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Cultural Roadtrip

Text Sarah Buitendach Photographs Getty Images/ Gallo Images Seven series BMWs flying past fairytale castles on the side of the autobahn, stately baroque buildings housing contemporary art galleries, and daring degustation menus based on time-honoured local food – the traditional and modern worlds of Bavaria and Austria seem to live effortlessly hand in hand. And they’re the perfect breeding ground for exceptional creativity and design – as I discover during a week-long trip to Munich, Vienna and Salzburg.

Munich

The brand-new Louis Hotel is the ultimate boutique stopover and, best of all, it’s right in the centre of town. Each bedroom’s tiny balcony overlooks the famous Viktualienmarkt and its myriad gourmet food stalls. My bedroom is the perfect antidote to the long-haul flight from Johannesburg. I’m mildly obsessed with metro tiles and the bathroom is adorned, floor to ceiling, in these chic white beauties. I swoon and then collapse on my king-size bed that’s laden with high thread-count linen to keep me warm as temperatures plummet to freezing point outside. With the city’s proud architectural history giving rise to buildings like the spectacular Munich Residenz and Neuschwanstein Castle, it’s clear that Bavarian folk have an eye for style. This is all too apparent when we arrive at a simple concrete cube-like structure on the outskirts of the city. It’s the home of world-renowned furniture design company ClassiCon. As CEO Oliver Holy takes us on a tour of the space, it’s hard not to be dumbstruck by all the timeless, instantly recognisable pieces this company has produced and represented over the years – from Eileen Gray’s Day Bed to Barber Osgerby’s Saturn Stool – this is ‘once in a lifetime stuff’. And it’s about to be outdone by lunch. Tantris is the ultimate proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. With interiors that simultaneously recall the foyer of the State Theatre in Pretoria and the set of The Brady Bunch movie (AstroTurf grass included), it’s like a little piece of the 1970s – but with the most astounding contemporary food imaginable. Chef Hans Haas’s menu features langoustines, veal and a deconstructed apple-and-caramel soufflé. It’s no wonder Tantris has been voted among the top 50 best restaurants in the world. We speed off across the city to Designworks USA. It’s at this BMW subsidiary’s studio that a team use their magic to design everything from trainers to luxury speedboats – their imaginative scope seems limitless and I’m intrigued to see how car design can be translated into so many other spheres. After this introduction we get to concentrate on the real thing. I know a thing of beauty when I see it. In the BMW Museum (it’s not only an iconic building but also one of Munich’s must-see spots) there’s a bevy of vehicular lovelies to make anyone weak at the knees. There are the first motorcycles the company produced and the Z3 made famous by James Bond; there are the famed Art Cars (decorated by the likes of Andy Warhol and our own Esther Mahlangu) and futuristic concept vehicles with fabric shells. It’s impressive stuff. Feeling overstimulated by now, I happily head back to the hotel and, after sushi at in-house restaurant Emiko, collapse into bed in anticipation of a crack-of-dawn flight to the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Design Indulgence

BMW’s X5 and X6 are no strangers to South African roads, but flying around the Salzburg Ring race track were the brand-new ‘power versions’ of these legendary vehicles – the BMW X5 and BMW X6 M. In BMW-speak, ‘M’ means power and these two beauties have that in abundance. Aside from their devastating looks (I’m a fan of the X6’s sexy lines and sheer presence) these cars go fast – so fast that I was glad to be in the capable hands of BMW South Africa’s GM of Communications and Public Affairs, Guy Kilfoil, as we spun around the track. They are seductive, safe, lightning-fast and deeply covetable – the epitome of world-class Bavarian design. bmw.co.za

