Heads up – this is a pretty long (and very photo heavy post) so you might wanna grab a cuppa tea (or a glass of wine? No judgement) before you get started!
(*As I’m currently writing this in Ireland I’ve got a pint of Guinness in front of me so I bid you a virtual ‘cheers’ to you as we speak). 🙂
On our trip to Vienna, we did something we almost never do – left one day free to do absolutely nothing!
We literally arrived at the Hotel Ruby Lissi (pretty great location when you’re in the city, by the way) with no plans for the day! I can’t even pretend – I absolutely loved it!
Typically, and especially so when you’re visiting a city for the first time like we were doing in Vienna, there’s just so much I want to see and do that I let that take forefront and so being able to chill and just take things slowly was not lost on me at all – it was absolutely brilliant!
This, of course, meant so much procrastination that we actually ended up going for lunch closer to 4pm and promptly got distracted by the city’s sights…
Purstner was amazing, by the way, brilliant food but I’m gonna go a little controversial – I realised something over the weekend here… I don’t like Schnitzel. (Shocking, I know… or maybe not?)
I’ve tried schniztel several times outside of Austria (and kinda just figured they didn’t know how to make it properly at the places I tried it in) and then when we went skiing in Zell am See, this time in Austria, I still didn’t like it.
Like, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it but I’m not crazy about it and wouldn’t go out of my way to order it at a restaurant anymore.
What I lack in enthusiasm for Schnitzel, I more than make up for (several times over) in my enthusiasm for strudel! Apple Strudel is just the best and I know this might not be the Austrian way but throw in some ice cream (or even some vanilla custard) and you’ll have me singing from the rooftops!
After lunch, we carried on our amble through Vienna, stopping off at the Cathedral, which was actually covered in scaffolding on one side but totally made up once you step inside.
The Cathedral then led to St Peter’s Church…
And then off to the one place you have to visit in Vienna – Hofburg.
(*The church we visited before lunch, by the way, was Dominican Church)
Hofburg is a former palace in Vienna and is now home to so many amazing sights in the city! Even the sights that aren’t in the palace complex are within walking distance from the palace (The museum quarter, the Rathaus, some of the other beautiful churches…).
This is definitely a part of the city I’d recommend visiting first if you’re short on time and wanna see as many sights in the city as possible!
Alas, by the time we’d had lunch and rather lazily made our way here, most places were closed for entry so you could appreciate the architecture from outside but couldn’t step in.
We carried on to the Rathaus, where we lucked in on a city festival with food, drinks and a dance floor that was starting to get busier as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon!
Before deciding on where to go for dinner, we reached out for recommendations on Instagram and the suggestions were amazing! One of the recommendations we got privately was to head over to Melker Stiftskeller (which if I’m honest, was the closest to us) and sounded good so we went there.
When you arrive, you’d be mistaken for doubting the veracity of that recommendation as you walk into a quiet courtyard and down even quieter stairs until you step past the curtains into this basement that get very busy very quickly with equally hungry diners!
Struggling to decide what to order for drinks, I went for the elderflower lemonade and what I’ve since come to see as an Austrian (*perhaps even Viennese) drink – Sturm!
Sturm is basically like when you let the grapes start to ferment to turn into wine and then stop the process. It’s apparently about 5% alcohol and is very sweet – both things I like a lot!
For dinner, Lloyd went for the beef while I went for what is now one of my favourite things to have in Austria (not just Vienna), the pork knuckle!
The crackling on that pork knuckle is just perfect (Lloyd devoured most of mine before I could even get a chance – you try to be generous by giving him an inch and he just takes a mile).
By the time we were done with dinner, there was nothing for it but to just head back to the hotel and stumble into bed!
The next morning in Vienna, after a rather leisurely breakfast (I think I ate breakfast slowly for like 2 hours with the papers – not point ruining how well rested we were in Vienna, right?), the rest of the day was spent in pursuit of one of my favourite past times – wines!
We headed over to Weininger, a winery with vineyards in the famous hills of Vienna (these hills are protected by the government and have to be used in very specific ways to keep the heritage of the Viennese wines). We started off with a quick tour through the cellars here (which are pretty old) before heading indoors for some wine tasting!
First off, we went through the whites – ranging from Gemischter Satz (a very popular type of Austrian wine)…
…and working our way through to the ‘natural‘ wine variety of it!
Natural wine, by the way, is wine that’s made in the old ways of making wine – no extra added products or processes have been introduced to make the wine production faster or more efficient. It’s wine like it used to be made and drunk back in the day.
It’s, of course, a more expensive wine to make for these reasons (and also very cloudy too) but a new favourite – along with the Gemischter Satz! When you see it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s cider but once you taste it, you’ll see why I very quickly liked this one (you need to let me know what you think once you do or indeed, if you’ve already tried it).
We then carried on into the reds, something which surprised me as I’ve never really seen Austrian red wines but which was equally as fantastic!
For lunch, we headed out into the vineyards for a proper Buschenschank experience.
A Buschenschank is essentially a restaurant in the vineyards on the hill. Typically, the locals would hike up to the hills where the vineyards are (Austrian’s love a good hike, by the way – I feel like this is how they all stay pretty fit) and stop for a meal up here (or perhaps just a glass of wine and a bite or two to eat) – it’s an Austrian pastime I can get behind! 😆
Our vineyard had their own Buschenschank, where we proceed to tuck into many-an Austrian open sandwiches….
…followed by the meat boards and washed down with copious amount of that delicious Austrian wine!
