Tales from the Vienna woods

There’s more to Vienna than Sachertorte and Strauss waltzes. Vienna has long been a hothouse of creativity. The design-savvy visitor will notice this right from the front door, so to speak, if arriving via the stylish Stadtbahn streetcar terminal (1899) in the Karlsplatz, next to the famed Musikverein concert hall. It is but one of several streetcar terminals designed by Otto Wagner, a pioneer of the Vienna Secession (the city’s Art Nouveau movement) and mentor to two famous figures: Adolf Loos, best remembered for his notoriously titled 1908 polemic Ornament and Crime; and Josef Hoffmann, founder of the Wiener Werksttte, whose shops and studios dominated Vienna design for decades and still influence international design.

With such good design genes, it’s no surprise that Vienna boasts some of the smartest new designer boutique hotels in Europe. Here’s a look at four of them, conveniently located in the historic city centre near St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Museums Quarter.

Hotel Alstadt

In 1991, auto-industry executive Otto Ernst Wiesenthal bought a down-at-the-heels dormitory building, dating from 1902, with the aim of transforming it into a boutique hotel. A showcase for his extensive art collection, it was renovated again in 2006. Pride of place in the 42-room hotel goes to the nine rooms by Italian architect Matteo Thun (who co-founded, with his mentor Ettore Sotsass, the wild and whimsical Memphis movement). Featuring dark damask wall hangings, pickled oak floors and the name of each room woven into a custom carpet -along with furnishings by Thun and Josef Hoffmann -his rooms transport guests back to fin de sicle Vienna. All guest rooms in the hotel, no two the same, have high ceilings and abundant natural light. The lounge, with fireplace, Bsendorfer grand piano and walls stippled with Farrow & Ball paint, was conceived to evoke the feeling of a Mahler of Klimt salon.

Do & Co Hotel:

The “Do” in Do & Co is short for the hotel’s owner, Turkish-Austrian restaurateur and airlines caterer Attila Dogudan. His two-year-oldhostelry occupies the top four storeys in what was originally a shopping centre -Haas Haus, a postmodernist landmark by local Pritzker Prize-winning architect Hans Hollein. The real estate is prime, facing St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the city’s best-known square. “The rent was so high, the shops went bankrupt,” says Michael Spangl, the hotel’s sales director. Offering 45 rooms, this five-star hotel appeals to the international smart set. FG Stijl, a team of two Dutch architects who designed Amsterdam’s College Hotel, were the interior designers. The smallest room measures 325 square feet, “which is pretty huge by Viennese standards,” Spangl says. Rooms boast teak woodwork, bathrooms with 22-square-foot showers and, in a nod to the owner’s heritage, Turkish-themed kilim bedcovers. The restaurant/lounge, serving a 24-hour breakfast, is a local hotspot, attracting club scenesters. The “temple,” a private rooftop dining pavilion, seats 12.

Hollman Beletage

Robert Hollmann is a jack of all trades. The actor, pianist and pastry chef went to hotel management school, and started Hollmann Salon, a trendy eatery and wine bar. He also bought a vintage building in the historic city centre and hired architect Christian Prasser, who updated the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts. Between 2004 and 2006, the sleek-looking 25-room boutique hotel was born. The reception area (referred to by management as the “living room,” not the lobby) has couches, a small library and an electric piano -where, in the middle of the night, you can don headphones and play to your heart’s content without disturbing anyone. A scarlet silkscreen of the famous Ferris wheel in Vienna’s Prater park (scene of Orson Welles’s encounter with Joseph Cotten in The Third Man) embellishes ceilings and walls. Hand-written welcome notes chalked on blackboards outside their rooms greet guests. Some rooms have multi-functional, platform beds with the headboard doubling as the sink-vanity; sleek bathtubs lurk behind sliding panels.

Hotel Levante Parliament

What the Seattle-based glassblower wunderkind Dale Chihuly is to the lobby dome and high-roller lounges at Las Vegas’s Bellagio, Romanian glass artist and designer Ioan Nemtoi is to the Levante Parliament. Nemtoi’s red glass sculptures -resembling licks of flame or stylized tentacles -form room screens that articulate space in the restaurant. His works fill the lobby display areas, repose on guest room dressers and liven up the courtyard. Photographer Curt Themessl’s prints of Vienna State Opera Ballet principals hang in corridors and (the perfect motivation) in the fitness and sauna area. The 1908 limestone building, a couple of blocks away from the Neoclassical Parliament and Neo-Medieval City Hall, was renovated in 2006 by local architect Michael Stepanek. Guest rooms (74 in all) have dizzingly high ceilings. Music lovers will note, a few doors down, the apartment where Beethoven lived during the winter of 1819-20 and composed the Credo of his Missa solemnis. A block away stands the elegant late-Baroque Auersperg Palace (1706-10), originally named the Rofrano Palace.