von Württemberg hangs behind the reception desk.
It’s too bad I left my tiara at home because this was my room: the Elisabeth Suite, named after Emperor Franz Joseph’s wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, or “Sissi” to her friends. I stayed in this sumptuous suite for 2 nights. But other famous people have stayed at the Imperial as well. Queen Elizabeth II, for example, stayed here in 1969, waving from the balcony of the Imperial Suite, and the Queen of Pop, Michael Jackson, stayed here in 1997. (No, this is NOT where he dangled Blanket from a balcony.) Sara Bernhardt, Madonna, Lady Gaga and countless heads of state and royalty have all shuffled their not inconsiderable egos through these hallowed halls.
Nikita Khrushchev stayed here during his famous summit with JFK in 1961. Infamous guests have pulled their boots off here, too: during WWII, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini checked-in. Before the war, and before he brilliantly and elegantly satirized the Fürher in The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin slept here in 1931. He was expecting a quiet vacation but was greeted by 4,000 fans outside the hotel. Vienna resident Sigmund Freud had this to say:
“Charlie Chaplan has been in Vienna in the last few days, I almost saw him, but it was too cold for him and he left in a hurry. He is without a doubt a great artist, though of course he always plays one and the same part, the weak, poor, helpless, clumsy young man for whom things turn out right in the end. Do you think he has to forget his own ego for this role? On the contrary, he only acts himself as he was in his bleak youth. He cannot escape from those impressions and even today he is compensating himself for the deprivations and discouragement of that period. He is, so to speak, a particularly simple and transparent case.”
The sitting room of my rather gracious suite.
Suite surprise: a complimentary box of Imperial Tortes, presented in the iconic pinewood box, awaits each guest in their room.
My bedroom. If the chandelier is rocking, don’t come knocking!
There were mirrors galore in my suite.
Bath products by BVLGARI.
Each night when I arrived home, Sissi was waiting for me in my bed.
My gal pal, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Queen of Hungary.
The Hotel Imperial recently went under some renovations as part of an image update. Cutting-edge chandeliers in the cafe lend a hip air without compromising the property’s classic appeal.
As you know, I only eat desserts when I’m in Europe. Kronuts? I think not! It’s haute sweets for this traveler all the way, and the Imperial wheels out a dizzying array hour by hour.
Thank you for indulging me.