For one night in Vienna, I was a royal. During my Cinderella moment, I dined like a queen and caught an insider’s glimpse of royal life.
The dinner event was the culmination of a beautifully orchestrated business trip to Vienna, Austria. And, as I stepped from my pumpkin coach (it was actually a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van) humming the Royals song by Lorde (no lie), I tried to exude a kind of “I do this all the time” air. But stepping back in time and into the Liechtenstein Palace was anything but ordinary.
The city of Vienna is exceptionally cool. I know a royal might not describe it this way but the city’s old world charm is magnetic, from its cobble-stoned streets to the many historic sights. Yet, Vienna is also a bustling and convenient European hub for travelers. Modern art museums, inventive cuisine, edgy fashion and a mix of architectural styles sit comfortably next to Baroque style buildings and churches; some erected on ancient Roman sites dating back to the 4th century. Even the famed Vienna Opera House has incorporated a modern flair, as people are invited to sit on benches outside of the theater to watch live performances for free. Culture is accessible and flashes of fanciful nouveau art like giant, brightly-painted modern sculptures, remind people that art is a living form.
After a week touring some of Vienna’s most beautiful sights, I saw grotto’s from the middle ages and tasted 12th century wines. I felt the sun on my face as we cruised the dreamy Danube River (photo above from the cruise). I studied the royal lives and storied past of the Hofburg and Schoenbrunn Palaces. These winter and summer palaces are grand glimpses into the dynastic lifestyles of the rich and the royal, inhabited for more than three centuries. But dressing in a long evening gown and experiencing the luxuries of life as a royal, felt entirely different than I expected. Here’s why.
Two smiling gentlemen waved us into the Liechtenstein Palace, directing us towards the elegant gold-and-red-trimmed runner to the right of the magnificent stone archway. My eyelids fluttered under the weight of overly zealous clumps of mascara and the brilliant white light bouncing off the marble steps and glacier white Rococo sculptures. The newly renovated palace gleamed under its stucco ceilings giving the entire entrance and hallways a heavenly glow.
As we climbed the grand stairway to the second floor landing, I spied a massive gold and crystal chandelier in the room ahead. Without time to refuse, and not that I would have, a crisp glass of bubbly was thrust into my hand and someone said, “You better get ready for this Rose. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
So forget Viennese coffee, fluffy, cream-filled pastries drowning in vanilla sauce and the Edelweiss song.
The trumpets sounded and the clouds parted as if Johann Strauss himself was welcoming me into one of the most beautiful ballrooms I have ever seen. But before I can pick my slack jaw off the floor, I do a North American quickstep, catching my heel on the bottom of my dress.
Thankfully, I stopped short of falling onto the waiter who, moments before, had handed me the delightful glass of champagne. I hoped to avoid another Bridget Jones moment as I took in the gold gilded walls and ceiling, and the giant cherubs with a more balanced eye.
A few things about Liechtenstein help explain the detailed wall decor and gold and crystal accents. Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest state in Europe and the sixth smallest country in the world, yet His Serene Highness Prince Hans Adam II (the current ruler of Liechtenstein) is the wealthiest monarch in Europe. With a nest egg of 5 billion dollars, Liechtenstein is only second in wealth to Monaco and boasts hundreds of millionaires. Prince Hans Adam himself has one of the world’s finest art collections, some of which are housed in the Liechtenstein Palace!
Nestled in the centre of the Alps and situated between Switzerland and Austria, Prince Hans Adam rules as a Monarch on a hereditary throne. The Liechtenstein economy is based on Swiss currency and the country is a tax haven that attracts more businesses than there are people. There are many unique things about Liechtenstein (like the railway track cutting across the land despite no any actual train system) but the strangest was that women could not vote until 1984.
This irony is not lost as the interior design of the Palace is considered to be quite feminine. The Rococo era followed the Baroque style, and is known for its feminine curves and intricate designs.
When you look up at the walls and ballroom entryway – from the golden chandeliers to the fanciful crystal accents – the “frivolous detail” is arresting. It’s interesting that designers call these architectural lines feminine as well as frivolous. The shapes actually come from nature, like puffy clouds and sea shells.
I don’t know what Princess Marie, Hans Adam’s wife, thinks of them or the “frivolous” design label. I do know that she was born in Prague, to the daughter of a Count and a Countess. She was a graphic artist before she married, and the royal family that includes four children still maintain family quarters in the Palace. To learn more about the architecture or to book a tour at the Palace, visit: https://www.palaisliechtenstein.com/en/home.html
As you can see from the beautiful details in the stunning professional pictures* throughout the article, it would be easy to get used to the royal treatment and the appetizers before dinner. The presentation of the food and attention to detail was breathtaking. The table settling cutlery, florals, and presentation of the plated food was spectacular. The ultimate was the main entree of asparagus, beef and a potato type grit. With orchestral music playing in the background, the wait staff walked into the dining room and timed the sequence of lifting huge silver domed tops off the warmed plates. It was completely grand!
As I relaxed into the small group setting and the tour of the castle apartments before dinner, our guide explained that important Viennese art from the Neo-classic and Biedermeier eras existed throughout the palace. Old masters like Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt weren’t available for us to see, of course, but the new style of art and architecture changed the mood in Vienna during the 19th century.
Industrialism and a growing appreciation of art by the middle class shaped the emerging German style of furniture-making that was more simplified. The more decorative French designs and interiors found in the summer and winter palaces were replaced in the Liechtenstein Palace by reliable, local woods and a more romantic style that would go on to influence the art deco period.
It’s virtually impossible to equate this so-called simplified interior design to our modern-day German furniture. Today’s sleek styles can be seen around the globe, with some even featured in WomanScape’s article about Grace Farms and the Japanese architecture. When the room filled with the sound of music ( an appropo choice of words to describe Viennese song), it brought the Cinderella feeling to life.
The small group of string musicians who played throughout dinner, disappeared for a few moments while a tantalizing dessert of fresh sorbet, berries, and pastry-like cheesecake, replete with an edible floral sprig, was served. Before anyone got up from the table, a sudden burst of quick paced, upbeat music rang out. Four elegantly-costumed couples took to the floor in swirling motions, twirling around our long table of seated guests.
They performed a series of traditional Viennese dances that included a waltz, tango, foxtrot and quickstep. Having raised daughters who Irish danced, I learned a little about the various genres of traditional dances. The footwork in a Viennese waltz includes a sort of three step rhythm that follows a simple box step; see http://www.wikihow.com/Dance-the-Waltz for additional information.
I don’t know that I’ll ever get the chance to relive this kind of dreamy experience. Living like a royal certainly isn’t a Viennese Waltz every night, but every time I hear the music of Johann Strauss – Austria’s undisputed Waltz King and most famous composer – I’ll remember my Cinderella time and the unique travels that filled my adventure with song and dance.
Thanks to Tomas Hercog for allowing me to use his amazing professional photographs, including the last one below; it captures the excitement of my husband and I as the night kicks off. I encourage readers to check out Tomas’ photography and video collection at: http://www.tomashercog.com For now, Gute Nacht, Wien!
And to learn more about Liechtenstein, visit https://tourismus.li/en/our-country/about-liechtenstein/