Oh, Vienna! The city that grabbed me by the spaghetti straps in 1995 via the film Before Sunrise. From the giant Wiener Riesenrad ferris wheel to the listening booth where Jessie and Celine throw each other furtive, heartstring-twanging looks, to the moonstruck strolls along the Danube, it had me all a flutter and I vowed to visit one day. So I did, eventually - last week - and while I didn't do all of the above I DID go to a ball?
There are some 450 balls per year in Vienna, most of which happen during wintertime. The annual Fete Imperiale, held at the famous Spanish Riding School, is one of the few exceptions, and where my swishy midnight blue dress from Folkster (folkster.com) got a majestic airing: Cue shameless mugging on the red carpet, pictured, while Austrian aristocrats and Spanish royalty were a mere strudel's throw away.
My friend and I were just two of some 2,500 glamorous guests at the 450-year-old dressage institution, its Winter Riding School arena cleared of prancing Lipizzaner stallions and now adorned with a red-and-white chequerboard ballroom, debutantes, and a blizzard of sequins, tuxedos and hairspray. (There was even a pair of goats in the opening ceremony, which otherwise involved Viennese waltzing and assorted arias).
So I didn't get chance to visit the splendid Modernist interiors of the Looshaus building, ride a vintage tram, or take the train to Salzburg for a Sound of Music pilgrimage. But surely all the more reason to return for a Before Midnight sequel?
Here's my whistle-stop guide to this handsome city.
Vienna is well known for its grand neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings but there are plenty of minimalist counterpoints. One of the best is Zaha Hadid's Library and Learning Centre at the University of Economics in Prater. Seriously space age, with clean, white undulating lines and sci-fi lighting, while the surrounding campus is equally impressive. Guided tours are offered by The Architecture Center Vienna.
Fine art fiends are spoilt for choice in Vienna, the MuseumQuarter alone boasting an embarrassment of galleries and museums in one easy-to-navigate area. My favourite was the bright and airy Leopold Museum (leopoldmuseum.org), whose comprehensive Egon Schiele collection is a must-see. Gustav Klimt is also represented here, as well as at the stately Belvedere museum across town (belvedere.at). While there, don't miss the terrific, gurning marble busts by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.
The City Airport Train takes visitors from Vienna International Airport to Wien Mitte station in 16 minutes nonstop for €17 return or €11 single (cityairporttrain.com). It is clean, efficient and swanky. Which brings us to our next recommendation ?
? The hip Ruby Sofie Hotel is just a five-minute's walk from Wien Mitte station, making it the perfect base for, well, everything. The property is a repurposed concert hall that still hosts events in its ballroom. Black walls, spotlights, band posters, and pre-loved furniture give the feeling of being backstage at a gig, while guest rooms are clutter-free and contemporary - instead of a booklet of hotel info, it's all there on a tablet - connected to a Marshall amp - and check in/out is via touchscreens (no minibar negates the need for a room tab). Moreover, the buffet breakfast is mouthwateringly simple: Red juicy tomatoes; sublime Emmental and smoked cheeses; make your own granola; fluffy, flaky pastries; loose leaf tea popped into pockets and fastened to a glass tumbler with a wooden peg. Superb. Rooms from €104. ruby-hotels.com
Coffee is a Big Deal. Go native and order a Melange, an espresso that's one part steamed milk and one part froth. The weiss bier is also delicious (though mostly German) but if you love cocktails and Art Deco design, be sure to prop up the mahogany and brass bar at the teeny-tiny Loos Bar off Seilergasse (loosbar.at), whose marble and onyx interiors, not to mention its smart staff in crisp white shirts, braces and dickie-bows, will transform you back in time.
There are walking tours, and there are Polaroid walking tours. This genius idea is the brainchild of locals/perfect gents Gilbert Lechner and Thomas Preyer, who host guided jaunts from €49pp including Polaroid camera rental, colour film, and an introductory tutorial to help get the best shots. Our tour explored the Prater area, which includes the aforementioned University of Economics, the famous fun fair, and ended at Supersense, a super-hip caf? and all-things-analogue shop. And best of all, you get to take your handiwork home - much nicer than a postcard. polawalk.com
Our first night was at The Guesthouse, whose chic-but-comfortable Conran & Conran interiors and on-trend branding were as sight for sore eyes for this sleepy traveller. Following an early morning flight from Dublin, I wolfed a rosemary and potato flatbread with creamy mushrooms, spinach and cheese in the classy ground floor brasserie before snoozing in the cushioned window seat in our Deluxe Opera Room overlooking the Albertina Museum. Aromatherapy pillow spray and own-brand condoms only add to the appeal. Rooms from €255. theguesthouse.at
Lucy White is deputy editor at Cara magazine. Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Vienna daily, while there's a plethora of info at @LucyWhiteDublin / @CARAMagazine