Destination Dispatches: Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, a Break with Tradition

Guest Editor:
- Daniel Szelényi, Kiwi Expert

Danced by 180 debutantes in front of 12,000 guests, the Wiener Walzer or Viennese waltz opens the Vienna Opera Ball held every February. On another stage, a very different dancer made his debut with radically new moves. French architect Jean Nouvel, with his work Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom.

Nouvel, it seems, has introduced breakdancing to the waltzing capital.

Compared to the opulently decorated, century old hospitality grand dames, such as the legendary Hotel Imperial, the six-month-young Sofitel takes a less is more approach; its leitmotif are three, as Jean Nouvel calls them, “non-colors” of grey, white and black, in which all rooms are designed.

Instead of stucco ceilings, baroque pillars and gold, the Sofitel boasts black lacquered walls, granite floors and—to add at least some color—mesmerizing luminous ceilings created by contemporary Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist. Those ceilings are illuminated LSD flashbacks in vivid blue, orange and green, dotted with LED screens featuring eclectically composed videos; a striking contrast to the building’s achromatic transparency.

General Manager William Haandrikman properly describes his property as an “artwork” which, he admits, some Viennese need time getting used to. Not only because of the distinct minimalist architecture but because details, such as being greeted with the Sofitel-typical “Bonjour,” causes raised eyebrows among the locals.

Guests looking for Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz and Kaiserschmarrn, three of Austria’s most famous dishes, will also be hard to please. Instead Le Loft serves Pâté en croûte au foie gras, Cabillaud poché dans un bouillon de bouillabaisse and Cannelloni au sorbet rhubarbe, arranged by three-starred French chef Antoine Westermann. However, courtesy of sommelier Martin, an excellent selection of Austrian wines complements the French menu.

At Le Loft, dramatically located on the 18th floor with 360 degree views over Vienna, you’re literally dancing with the stars. Once again the ceiling creates a stunning contrast, an energetic cancan of brilliant colors. Meanwhile, the sunset behind the Stephansdom turns the sky orange and, once the sun has disappeared entirely, the inside becomes outside as the ceiling lights start mirroring the eternity of the dark Austrian sky. The emotions, both culinary and visual, left me lost for words and I turned to the bar dominating the middle of Le Loft for a final tango before retiring to my room.

Vienna is magnifique, and from my room on the 16th floor I have the entire city at my feet. Still, the next day I descend into town for lunch at Vienna’s most famous sausage stall, Bitzinger on Albertinaplatz, just behind the Opera. It’s a hot spot frequented by the bourgeois and haute monde alike, all queuing for a cheese-filled Käsekrainer bratwurst.

It’s also conveniently located next to the wonderful Hotel Sacher, where I will stop for two things: dessert in the form of the delicious trademark Sacher cake and perusal of the hotel’s opulently ornate salons that ooze history.

I love breakdancing, as Sofitel does it, but it’s time for another waltz.

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