FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Vienna: Imperial City of Song

by Debra Bokur

Jun 1, 2019
June 2019

EVEN WITH ITS LEGENDARY laid-back coffeehouse culture, distinguished concert performances and celebrated balls, a lot of work gets done in Vienna. With its status as a federal state and the country’s political, economic and cultural epicenter, this riverside metropolis attracts leisure seekers, those in search of a healthy lifestyle and big business — all drawn by a combination of factors that include a skilled and educated workforce, a high standard of living and access to both cultural- and nature-based activities. Worth noting: Green space comprises nearly half of the busy city’s surface.

The newly released Mercer Quality of Living survey ranking the best places to live just named Vienna first yet again, marking its position as the topmost desirable city for the 10th year in a row. And those quality-of-life factors mentioned above aren’t just a collection of attributes valued by locals; they also draw business. Vienna serves as a prime gateway to Central and Eastern European markets. Today more than 200 multinational corporations operate headquarters here, with major employers including ATelekom Austria, ÖBB Holding AG, Heineken C&EE, Siemens Group Austria, OMV AG, A-Tec Industries AG and PORR Group.

For travelers, the city’s legacy of music and the host of legendary composers who called it home may comprise the most familiar elements, but another layer of life in Vienna embraces nature. This includes a unique position as a wine-producing region within a major urban center, with 1,512 rolling acres and 155 wineries located within the city limits.

“The local wine industry actually predates the city’s history,” offers Viennese winemaker Rainer Christ, the latest generation in a family of winemakers extending back 400 years, well in keeping with Vienna’s historical setting. “When the Romans arrived around 2,000 years ago, there was already grape cultivation taking place.”

Vineyard in Weissenkirchen

Vineyard in Weissenkirchen © THIAGOGLEITE – DREAMSTIME.COM

Today’s vines are largely grown on and around the sloping hillsides banking the Danube, and this wine heritage is protected by a stipulation that vineyards found within the city limits must be cultivated, offering a safeguard against real estate development of these enviable areas. The principal grape, says Christ, is Gemischter Satz, adding it takes about 62 acres of vineyards to produce approximately 120,000 bottles of wine. When conditions are right, about once per decade, the region experiences a late-enough harvest for sweet wine production.

Studies, of course, have shown not only does wine contain polyphenols that may (in moderation) support health, but also that a thoughtful glass of wine shared over a meal with friends or family is often part of a larger lifestyle profile that embraces an operating philosophy of valuing health and well-being. Like-minded visitors will be happy to know tradition and wine culture are alive and well throughout the city, often taking the delightful form of a Viennese heuriger, or wine tavern.

The economic impact of Vienna’s wine production coupled with a burgeoning gastronomy arena further contributes to the expansion of offerings that lead to well-being and an enhanced quality of life.

“We can talk about schnitzel because we have the best in the world, but we have a lot of exciting young chefs who are creating a [culinary] movement,” says Vienna-based chef Konstantin Filippou, recipient of two Michelin stars. “Tradition is important, but we can offer far more.”

But back, for a moment, to business. Postwar, at a time when many European cities were introducing new transportation networks, Vienna didn’t have the financial resources to replace its existing streetcar system. In retrospect, this turned out to be a strength, and getting around modern Vienna could hardly be easier. Today the city’s efficient public transportation network is expanding, with a new U5 line being added to the metro system, as well as an extension to the existing U2 line.

Vienna, of course, also remains the location of some of the most stunning museums and galleries in all of Europe, including the Leopold Museum, the Albertina and the Belvedere. Originally constructed as a palace, the Belvedere now houses the largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt — 24 paintings that include The Kiss. The collection is particularly significant, given only 150 paintings by Klimt exist worldwide.

Albertina Museum exterior

Albertina Museum exterior © RADUB85 – DREAMSTIME.COM

The city projects the number of new beds by the end of 2020 will reach 5,755. The people who fill those beds will explore the abundant culinary pleasures, fine wines, extraordinary museum exhibitions and world-class musical offerings. What they may not notice immediately are the scores of gardens and green spaces, the high level of professionalism in services and the efficiency of the transportation network — yet each of these elements contributes indelibly to what makes Vienna pitch-perfect. And those responsible for maintaining the city’s stellar status take that job quite seriously, always seeking new ways to improve life for both residents and guests.

“We can’t worship the ashes,” says Jasper Sharp, adjunct curator for modern and contemporary art, Kunsthistorisches Museum. “For instance, galleries are moving here because of the pace of life. Now, eight or 10 new galleries have challenged the status quo. That’s a good thing. We need to light the fires for the future instead of simply continuing to polish the legacy.”

Things to Do in Vienna

Balanced living proves a high priority with the Viennese population, and this healthy worklife equation includes taking advantage of the city’s wellness offerings. Take your cue from the locals and plan a half-day visit to the city’s colossal Therme Wien spa complex, where natural thermal springs feed 26 separate pools. Though slightly pungent, the soothing water contains high levels of sulfur, making it especially good for relaxing muscles and easing joint pain and digestive woes.

