Boutique Hotel Stadthalle, Vienna: The first hotel in the world with a zero energy balance

On a tour of the first worldwide city hotel with a zero energy balance, I'm surprised to see they have hairdryers. "We're eco," says my guide, "but we're not hippie". They do, however, draw the line at air conditioners. Though here in Vienna that's no serious threat to comfort.

As I pedalled around the corner into Hackengasse, an hour earlier, it was obvious from the far end of the street which building was Boutique Hotel Stadthalle. Not because the establishment is opulent or has an entry canopy or glittering neon facade, but because its exterior walls are characteristically viny. In the entrance, an expansive indoor hanging garden of edible mint varieties greets me before reception – a university project to see how LED light affects plant growth. The hotel also has a rooftop lavender farm and a lush courtyard garden.

The hotel director, who shows me around, is aptly named Claudia Plot. Like all the hotel staff I encounter, Plot is friendly, professional and competently multi-lingual.

My bicycle and I have just flown into Austria's capital to begin a month of riding the Danube cycle path towards the Black Sea. Boutique Hotel Stadthalle is set up for travellers like me with its secure bike parking, a discount for guests who arrive by bicycle or train and close proximity to Vienna's major cycle paths and train station Westbahnhof. The hotel also rents out pedal-powered and electric bikes.

Green is the colour of my world read the words on an interior wall, quoting the owner Michaela Reitterer. From the mid-1980s the hotel belonged to Reitterer's parents until, in 2001, the innovative businessperson they'd spawned bought it from mama and papa and modified, customised, adjusted and expanded. First Reitterer added the garden building and then the passive house. The 1890s part is now known, appropriately, as the parent building.

So what does zero energy balance actually mean? "It means that we generate as much energy as we need throughout the year," the voiceover of Reitterer explains in a promotional video.

And the passive house? That's the zero energy balanced section of the hotel, achieved using things like LED lighting, concrete core activation heating, well water for toilets and heat pumps, and plants for natural insulation.

Although the parent building can't achieve a zero energy balance without being fully reconstructed, surplus energy from the passive house can be delivered to it for things such as heating water.

Boutique Hotel Stadthalle produces energy using extensive photo voltage and solar paneling that doesn't encroach on the beauty of the central courtyard where people sit and relax and drink coffee and have breakfast.

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Yet Reitterer "didn't plan to have a famous eco-hotel or have the goal to build the first city eco-hotel", Plot says. Initially, the new young owner just wanted to cut down on energy costs. When she considered adding a passive house to the hotel and "people said 'no you can't because there isn't one'" she thrived on that challenge. Reitterer achieved her goal in just a few years and became an advocate for energy efficiency, sustainable travel and environmental awareness in the process.

Green is also a colour of my room. There's a grazing sheep image stretched across the wall behind my bed and green wool-textured curtains and cushions. The furniture includes a suspended wooden ladder for hanging clothes, newspapers compressed into a footrest and cleverly connected books and wood for a bedside table. This is one of seven recently renovated rooms using the concept of upcycling – the repurposing of reusable objects – in co-operation with, again, a local university.

Plot points out how they "communicate what we're doing in the rooms" with subtle green stickers that explain why they've made certain choices, such as "no minibar in all hotel rooms saves 21,024kg of CO2 per year (assorted drinks at the reception desk)". She tells me that, before the stickers, conscientious guests would ask "why can't we turn off the air conditioner" not realising the cool air was fresh from the garden.

Rooms range in size, style and view and are all simple and aesthetic with two wheelchair accessible rooms and plenty of family options. Pets are allowed and the entire hotel is non-smoking. Decorative artworks, graphics and and positive affirmations throughout the hotel are, like the lavender love-heart products on sale in the vestibule, endearingly kitsch.

I set off after breakfast, which is a delicious and abundant buffet that's heavy on regional, fair trade, local and organic. The food fuels me well while I pack my panniers, find the nearby bike path and pedal across Vienna towards the Danube feeling downright eco-modern.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

vienna.info

GETTING THERE

Emirates flies twice daily to Vienna, via Dubai from Sydney and Melbourne. See emirates.com.

STAYING THERE

Boutique Hotel Stadthalle, Hackengasse 20, Vienna, Austria. Standard room for two people starts at EUR108 a night (includes breakfast). See hotelstadthalle.at.

DINING THERE

Pescaria Konoba (Croatian/Mediterranean), Goldschlagstrasse 22, see pescaria-konoba.com; Das Augustin (Austrian), Marzstrasse 67, see dasaugustin.at. Both within walking distance of Boutique Hotel Stadthalle.

Elspeth Callender was a guest of Boutique Hotel Stadthalle.

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