There are those ‘pinch me’ moments in life when you just can’t quite believe where you are. Attending the Philharmonic Ball in Vienna was, for me, one of those moments.
The ball season is the highlight of the Viennese calendar, and the most sought after tickets are for the Philharmonic Ball held in the world-famous concert hall, the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. I was one of an international group of journalists invited by the Vienna Tourist Board to participate in this most glamorous event. I was ecstatic at this opportunity, until I realised a couple of minor details – my waltzing skills are non-existent and I don’t possess a glitzy ball gown. No problem, our generous hosts had organised not only dancing lessons at the most famous dance school in Vienna, but also dress hire, plus, we were to get a makeover by a professional make-up artist and hairdresser. Wow! I was beginning to feel like Cinderella!
Hotel Imperial Vienna
Arriving at the 5* Hotel Imperial, one of the oldest and most exclusive hotels in Vienna, was like stepping back in time to a more elegant and grand era, with its magnificent marble floors, sweeping staircases, historic artworks and glittering crystal chandeliers. Originally built as a magnificent palace for an Austrian prince, it was converted into Hotel Imperial in 1873 and became known all over the world for its discretion and impeccable service. Vienna is famed for its music and culture so it’s not surprising that guests included royalty, politicians, iconic musicians and legendary film stars. These days it is still frequented by the glitterati and visiting celebrities, particularly during the ball season which begins in November, though the Viennese calendar is filled with wonderful events throughout the year.
After checking into our luxurious grand suites, a tour of the hotel was followed by a welcome reception with canapés, champagne and the hotel’s speciality, Imperial Torte, a heavenly chocolate cake! Then it was off to Flossman dress hire to select our outfits for the ball.
With an extensive choice of dazzling dresses, I opted for a long red lace number which was to be, miraculously, altered, shortened and delivered to my suite for the following evening in time for the ball! Over dinner that night at the aptly- named Ludwig Van restaurant, I became acquainted with my fellow journalists – a diverse, international group. It was an interesting evening with excellent Viennese cuisine combined with copious amounts of wine, allowing us to get to know each other well enough to enjoy the following day’s dance lessons at the Elmayer school of dance.
Elmayer school of Dance
Dancing is part of Viennese culture, and the Elmayer, is legendary in Vienna. Founded in 1919 it is synonymous with sophisticated Viennese lifestyle, and young people queue up to enrol at the beginning of each season. Every student wants to take part in the prestigious opening ball ceremonies, and perform the traditional Viennese Waltz. We were taken through the basics steps of the Waltz, hopefully giving us the confidence to take to the dance floor at the ball. Struggling to learn even the simplest routine, it made me appreciate how difficult it must be for the participants of Strictly – I watch with new found respect this year!
After the morning’s efforts, we went for lunch at Zum Schwarzen Kameel, a traditional Viennese restaurant in the so-called ‘Golden Quarter’ of Vienna, known for its famous sandwiches. The area is regarded as the capital’s most desirable address – stylish, exclusive, quintessentially Viennese, and clearly where the well-heeled Viennese hang out. Wishing I had more time to explore this beautiful city, it was back to the hotel, where, sure enough, my gown was waiting for me in my suite. Time to get ready for the ball!
Firmly zipped into my red lace dress, I headed for the sumptuous Royal Suite, where we were to have our ‘makeover’. Champagne was on hand to assist, as we were transformed and made ball-ready. With talented make-up artists and hairdressers working their magic, (available for guests throughout the ball season), we certainly scrubbed up well! Selfies and Instagram photos were taken and, feeling giddy on glamour, (and possibly champagne!) it was time for the pre-ball cocktail party and dinner. This is where everything became slightly surreal, as guests gathered in all their finery in the Imperial’s spectacular banquet hall and the atmosphere was truly electric. Beautifully decorated, candlelit tables were set up for dinner, creating an enchanting ambiance which set the tone for the evening ahead.
The Musikverein is just a short walk from the hotel and by 9pm guests were beginning to gather for the opening of the Ball ceremony at 10pm. We were privileged to have a box with panoramic views of the unfolding event as the glamorous guests arrived to take their seats. The musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic took their places, and the ceremonies began. The orchestra struck up a Strauss waltz, as the students of the Elmayer, in their beautiful white ball gowns and black tuxedos, filed in. Standing statuesquely, they waited for all the dignitaries to file past and take their seats, before opening the ball with their beautifully synchronised waltzes – an eye-wateringly thrilling sight. After they finished, to thunderous applause, the guests took to the dance floor. At first it was all very civilised and elegant waltzing, but as the evening progressed the dancing gained a pace and everyone on the dance floor was, well, – having a ball! Balls usually last until the early hours, and it is traditional for a last-stop visit to ‘Bitzinger’ for a ‘Würstl’ (Viennese sausage).
It had been the most amazing experience – did I waltz? Well, no but I did have tremendous fun and way too much champagne!
For Vienna Tourist Board visit: www.vienna.info
For Hotel Imperial visit: www.imperialvienna.com
Dress Hire at: www.flossmann.at
Follow Lynne’s travels on Instagram: @lynnecoatesphoto
You may also enjoy: His & Hers Magazine’s Christmas 2019 Gift Guide.