Thermae Wein spa relaxation

Thermae Wein spa relaxation © THERMAE WEIN

The winner of multiple accolades within the wellness industry, Therme Wien offers a series of stations positioned along a stream, with inspiring names such as Rock of Beauty, Rock of Peace, SaunaRock, AdventureRock and FitnessRock. Enormous spa zones punctuate these stations featuring heated benches and comfy loungers (2,500 in total), indoor and outdoor pools, a wild water canal and an aromatherapy room fitted with waterbeds and a dramatic grotto pool.

The spa includes the site of Austria’s first thermal baths library, and for breaks between soaks, visitors can choose to doze in the fire lounge, enjoy an audio book or be entertained in the on-site cinema. If you’d like to include a workout as part of your visit, the Therme Wien Fitness zone features state-of-the-art equipment, while an area dubbed Brine World offers a selection of 25 saunas and steam baths, plus a salt-soaked Floatarium. How to wrap up your soaking sojourn? Stroll through the gardens, or enjoy coffee and a treat at the Kurkonditorei Oberlaa pastry shop next door, where chocolaty concoctions are a specialty.

CHECKING IN WITH NORBERT KETTNER

Director, Vienna Tourist Board

What upcoming development, program or opportunity makes you most excited about Vienna’s future?
In 2020 the city will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven. The musical genius came to Vienna at the age of 22 — and never left. However, in the world’s capital of music we do not celebrate Beethoven alone but music itself: in evocative original locations, at leading international concert and opera houses, at the best educational institutions and with a dynamic and creative music scene.

Statue of Ludwig van Beethoven

Statue of Ludwig van Beethoven © FOTOMAREKKA – DREAMSTIME.COM

Can you comment on Vienna as a brand?
The Vienna brand is not ours. It belongs to all who contribute to what the city stands for, those who initiate projects which take Vienna forward and those who leave their mark on Vienna’s DNA. This can be people who live here permanently, those who find a home here temporarily or visitors who only stop through. Today we speak of a “visitor economy” rather than tourism. This new term helps to demonstrate the shift in responsibility. While our main goal used to be to attract more visitors, our duties today are much more varied and multilayered. We take care of all of our stakeholders, and we consistently work on securing a healthy visitor economy with digestible growth rates, increasing profits, decentralized sites of interest and — of great importance — high acceptance with the locals. Therefore, we constantly monitor how Vienna’s inhabitants perceive tourism. I’m glad to see the latest figures reveal 94 percent of the Viennese show a positive attitude toward tourism in their hometown.

What’s something most visitors to Vienna are unlikely to be aware of that you’d like to share?
This year we celebrate 100 years since the establishment of so-called “Red Vienna.” From 1919 to the early 1930s, important concepts like social and health policy to education and housing were implemented, systems the city still profits from today and which are imitated by other global cities. These are some of the essential pillars that account for the city’s high quality of living.

Vienna Info to Go

Vienna International Airport/ Flughafen Wien-Schwechat lies 11 miles east of the city. Public transportation is welldeveloped. Express Train S7 rapid transit to Wien Mitte and Wien Praterstern leaves from the airport every 30 minutes for an approximate half-hour journey. Other options include twice-hourly ÖBB Railjet nonstop service to Vienna Main Station and Wien Meidling Station, the City Airport Train (CAT) connecting directly to central Wien Mitte station in about 16 minutes, and direct bus connections to city center via multiple routes. Official taxis are readily available with fares of roughly $50 to the center of Vienna. Most major rental car agencies are represented, and private car services can be arranged through multiple companies.

Vienna: Just the Facts

Time zone: GMT +1
Phone code: Country code: 43 City code: 1
Currency: Euro
Key industries: Production of goods, construction, trade, visitor economy (accommodation and gastronomy), communications and real estate

COMING AND GOING
U.S. citizens must have a passport valid six months beyond date of entry with at least one blank page. Stays of 90 days or less do not require a visa.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
Austrian German

Where to Stay in Vienna

ANDAZ VIENNA AM BELVEDERE Part of the Hyatt collection, this swish new lifestyle hotel lies close to city center. The strong focus on contemporary art and design is buttressed by serene luxury and outstanding service. Arsenalstrasse 10 $$$$

DAS TRIEST, A DESIGN HOTEL Adding to luxury accommodation options in city center, this property offers bespoke furnishings and a luscious dining menu by head chef Josef Neuherz, served at award-winning Collio Restaurant. Wiedner Hauptstrasse 12 $$$$

SO/VIENNA This centrally located modern refuge presents an elegant, French art house vibe marked by thoughtful service, sleek contemporary guestrooms and a stunning 18th-floor bar and lounge space with wide views of the city. Praterstrasse 1 $$$

Restaurants in Vienna

MAYER AM PFARRPLATZ Once the private dwelling of Ludwig van Beethoven, this wine tavern is a renowned address for Austrian dishes such as sauerkraut and roast pork accompanied by young Heuriger wines, served under a special license. Pfarrplatz 2 $$

RESTAURANT OFENLOCH Linger in the Taproom of one of the city’s oldest restaurants, dating to 1704, and sip wine under vaulted ceilings. Visiting in spring? Enjoy the local wild garlic featured in Chef Christian Weber’s classically inspired dishes. Kurrentgasse 8 $$$

SKOPIK & LOHN Nosh on classic Austrian fare and local wines served beneath a stunning ceiling fresco painted by artist Otto Zitko. Not to miss: chestnut gnocchi with nut butter, Brussels sprouts and grue de cacao. Leopoldsgasse 17 $$$

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