Until 100 years ago, Vienna rivaled Paris as the cosmopolitan capital of Europe for centuries. Then, after World Wars I & II, Austria’s power and relevance greatly diminished. However, the appreciation of finer things that came with being the seat of the Hapsburg empire did not fade. Vienna still appreciates the luxuries of fine chocolates, coffee, and beautiful music.
The civilized culture is most epitomized in Vienna’s plethora of cafes, many dating back generations. Here you can grab a coffee (this is the European birthplace of coffee, after all), a pastry, and relax as long as you like (the café experience is not a rushed one) in the elegant, if now a bit shabbier, environs of these institutions. The most famous of these cafes has retained every bit of its elegance and the prices to go with it – Café Sacher, home of the Sacher-Torte.
Two layers of chocolate cake sandwich a filling of apricot jam as dark chocolate icing smoothly envelops the outside. Whipped cream is served on the side. Dating back to 1832, the relatively high prices don’t keep tourists away. We opted to try it at the more modern bar next door, which felt like a more contemporary place to enjoy such an historic treat. It’s also the side where the locals go. Our take: it was not the best dessert we had on the trip by any means, but it exceeded our expectations based on some of the reports we’d read.
While some believe the original Sacher-Torte has gone downhill, many rave that the version a few blocks away at Demel. Back in the day, this stunning bakery served Hapsburg royalty. While the Hapsburgs are long gone, these are still treats fit for an emperor. We did not try the Sacher-Torte here, but rather soaked in the beauty of these incredible cakes and pastries.
Surprisingly, we had visited Prague and Nuremberg without any apfelstrudel (apple strudel, as you might have guessed). With limited days of our trip left, our search for the best apple strudel led us to Café Hawelka.
A youngster on the café scene, having only been open since 1939, Café Hawelka did not disappoint. Flaky and dough with a perfect proportion of apple filling, they serve it warm as it should be. The hustle and bustle of the outside world disappears when sitting in this small, dark café sipping a cappuccino or hot chocolate and nibbling on apfelstrudel.
Modern Vienna very much keeps the art of pastry alive with chic newcomers like Joseph Brot.
Too often pastries don’t taste as good as they look or vice versa. In Vienna, they’re a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Thankfully, we left our scale at home so we could just enjoy!