Having a Ball at Vienna's Fête Impériale

In Vienna, horse-drawn carriages escorted guests to the Spanish Riding School for Fête Impériale.

This past June, I had the privilege of joining a Passages of Distinction educational trip to the Sacher Hotels, and the highlight of this truly once-in-a-lifetime trip centered around Vienna’s only Summer Ball — the Fête Impériale. Business Class seats on Austrian Airlines whisked our group to the Icon — where we experienced the impeccable service, beautiful accommodations and sheer authenticity of this historic property that truly defines the Hotel Sacher. The matriarch of the family, Elisabeth Gürtler, who brought the Sacher Hotels to their recent prestigious status, created the Fête Impériale several years back, as a fundraiser for the Spanish Riding School and another event to attract upmarket clients to Vienna. The Sacher Hotels are privately owned by the Gürtler / Winkler family. This five-star hotel sits in an ideal location just opposite the Vienna Opera and adjacent to the Kärntner Straße, the famous pedestrian zone. 

After a brief introduction to the Sacher story by our gracious host Peter Zwickl, the director of sales, we were off to our waltzing lessons at the renowned “Elmayer Dance School.” We shared so many laughs as we learned the intricate steps to this dance. Sufficient in our knowledge that we were fully prepared and we would not be embarrassing ourselves at the ball, we closed our first day in Vienna at the traditional Viennese “Heuriger” (a wine restaurant at a vineyard where oftentimes you dine al fresco).

Féte Impériale, Vienna’s only Summer Ball, was created several years ago as a  fundraiser.

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The next day, we were greeted by the hotel’s very gracious general manager, Reiner Heilmann, and treated to a backstage tour of the Sacher Torte factory, where we learned the secrets to baking this legendary dessert — which I cannot reveal as we were sworn to secrecy. Once we returned to the hotel, it was time to prepare for the Fête Impériale. The hotel had thought of everything. They even arranged for individual hair and makeup appointments with a professional stylist, all in the comfort of our own rooms. This took our experience to a whole new level. We were truly pampered and in the perfect mood for an evening to remember.

On a trip filled with memorable moments, being escorted to the Spanish Riding School by horse-drawn carriage to this magical ball was like living a fairytale and is truly something that I will never forget.

After an evening of majestic dancing and laughter, where Mrs. Gürtler was the ultimate host, and we were made to feel like honored guests, the following morning, we were invited to her home for a brunch that was filled with the high society of Austria and beyond. Later that day, we departed for Salzburg, where once again we had the good fortune of staying at the family-owned Hotel Sacher. It was immediately clear that the Sacher is the grande dame of this beautiful and enchanting city. The location is supreme with the most fabulous setting on the river bank. The newly renovated rooms and suites are stunning. The views from many of the rooms is of the picturesque monastery and old town.

One with nature: The group enjoyed touring the Austrian countryside.

A short walk across the river to the old town, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the exemplary Salzburg Marionette Theater. Learning about this elaborate and storied art form was truly fascinating, and it was wonderful to be able to spend some time with two talented puppeteers and learning about their craft. Their passion was inspiring to be around. 

After dinner at the hotel’s gourmet Restaurant Zirbelzimmer, where I had some of the best wiener schnitzel I have ever eaten, we walked to the nearby Mirabell Palace for another unique cultural experience — a classical concert in the Marble Hall. 

On our last day, we took a walking tour around the city, where we went through Mozart’s square and past his birthplace to beautiful cathedrals, bustling shopping districts and Hohensalzburg. 

In Salzburg, Hotel Sacher is situated on the banks of River Salzach.

A high fortress, Hohensalzburg offered us breathtaking views over the city, where it was easy to point out the Sacher standing out in all its grandeur along the River Salzach. Any trip to the City of Music would not be complete without an official “Sound of Music” tour through the nearby countryside. I can comfortably say we all became experts on everything “Sound of Music” by the end. We even sang a few of the songs on the bus tour along the way! 

Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to our gracious hosts and my companions on this incredible journey. I appreciate all the hard work that went into planning this trip. And cannot thank Austrian Airlines, Passages of Distinction and, of course, the incredible Sacher Hotels enough for putting together a once-in-a-lifetime trip. 

This was a trip to remember in so many ways and the Hotel Sacher in both magical cities of Vienna and Salzburg clearly defines the meaning of what genuine, family-run hospitality is all about.

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