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Hotel Altstadt, Vienna
Located in the Austrian capital's 7th District, the Hotel Altstadt sits in a quiet street on the edge of the Museums Quarter, a short walk from city highlights such as the Leopold Museum and the Natural History museum. Vienna is enjoying a stellar year, not only playing host to the Eurovision Song Contest in May, but also celebrating the 150th birthday of the Ringstrasse, the gorgeous tree-lined boulevard that circles the city centre (which the hotel sits just outside) including some of its most iconic buildings, such as the Opera House, and parks. The road, with its cycle lanes and trundling trams, is one of the reasons Vienna is regularly named the world's most liveable city.
The Altstadt is a boutique, art hotel with 45 rooms and each is different. The hotel began its life as a small B&B in the '50s within the classic European apartment block. There are still a handful of apartment residents in the building, including one 94-year-old who has lived here her entire life. The lobby contains just a staircase and lift that lead up to reception on the first floor, but already there are hints of what is to come, with striking artworks on the walls including the work of Russian street artists. The first floor is also home to the salon, where tea and cake is served every day from 4pm.
The art-loving hotel owner, Otto E. Wiesenthal, has given a number of artists free rein to design the rooms, resulting in a widely varying look and feel. New designers are brought in from time to time to redesign some rooms. The cutting-edge design has made the hotel a popular choice for fashion labels looking for a striking setting for photo shoots.
My room, the Felix Suite, is from Italian designer Matteo Thun and its shadowy, sultry feel may not suit all tastes. It is one of eight rooms designed by Thun and all are intentionally very dark, with parquet floors of dark oak and striking striped wallpaper. The space is huge, with a long corridor with the shower and separate toilet coming off it, leading to the main bedroom
The main sink and the bath are in the bedroom area - this room is not for couples who value their individual privacy. Indeed, this is largely the point, with the designer's intention for this bath to be "one's own body put on show, a ritual of seduction set in scene".
This is just one element that evokes this feeling of eroticism, with two large nude photographs, one on the wall, the other on the ceiling above the bed. And just to make sure you haven't missed the point, the mini bar features a "Love box" (€24) that includes condoms, lubricant and a vibrator (a card indicates that the charge for the box will appear as "hygiene box" on your bill).
There are some odd design elements here though - no hooks for towels by the toilet sink, for instance, and the step up to the bath in the main room is a major tripping hazard amid the dark decor and black floor. The stereo in the room has a cassette deck, but no MP3 player dock (perhaps it is only there as a work of art).
There's no restaurant in the hotel, but breakfast is included in the salon each morning with a selection of breads, pastries, cold cuts and a daily omelette. The Viennese love a sausage (almost as much as a schnitzel) and you'll find many takeaway places on the Ringstrasse selling various wurtzs (the Bitzinger stand in front of the Albertina Museum is one of the best). For something of a real taste of Viennese history, take a walk from the hotel north up Universitatsring to Cafe Landtmann (15 minutes), the famed coffee house favoured by the likes of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler.
Worth stepping out for
The hotel is within walking distance of some of the city's greatest museums, but Vienna's excellent public transport is easily accessible for those looking to go further afield. A short walk will take you to Museumsplatz courtyard that is home to both the Leopold and mumok museums, with their outstanding collections of modern art. Just across the road is the Kunsthistorisches (Art History) Museum and the Museum of Natural History.
The Hotel Altstadt won't suit all tastes (particularly those with conservative tastes) but it has an individuality and charm that sets it apart from many other hotels. Those interested in modern art will find much to like here and its proximity to some of the city's best museums makes it even more attractive for art-lovers (and lovers in general).
The service is excellent with requests met immediately by the friendly staff. The hotel exudes style and individuality.
Some of the design elements are a bit odd and occasionally impractical.
Since the size and design of the rooms at the Hotel Altstadt vary dramatically, so too do the prices. Rooms start from €94 a night for a single room, up to €429 for an "XXL" suite. "XL" suites, such as the Felix, start from €239 a night. See altstadt.at.
The writer stayed as a guest of the Austrian Tourist Board.