What is it? Christmas Week in Vienna.

Where? We spent six nights at The Levante Laudon, a Design apart-hotel affiliated with the five-star Levante Parliament.

Description: [cafe.jpg]If you want a break from the fast-paced, cosmopolitan feel of cities like London, Paris and Helsinki, Vienna is the place for you. Delia Lloyd took her family to explore Vienna’s old-world charm over the Christmas holidays.

To visit a gorgeous citty with an Old European flair.

Start at Stephansdom – Vienna’s largest and most famous Church – and take a walking tour around the medieval streets of Old Vienna. Pop into Mozart’s House, the splendid hall in the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and visit assorted churches and synagogues from different historical eras. Be sure to make a detour into the fabulous Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, which features furniture and decorative arts from Vienna’s rich history of design. The kids will love the “chair” room! Then go enjoy a hot chocolate and slice of Vienna’s famed Sachertorte at the Mozart Cafe (winter) or some gelato at Eissalon am Schwedenplatz (summer). You might want to rent an elegant Hapsburg-style carriage to take you there. In any sort of weather, jump on the No. 1 or 2 tram for an old-fashioned tour around the main “Ringstrasse” (Ring Street), where you’ll witness buildings ranging in style from Neo-classical Greek to 19th Century Imperial to the early 20th Century Art Deco Jugendstil movement. In warmer weather, walk in the paths of the Vienna Woods just South of the City or take a tram out to the old amusement park called The Prater. In the winter, take the kids ice skating in the Stadtpark. For architectural variety and intrigue, I’d also highly recommend a trip to the Hundertwasser Haus, a 1980s municipal apartment block with irregular bands of color and roof gardens that is truly a sight to behold.

Vienna is all about music and you will not want to miss taking in at least one musical event while you are there. If you’re going out with the kids, there are numerous short evening chamber music concerts (with musicians dressed in period costume) just about everywhere you go. We took in one at the Austrian Cultural Center featuring Strauss and Mozart (with a bit of ballet and opera thrown in) and our kids loved it. If you want to step it up a notch, hire a sitter and go to the State Opera House (opera) or to MusikVerein (classical) for the really good stuff. Standing tickets for the opera start selling 90 minutes before the show. You can also see the Vienna Boys Choir in concert at the Stephansdom, but be sure to book tickets early.

Although we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, The Levante Laudon was happy to book a sitter for us and other hotels can make similar arrangements.

The Levante Laudon does not have its own spa facilities but for ten Euros you can have all-day access to the sauna and workout rooms at the Levante Parliament (just a six-minute walk away).

Local activities: See above.

Wish we had known: Smoking is still allowed in public places in Vienna. Many establishments have “non-smoking” sections, but you may find some of the coffee houses quite smokey.

Our top tip: The trains are quite user-friendly but bus and tram lines are much harder to work out. Allow extra time if you plan to use these forms of public transport. Also be warned that not all Austrians speak English so it’s not always that easy to get directions.

Kids say: Isaac, nine: “Do you think we could live in Hundertwasser House?” Allie, six: “I would like to keep eating soft boiled eggs every day for breakfast.”

Getting There: Most major European airlines fly from London to Vienna, as does Easy Jet starting as low as ’53 (Easy Jet) round trip (but obviously more during holiday season). Book early to get good seats and fares. The Levante Laudon starts at 285 Euros per night for a Family Suite (two rooms) during the Christmas season, but check their website for special offers.