The rest of the evening was spent in fairly similar fashion and we pretty much did nothing between leaving the vineyards (which you can get to easily by underground… or perhaps its more overground in the case of Vienna) between then and going off for dinner!
I know, I know – from food to food! I have no regrets about this – I came to Austria to relax and have fun – so far I was meeting that objective absolutely perfectly!
For dinner, and as much as it pains me to do this, I have to give credit to Lloyd. He found a restaurant (which we actually walked past the previous night) which, actually, as I write this, I take back any compliments to Lloyd. I just remembered – Lloyd asked the lady at reception for where to go nearby for good food and she recommended Griechenbeisl.
What she never said about Griechenbeisl was what its claim to fame was. To be fair, I’m not sure she even focused on that – I think she was more concerned about the food! She was right about the food here! It was pretty good! Alas, I was still so stuffed from dinner (and perhaps the wine too) that I couldn’t do much more than mains (starters I didn’t care too much about but dessert is my thing!).
Lloyd decided to go for a soup to start…
…followed by the beef (I tasted that and it was fantastic – it’s cooked beef so it’s not like crazy flavours but it’s perfectly tender and you get the buttery bone marrow to go with it (freaks Lloyd out but I absolutely love it).
I feel I went for the better choice – the lamb. The beef was good but that lamb was, by and large, the best choice on our table.
Right! What is Griechenbeisl’s claim to fame? Well, it’s all to do with the famous residents of Vienna (and its famous visitors to be fair). On the roof of the restaurant, there are signatures by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner and even Mark Twain… to mention but a few which you absolutely have to see!
We, of course, had no idea about this until the bill arrived and it was when we were looking through the brochure attached to the bill (which I would usually never pay real attention to) that I found out about it and had to ask where the room was.
This for me makes the restaurant a must visit – it’s rare that you find a place that has such great lure in terms of the history and yet manages to have great food so when you find it, it’s safe to say that it’s something of a keeper!
Thoroughly impressed and well fed, we trudged off to the hotel for bed, in full anticipation of the next day.
The next day, we started bright and early – no 2-hour breakfasts or long lie-in in bed. We rushed to breakfast, checked out of the hotel as, being greedy tourists, we wanted to see much more of Austria and had plans to go out of Vienna over the next couple of days.
First things first though, a taste of Viennese history which (according to the restaurantier) even the locals seem to have forgotten.
I’ll cut straight to the chase – like the croissant, having escargot (i.e. snails) is something that the Viennese, and indeed Austrians, did long before the French yet because the French made it ‘haute’ and ‘sexier’, people always think these things are intrinsically French.
For our snail experience, we headed off to Gugu Muck (also a direct train metro train here from the city centre).
I have to admit, I have no issues with eating snails – I’ve had lots of African giant snails and done right, it’s absolutely delicious however for smaller snails, I struggle a little bit more. In the past, as long as they’ve been slathered in garlic butter (or some version thereof), I’m totally happy to have them!
Our host, who’s very passionate about snails and everything to do with them, started off by showing us how he breeds them. My experience with snails is that they’re very slow but very tenacious and will disappear if you give them half a chance so for him to breed them out in the fields is something impressive!
In fact, in the past, the snails became part of Austria cuisine because they attempted to feast on the vineyards and so people picked them off the vineyards and basically decided to turn lemons into lemonade by turning them into food. (There’s apparently something like 4 times more protein in a snail than there is in a similar weight of beef).
Snails studied, we then went about the business of eating them. Gugu Muck is fairly popular when it comes to escargot.
They run a 6-course tasting menu and it’s on 1 (or 2) days a week so these tend to get booked up fairly quickly so if you wanna do it, I recommend booking in advance of your arrival. (Their website is www.gugumuck.com )
For the meal, in addition to delicious wines, you get to try 6-course of snails (yes, even a snail dessert) – all cooked by your private chef!
We got a bit of a sneak peek into the first course with the snail caviar (snail eggs)..
This for me was the only thing I really struggled with to begin with. I’m not the biggest fan of caviar (or actually, even of chicken eggs to be fair – runny eggs whites are just a major no for me) so I was a bit sceptical.
If you’re into caviar though, you’ll enjoy these! Thankfully, they’re served with delicious snail sausages (you’d have no idea it was even made with snails to be fair) and a snail omelette. Surprisingly delicious! Everything went uphill from that point onwards.
We went on to a snail soup, followed by a snail salad and snails with pumpkin!
We also had natural wine to go with this (which I had a newfound predilection for so I was perfectly in my element here).
The fifth course was my favourite – it was snails cooked in 3 different sauces – 1 of which was the garlic butter ones I mentioned earlier. I mopped up the sauces in all 3 with my bread afterwards – it was that good!
Dessert is not as overly snail-y as the first five courses. The main part of the dessert is a creamy torched delight with a snail on the side in raspberry sauce. I couldn’t figure out how you would make snail into a dessert but the way it was done worked brilliantly!
With that, we said farewell to our brilliant hosts and indeed, to Vienna and headed off in search of the delights of the Austrian countryside! Austrian cities are absolutely amazing but as a lot of Austrians will tell you – the more natural side of Austria (which you find a lot of outside of the cities) are pretty spectacular!
Suffice to say, once we hit the road – much as I really found Vienna fascinating (and already made plans to visit a few weeks after), I was absolutely looking forward to the next part of our road trip through Austria. Catch you in the next post for all the details on that one!