Designer Deluxe

Hotel Review : Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, Vienna – Austria

Located along the banks of the Danube canal, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is rightfully described as a living work of art. All geometric slants and angles, the building appears sloping, as if to give its neighbor a peck on the cheek. A skyscraping structure of sleek glass paneling, this spunky hotel designed by French architect Jean Nouvel is a contemporary haven.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

From the onset as you enter the hotel – your eyes are drawn to the illuminated ceiling, and you know immediately that it’s going to be a very special stay. The first ‘bonjour’ of the day comes from the handsome bellman as he ushers us inside.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe check in (preceded by quite a few more ‘bonjours)’ is seamless, but since our room was not yet ready, we are taken on a guided tour of the spa and fitness area. Presented with two exotic fruit smoothies, we perch awkwardly, fully dressed, on the enormous white geometric loungers in the spa’s relaxation room for a few minutes before we were quickly whisked away to our suite on the 15th floor.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Jean Nouvel chose three monochromatic palettes for the rooms; black, grey and white. Our room happens to be grey. And I mean really grey! The floors are grey, as are the walls. The bedside cupboards are grey, the desk and chair are grey, the large modern seating area is, yep, you guessed it: grey.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe bathroom comprises of a walk-in shower, large rectangular bathtub (grey, obviously) and his and hers vanities (also grey!). We find an abundance of sumptuous Hermès bath products and well appointed toiletries including a nail kit.Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Looking back I can see that the monochrome design may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we loved it. The room was sleek and modern, well designed and spacious.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

You would think the best part would be the view; staring directly over the canal and onto St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Even the (grey) window blinds could be geometrically opened to allow you to select the size of your window depending on your mood.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

But no, the best part for me was the SoBed. A celebration of all that is heavenly, this bed is virtually indescribable. But I’ll try: It’s large. So large in fact that it’s easy to lose yourself amongst its pillowy softness. That secret of that softness? The SoBed’s additional layer of plush called the ‘Featherbed’ that lies on top of the SoBed, creating that ‘sleeping on a cloud’ feeling. Along with a pillow menu of various choices (synthetic or real down) and a crisp white duvet, it made for the comfiest bed in the whole entire world.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

That evening we slip on our waffle robes and head for the spa. Not exceptionally large for a hotel of this size, the spa area is nevertheless as sleek and modern as the rest of the hotel.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomTwo black slate Jacuzzis are bubbling quietly on either side, surrounded by large slanting windows. There are two hammans filled with eucalyptus steam. The atrium houses a relaxation area with aforementioned geometric loungers, while a state of the art gym caters to those so inclined.Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWe eat dinner at the hotel’s famed Le Loft occupying the 18th floor, and have the most memorable meal in the glamorous restaurant whose chef was awarded three Michelin stars. You can read about that experience here.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The location of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom could not be more perfect for visiting the city’s sights. Its namesake, St Stephan’s Cathedral, only a short walk away, and other major attractions are easily reached by foot or public transport.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomBreakfast is a casual affair, also served at Le Loft. The restaurant is starkly beautiful by day, the views just as impressive without the golden glow of the ceiling’s illumination. We enjoy fresh mixed berries, Greek yogurt and honey; followed by deliciously cooked scrambled eggs on seeded bread rolls. Sipping on French-pressed coffees and flutes of champagne, we take in the stunning 360° vistas le Loft offers.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Again that evening after a long day of sightseeing, we head to the spa to unwind and relax. A full range of spa treatments are on offer (at a fee), and while I’m tempted by the 24 carat old massage, due to time constraints, I reluctantly refrain from making a booking.

We dine in-room, and the speed and quality of room service is exceptional. My order of risotto arrives piping hot, with a fresh bread basket, butter and condiments. The room service prices are outstandingly good value for a hotel of this standard.

Of course, wifi is complimentary, and we never had any issues, irrespective of the number of gadgets we connected.

But for me, perhaps the most enduring memory of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is hotel’s façade at night, with the two illuminated ceilings creating a breathtaking silhouette after dark. Each evening after dinner we head out and stroll along the canal to admire the hotel’s design.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Two days later, when it’s time to check out I have to dig deep and find superhuman strength to leave the blissful cocoon of the SoBed.

All in all, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is one of the most spectacular hotels I’ve stayed at. The service is second to none and the daring design and glamorous details will surely see us heading back in a few months (and this time I will ensure enough time to experience the spa treatments!).