Vienna

Vienna is Munich’s charming cousin. Where München is slick, cool and right on trend, you get the feeling that Vienna is stylishly old-world. This is, after all, the city of sweeping waltzes, ultra-rich Sachertorte and Gustav Klimt’s gilded fantasies. It’s graceful, striking and proper – if a little faded around the edges. I like that there’s a coffee house on every corner and they all sell fantastic pastries. I also like that our hotel, DO & CO, is conveniently situated in the heart of town – a few steps away from the iconic St Stephen’s Cathedral. With its exquisite coloured-tile roof, it’s one of the most breathtaking buildings I’ve ever seen. DO & CO’s rooms are slick, open-plan affairs with every creature comfort imaginable. They’re not messing around; even the complimentary toiletries are by Etro. Best of all, as far as high-street-starved South Africans are concerned, this boutique hotel is positioned directly above a Zara store. At the hotel restaurant we grab a quick bite that includes a large portion of local Styrian beef tartare (much to the apprehension of my fellow travellers) and then head off to MAK, the city’s Museum of Applied and Contemporary Arts. The name is misleading, because the building, which dates back to the 1900s, actually houses an exceedingly impressive selection of furniture and practical design. There are baroque and rococo pieces and gorgeous Art-Deco objects. We ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over ornate vases and bowls by the Wiener Werkstätte, before being whisked away in our BMWs to the centre of the city and a monolithic concrete block in the middle of Arenbergpark. It’s windowless and pretty ugly – and was built by Hitler as an anti-aircraft defence point and protective bunker. MAK is on a crusade to turn this macabre structure into a world-class contemporary art space and it’s already filled with a host of artworks – including Erwin Wurm’s ‘Fat Car’ sculpture. The Dorotheum couldn’t be more different. A short walk from our hotel, this 300-year-old institution is ‘the oldest of the world’s leading auction houses’. The collections of furniture and art are impressive, and they change as frequently as auctions take place. I’m mesmerised by the dazzling jewellery collection – cabinet upon cabinet of every kind of trinket and treasure you can imagine. In the morning, after meeting leading Austrian menswear designer Ute Ploier, we assemble outside the city’s Museums Quartier. Once the royal stables, the stately baroque boundary buildings now house a contemporary collection of cultural institutions. The Leopold Museum boasts a brilliant collection of artworks by celebrated Austrian artists Egon Schiele and Klimt, and its white block architecture is equally impressive. The MQ’s restaurant, Milo, is worthy of a mention too – with its vaulted Turkish-tiled ceilings it’s a sublime spot to enjoy a lunch of fresh pasta or even wild boar. If you’re in search of authentic Austrian grub, head to a Würstelstand (street sausage stand) for a cheese and calorie-filled Käsekrainer. For more refined Viennese classics make for Vestibül, the restaurant at the Burgtheater, where we dine on our last night in the city – scoffing soft-boiled egg on hot potatoes with cress and homemade mayonnaise, braised organic beef cheek and apricot pancakes served with stewed apricots and apricot sorbet. And so to Salzburg.

Salzburg

I was expecting curtain-wearing Von Trapp children to appear singing from among the trees. What I discovered was a small town of epic beauty. Salzburg is tucked between mountains and is made up of a winding grid of tiny roads and gigantic cathedrals; it’s also a city dripping with history. While many tourists make the three-hour car trek from Vienna to this town in homage to The Sound of Music (the movie was set here) and Mozart (he was born here), it’s also famous for hosting of one of the world’s foremost music festivals. Every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Salzburg Festival for a music fix and, although we happen to drop by at the wrong time of year, we’re given all the gen with a behind-the-scenes tour. After lunch at Restaurant Stiftskeller St Peter – established in BCE803, it’s the oldest restaurant in Europe – we take a walking tour of the historic city centre. In a surprising move, we end up taking part in an impromptu performance of Mozart’s ‘Toy Symphony’ with children’s percussion instruments. In my musical debut I play lead cuckoo. It’s stressful stuff but as compensation I head, cuckoo-whistle in hand, for the Hotel Scalaria and a new challenge of driving really powerful, really beautiful out-of-the-box BMWs. It’s a tough life, but somebody has to do it...

Getting There

  • Bavaria is the southeastern-most state of Germany, with Munich as its capital. It’s roughly a one-hour flight from Munich to the Austrian capital, Vienna, and a three-hour drive to the town of Salzburg. Driving to Munich from Salzburg on the autobahn will take just over an hour and a half.
  • SAA flies directly from Johannesburg to Munich; Lufthansa offers flights from Johannesburg to Frankfurt with various connecting options to Munich.
This article was originally featured in the April 2010 issue of House and Leisure.