In an imperial city replete with fantastic characters, many of whom were emperors and archdukes, royals and aristocrats, there are few Viennese doyennes more fabled than Anna Sacher, the 19th century bon vivant and hotelier whose outsize personality helped make the Hotel Sacher the cynosure of Viennese cultural life and one of the world's great luxury hotels.
An amalgam of Auntie Mame and Elsa Maxwell, with a Falstaffian joie de vivre, Sacher was the daughter of a butcher who married restaurateur and hotelier Eduard Sacher, the son of the creator of the Original Sacher-Torte (perhaps the most famous chocolate cake in the world). Rarely seen without a cigar and her French bulldogs, Sacher filled her husband's hotel with high society and politicians, artists, diplomats and actors, many of whose faces still line the hotel's illustrious portrait gallery.
Throughout its history, the five-star Hotel Sacher Wien has hosted nearly every notable politician and royal, including Empress Elisabeth, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, John F. Kennedy, Princess Grace, Indira Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth II. Opened in 1876 by a purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court of Austria-Hungary, the Hotel Sacher has always benefited from its location vis-a-vis the Vienna State Opera. Each year, the hotel becomes the de facto commissary for the Opera Ball, Vienna's most prestigious society gala, which transforms the opera house into a golden ballroom for 5,000 guests.
While visitors to Vienna still line up outside Cafe Sacher and Sacher Stube for a slice of the apricot jam-filled chocolate cake coated with Belgian chocolate (more than 400,000 handmade cakes are sold each year), guests of the hotel are welcomed by liveried doormen into a Viennese confection of Bordeaux red marked by polished marble, golden chandeliers and belle epoque antiques.
Were Anna Sacher still in charge, she would take you by the arm and escort you into the adjoining Blaue Bar. Draped in blue velvet and sapphire brocade, this mood indigo jewel box with its crystal chandeliers and plush couches honors Sacher's love of cocktail culture. The Restaurant Anna Sacher received two toques by the Gault & Millau restaurant guide for its innovative cuisine served amid a lush, emerald green dining room.
As splendid as the public rooms are at the Hotel Sacher, including the Restaurant Rote Bar with its marble-tessellated winter garden, so, too, are the 149 guestrooms and suites featuring Biedermeier decor and Aigner upholstery complemented by 21st century technology such as Dolby Surround entertainment systems, bathroom mirror TVs and heated flooring in the marble spa bathrooms. Private terraces overlook Albertinaplatz and the Albertina, where art mavens can enjoy after-hours tours followed by Champagne and canapes served in the erstwhile palace's Habsburg Staterooms.
All hotel guests have access to the rooftop Sacher Boutique Spa where treatments incorporate the hotel's signature chocolate-infused emollients. As you ascend the main staircase, take time to pause in front of the full-length portrait of Anna Sacher and acknowledge her role in creating one of the world's most exemplary luxury hotels.
A member of Leading Hotels of the World for more than 20 years, Hotel Sacher offers airport transfers via Mercedes-Benz S-class sedans.
Nightly rates for Superior rooms begin at about $580; see www.sacher.com.