About our stay: If – when you conjure up Vienna – you imagine sitting in a coffee house listening to classical music while consuming rich pastries and hot chocolate mit schlag, you’re not far off the mark. This is the heart of old Europe. And from the music to the museums to the Imperial architecture, it’s a great place to have an old-fashioned Christmas. We stayed at the Levante Laudon, a design hotel situated slightly (but only slightly) off the beaten track, though walkable to most of the city’s major attractions. The Superior rooms are tastefully decorated with elegant, modern furnishings and flat-screen TVs. All rooms come with a bedroom, pull-out sofa, and fully-equipped kitchenette (with bonus washer/dryer!) which can easily handle a family with two small children (ours are six and nine and we all fit comfortably). There are also two slightly larger family suites containing two separate bedrooms, but these are not furnished in the Design aesthetic, so if you want more of a luxury feel (we did), I’d highly recommend the Superior suite. [modern.jpg] The hotel hosts a tasty continental breakfast every morning (free with superior rooms, seven Euros with standard ones) or you can walk six minutes to the sister hotel – The Levante Parliament – and eat at the much more plentiful buffet there for 14 Euros. But I’d just go to a coffee house (see below.) The staff at the Levante Laudon are knowledgeable and friendly and quite willing to look up venues, book tickets and arrange transportation for you. They were exceedingly gracious about upgrading us to a Superior Suite when we decided that we didn’t want the family room. Your very first stop every day should be one of Vienna’s storied coffee houses. The Viennese take their coffee very seriously – some three pages of any menu will be devoted to different coffees – and it is a time-honored tradition to go to one of these fine establishments and spend several hours reading one of many newspapers from around the globe (we particularly liked Cafe Landtmann, Cafe Centrale and Cafe Eiles). Be sure to bring ample books, games and colouring books for the kids so that the entire family can begin their day with a lengthy “chill.” Christmas is a very special time in Vienna and perfect for families. Christmas markets abound throughout the city. These are large, outdoor markets featuring seasonal food and drink, festive trinkets and holiday displays. The market in front of the Rathaus is the largest and most famous and boasts a pony ride as well as trips on the Christkindl Express. After you’ve strolled through the market (don’t forget to look at the trees!), pop into the Rathaus (town hall) where the city organizes a series of Advent-themed art workshops for children. Amazing! Other than music (see above), the other big cultural attraction in Vienna is the numerous museums where you can see artists from all over the world, but especially Austria’s own Klimt and Schiele. The most famous of these museums – The Kunsthistoriches Museum, The Belvedere, and the Albertina – are all spectacular and have terrific audio guides which kids over five can enjoy. But you really don’t want to miss the less well-known Sammlung Alter Musikinstrumente Music in the Inner Ring, which houses musical instruments ranging from the pre-historic two-note bone flute on up through assorted pianos belonging to Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. The audio guide is fabulous and the kids can also play some of the actual instruments. If you have a budding equestrian in your family, take them to see the live horse shows at the Imperial Riding School. The other outing that is a must for kids is Schonbrunn Palace – a sort of mini-Versailles – which is a short train ride from the city center. The palace and its gardens are breathtaking. The children will particularly enjoy the outdoor maze and zoo. But be sure that once they’ve seen the *real* palace, they also go into the small, hands-on children’s museum right next door where they can learn about social life during the Hapsburg Empire, including the chance to dress up in period garb. Have some punch at the outdoor Christmas Market here and then visit the Coach museum which houses the elegant coaches, sleighs and sedan chairs that were used to transport the Imperial family. [isaac.jpg] Vienna has more than enough to keep you busy with the family for an entire week. But if you want to do a small outing, I’d suggest making your way to the Karl Marx Haus, a large, 1920’s style public housing complex that will give you a feel for Red Vienna. From there, you can wend your way up to Grinzing – the most famous Heuriger (wine tavern) village. Walk there through the park on the opposite side of the road, which will take you through several playgrounds as well as provide a chance to see some beautiful, historic Secessionist-movement homes along the way. Reward yourself when you get to the village by tasting some of the New (“green”) wines in Grinzing and take a bus or tram back into the city. And when all else fails, just go back to another coffee house and lather, rinse, repeat! Delia Lloyd is a writer/journalist based in London. She blogs at www.PoliticsDaily.com and www.realdelia.com.

Created: 2010-02-03 14:43:16.040

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