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The prices are as expected, hardly cheap, but for those seeking contemporary luxury in the heart of Vienna, for whom great service is non-negotiable – the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is well worth the indulgence.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

 Rates from 200€ to >3000€. For more information and special offers, visit the hotel’s official website.

 

 

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The day I said ‘Goodbye’ to Madiba

We arrived in South Africa early in the morning the day before Madiba’s state funeral was to take place.

As an expat South African living in France I really miss my home country and each trip back home is profoundly anticipated. We normally choose to fly with Air France on their overnight flight from Charles de Gaulle to Johannesburg.  I quite enjoy the extreme culture shock of leaving Paris, with its distinct flair, the French language being spoken everywhere, and the unmistakable aroma of macaroons as I walk pass the airport’s Ladurée cart – and waking up in Johannesburg.

Although I grew up in Durban, the minute I get off the plane in OR Tambo, I instinctively feel as if I’m ‘home’. I don’t know what it is; perhaps it’s not anything quite tangible or maybe it’s a combination of factors. Maybe it’s the sunshine that is so typical of our country, or hearing Zulu and Xhosa being spoken along with the distinctive Gauteng accent.  It’s seeing familiar brands; the dark green and white of the airport’s Mugg and Bean or the ‘W’ of my much-missed Woolworths.

But on this day, something was noticeably amiss. And I knew right away what is was. For the first time in my life, I set foot on my country’s soil, but it was a Madiba-less South Africa I had come home to.

The next day the Rainbow Nation mourned. Each in their own way, they paid their last respects to the man we had come to call ‘Father’. Our Tata.

Some wept openly in their grief. Others danced and shouted. Some somberly sang Nkosi SikeleliAfrika –God bless Africa. Others toyi-toyed to chants of Shoshaloza.

I knew I too had to find a way to come to terms with his loss. I needed solace, as much as solitude. So I headed to the one place that had always been a comfort to me.

I arrived at the beach on Durban’s famed coast as the sun was low in the sky. Having come unprepared, I placed my sweater on the warm sand and sat down.

I was much too young to have felt the true scourge of apartheid in my lifetime, but I have one lingering memory of being at this very beach at the age of about 5 or 6. My dad very sternly warned me not to make too much noise, and to remember to pick up any trash we leave behind, as we were not really ‘allowed’ on this beach, and could get in trouble for being there.

Looking around now I saw people of every creed and colour occupying that sunny stretch of beach. There were a group of teenagers riotously jumping around in the waves, and next to them a couple with their arms around each other, venturing deeper for a swim.

On the water’s edge there was a young father dipping his baby girl’s toes into the foaming water. The toddler squealed with joy at each new wave.

Under a distressed gazebo I spotted a cluster of old ladies having a boisterous conversation and laughing loudly.

Every colour, every creed, occupied that golden beach that day and I realized with a sharp intake of breath: Madiba may have achieved more than anyone could have imagined politically – but right there in that moment, on that beach: his legacy could be found.

I do not know what the future holds for the Rainbow Nation without our Tata. Some critics preach gloom and doom, while others are optimistic. Only time will tell.

All I know is, I did a lot of things on that beach that day.

I wept.

I prayed.

I reflected.

I remembered.

I said ‘thank you’.

I then; I said goodbye.

Nelson Mandela RIP

(Source cited in photo)

Sky-High Dining Splendor

Restaurant Review: Le Loft – Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, Austria

Located on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom hotel, with ceiling-to-floor glass windows on all sides; restaurant Le Loft makes it easy to imagine you’re suspended in the air, floating above the beautiful city of Vienna.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomI’m not sure if it is unbelievable vistas in every direction that make my jaw go slack; or if it is the vibrant, illuminated work of art designed by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist that stretches across the ceiling, creating a sublime contrast with Jean Nouvel’s minimalist interior. Perhaps I will never know.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Its 8:30 pm and Le Loft is buzzing. The raised bar at the centre of the restaurant is awash with beautiful people sipping even more beautiful cocktails. The decadent pops from champagne bottles being open and wine corks being pulled create the background music. The tables along the gargantuan windows are by now, all occupied, save for one – right in front (or so it seems), of the gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, for which the Sofitel Vienna is named.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomAnd as luck would have it, we’re escorted to the lone free table by the friendly maître‘d. I sit down with a sense of reverie. The ceiling is alive. Animated with eccentric videos (I’ve read that in the videos, Rist aims to capture the viewpoint of a child looking up into the world). The crispness of the autumn leaves on the ceiling canvas casts a golden glow around the restaurant and onto the surrounding glass panels. The view! Oh the view! Breathtaking and unparalleled, the sights stretch well over the city and is sure to provide one of the most memorable dining experiences ever.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Le Loft’s French head chef, Antoine Westermann grew up in the Alsace region of France and his dishes are a delicious fusion of Alsatian and Viennese influences. In a rather unprecedented move, after being awarded a highly prestigious three Michelin stars for his Strasbourg restaurant Le Buerehiesel,  he shortly thereafter chose to hand over the reins of the restaurant to his son Eric.  The French chef remains ever nonchalant about his success, recognition and his choice to leave the Michelin star hype behind him. In an interview with FooDiva he explains: “It’s another life after the three stars. I am really, really happy without having to think about Michelin. My priority is making my customers happy, finding the right produce and offering a great price.” 

