On a health kick in Vienna, the home of the Sachertorte, we discover that chocolate is therapy.
Chocolate makes everything better. Its scent still engulfs me days after it’s been slathered all over my body at Sacher Boutique Spa on the fifth floor of Vienna’s exclusive Hotel Sacher. And its fatty cacao butter keeps my skin supple, plump and radiant for weeks after I’ve been smothered in it. Its goodness infuses every pore and delights every sense – except, of course, the tastebuds, as I’m on a health kick in a city that’s better known for waltzing than the pursuit of wellness.
But I’ve come to the right place, for chocolate is full of antioxidants to fight free radicals, caffeine to stimulate circulation and firm the skin, and emollients to smooth rough spots. It’s even said to surpass the wrinkle-freezing effects of Botox.
The historic Hotel Sacher, founded in 1876 by Eduard Sacher, is famed for the Sachertorte, a cake invented by Eduard’s father, Franz, when he was a teenage apprentice chef. The delectable chocolate cake is still made daily in Vienna and shipped around the world. Seizing on this famous tradition, Sacher Boutique Spa’s signature Time to Chocolate treatments repurpose the sweet substance, applying it as a calorie-free balm for body and soul.
Confectionary might be off the menu when you’re seeking to revitalise yourself but nourishing cuisine abounds in Austria’s capital. Skin buttered and aglow, I sit under the fruit trees at Heuer, a restaurant in the city centre. It’s near Karlsgarten, Vienna’s first research and demonstration garden for urban farming, where university students and city dwellers come to learn abouttraditional cultivation practices and healthy food production.
Many of the ingredients on Heuer’s menu (including honey) are harvested in Karlsgarten, with the remainder sourced from public pastures or small local farmers and specialists. The sloe in my gin and tonic – yes, gin is beneficial, as it contains antioxidant-rich juniper berries and is thought to ease arthritic inflammation – has been foraged. The grilled oyster mushrooms in my salad were cultivated in Vienna’s 20th district on beds of coffee grounds discarded by the restaurant and brought here by cargo bike.
As in so many European cities, cycling is commonplace in Vienna, its slimline residents weaving through the ubiquitous, orderly bike lanes. It’s a good way for health-conscious visitors to see the city so I strap on a helmet – which instantly distinguishes me as a tourist among the helmet-less, skirt-wearing and suited-up local cyclists – and hop onto a rental from Pedal Power Bike Vienna.
The obvious route to take is the 5.3-kilometre Ringstrasse that circles the compact city centre but I’ve been provided with a tour map (and a list of guidelines essential for grasping the rules and etiquette of Viennese traffic). So I plot an invigorating path that crosses the Danube Canal, whizzes along part of the Ringstrasse, with its historic buildings and canopy of trees, checks out the food-themed Naschmarkt and skirts back along Stadtpark, which was established in the 1860s and is lush with groves of soothing ginkgo, honey locust and poplar trees.
This historic Viennese landscape contrasts with the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom across the Danube Canal. It’s a sloping glass tower designed by French architect Jean Nouvel as a foil to the Gothic brilliance of nearby St Stephen’s Cathedral.
The hotel’s So Spa offers a comprehensive treatment menu but, for something uniquely Viennese, I choose the Sisi Special, named for Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria, who took great care of her appearance and wore diamond starbursts in her hair. The treatment sounds promising; it will turn me into the princess I’ve always wanted to be, says the blurb. Indeed, who wouldn’t feel regal after a blissful facial, body scrub, massage and nail shape-and-shine? I float out of the spa, missing only the diamonds in my hair.
For dinner, I cross the Danube Canal again and find my way to Tian Bistro, tucked off a cobblestoned street. This café-style alternative to Vienna’s Michelin-starred Tian Restaurant serves vegetarian and vegan dishes made with freshly harvested, mostly organic produce. Its specialty is tarte flambée: oven-fired flatbread topped with combinations that include spinach and pear, leek and onion, and eggplant and mushrooms. But I order from the chef’s garden menu and enjoy a mini dégustation of innovatively paired ingredients such as mushrooms and potatoes, asparagus and cardamom, and carrots and hazelnuts.
So virtuous do I feel while preparing for bed at Hotel Sacher that I decide to eat the miniature Sachertorte placed in my suite. For isn’t it true that chocolate can be good for you? ￼
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