Vienna's Versailles offers imperial hideaway
Schoenbrunn Palace was Marie-Antoinette's summer childhood home and the beautiful and tragic Sissi's favoured residence. And from April 30, tourists too can sojourn in Vienna's top tourist site, in a converted suite of rooms with views over the palace gardens, even with butler, cook and horse-drawn conveyance.travel Updated: Apr 23, 2014 16:46 IST
Schoenbrunn Palace was Marie-Antoinette's summer childhood home and the beautiful and tragic Sissi's favoured residence. Mozart performed there as a child and Napoleon was so smitten he moved in -- twice.
And from April 30, tourists too can sojourn in Vienna's top tourist site, in a converted suite of rooms with views over the palace gardens, even with butler, cook and horse-drawn conveyance.
"This is unique in Europe," Birgit Reitbauer from the Verkehrsbuero Austrian hotel group behind the Schoenbrunn Palace Suite told AFP during a sneak preview. The new suite is above the former bed chamber of the bushy-whiskered Emperor Franz Joseph and the study where his independent-minded wife "Sissi" -- assassinated in 1898 -- would write poems and her diary.
Renovated at a cost of 400,000 euros ($555,000), it includes two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a salon, a living room and a kitchenette with a fridge full of champagne. Built as an answer to Versailles in France, Schoenbrunn and its gardens -- home to the world's oldest surviving zoo -- are a Unesco world heritage site, attracting eight million visitors per year.
Its Napoleon Room was where the French dictator -- who ditched his Josephine to marry a Habsburg princess -- slept after occupying Vienna in 1805 and in 1809 and making Schoenbrunn his headquarters. Elsewhere a six-year-old Mozart played for Empress Maria Theresa in the 1760s, while the Blue Chinese Salon was where Emperor Charles I in 1918 signed the document that ended 640 years of Habsburg dominion.
Later, in 1961, John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev met under the ceiling frescoes of the Great Gallery, the crystal-mirrored former royal imperial ballroom.
All mod cons
The suite is believed to have been the private apartments of Franz-Joseph's grand-daughter, "Red Archduchess" Elisabeth, born a princess in 1883 and who died a socialist in 1963. In keeping with Maria Theresa, mum of guillotined "let them eat cake" Marie Antoinette, it has gushings of white, black and gold, combined with the imperial "pineapple damask" red cloth.
Unlike in Schoenbrunn's heyday, however, there are modern conveniences like three widescreen televisions, and elegant stucco work and chandeliers are mixed with a more modern touch. "It was important for us to maintain the imperial flair of Schoenbrunn Palace ... without having to omit any modern elements," explained Franz Sattlecker, who oversees rentals at the site.
The experience of waking up in a 1,441-room palace like a pampered princess in a four-poster bed is not for paupers, however.
Prices per night start at 699 euros per person, not including breakfast. For that you have to go over to the nearby Parkhotel where check-in happens, or make your own.
The "Honeymoon Package", at 2,700 euros, gets newlyweds a carriage ride from the four-star Parkhotel, roses, champagne, something called a "romantic bath" -- and breakfast. Top of the range though is the "Imperial Suite Package" with dinner rustled up by a private chef, a private tour of the whole palace and other goodies -- all for 4,900 euros per night.
The main targets are wealthy tourists who flock to Vienna from Russia, China, India and Japan, looking for something special, as well as well-heeled Europeans and Americans.
"Many Japanese people come to Vienna to renew their vows and have beautiful photos and memories, and we hope we can attract some of them," Reitbauer explained. "Surprisingly, however, our first bookings are actually people from Vienna."