At his side, is his protégée Raphael Dworak, who he worked with at Le Buerehiesel, and the two continue to collaborate closely at Le Loft.

At our table, we scan the menu and are presented with crisp bread basket (of which the olive bread is to die for) and beurre CharentesPoitou. The chef’s suggested four and six course tasting-menus look well-defined and impeccably planned, but a little too adventurous for my tame palate (I dont eat red meat or chicken). I stick to a traditional three-course a la carte preference, while Mr. Wolf is positively salivating at the prospect of patés, foie gras and beef filets.

We each commence with an aperitif of kir-royale whilst still staring, speechlessly at the view that lay before us.

Le Loft Sofitel

Le Loft’s sommelier is knowledgeable, and suggests an impeccable white wine to pair with my fish appetizer and mains, whilst Mr. Wolf is presented with a Austrian burgundy to complement his menu choices.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe chef’s amuse bouche – a lobster cappuccino is presented in espresso cups. The soup is frothy, creamy and deliciously decadent.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For the appetizers I decide upon the poached pike served with crayfish, pumpkin purée, parsley coulis and jus vadouvan. The pike is cooked to perfection and the pumpkin puree melts like butter in my mouth.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomMr. Wolf enjoys paté en croute, which consisted of foie gras and pigeon breast served with elderberry gelee. I can’t comment much on the dish apart from its excellent presentation, but I safely say from the decadent sighs of satisfaction coming from the other end of the table that is was delicious.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomIf you’re expecting a quick meal, I’d advise you not to book at Le Loft. The service at the restaurant is incredibly slow. And rightfully so! Each dish, a work of art, is consumed slowly and celebrated bite by bite. In between courses, the view itself will provide endless distraction between soft chatter and clinking glasses.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For my main dish I select the pan-fried lake char with porcini mushrooms, homemade tortellini and mushroom sauce. The char is fried crispy on the outside and soft and delicious through the center, while the porcini mushrooms add an earthy, nutty flavor to the dish.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

My dining companion has chosen the beef fillet. The dish is typically served with brussel sprout ragout, potatoes gratin and truffle jus. However, being allergic (self diagnosed!) to brussel sprouts, Mr. Wolf kindly requests an alternative. He’s pleasantly surprised when his fillet is served with the potatoes gratin, but instead of the ragout, there is a side of soft, buttery gnocchi. After having a bite of the gnocchi, I can honestly attest that it was the best I had ever eaten.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Selecting dessert is the most difficult part of the evening for me. Each mouth-watering option holds its own merits, but in the end my love affair with chocolate dictates my choice.

Mr. Wolf concurs, and we both choose the chocolate and mint liaison: Jivara chocolate mousse and mint ice cream served in an elaborate chocolate cage shaped like an egg.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The mint ice cream is truly impeccable. Forget the mild store-bought variety with prerequisite choc-chips – this ice cream is made from freshly ground mint leaves that give a hint of sharpness to the cream. I enjoy every last bite.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWashed down with coffees and the chef’s beautiful (and ample) mignardise selection, we are completely satisfied.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The dining experience at Le Loft is not cheap, but it is well and truly exquisite, and so worth the splurge. An excerpt from the hotel’s website: “The restaurant exudes exclusivity and extravagance, combining Viennese charm and international flair”.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The hotel, as seen from the street, with restaurant Le Loft illuminated on the top floor

This perfectly sums up our experience of the night, dining on fabulous dishes, in a surreal setting, literally on top of the world.

Disclaimer: Mr Wolf and I were treated to a complimentary dinner at Le Loft during our stay at the Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, although I hope you will see that has in no way affected my experience or any opinions expressed in this post.

For more please visit the official website.

Booking at Le Loft should be made 3-4 weeks in advance to guarantee a seating.