Vienna Hotels Articles

August 28, 2010

Memoirs: Traveling

Not all of Vienna’s open spaces are very well maintained. Nor can all of them be considered as retreats, as many of the green plots on the city plan are located immediately next to the Ringstrasse, the city’s busiest thoroughfare. The Rathauspark, Resselpark at Karlsplatz and the Burggarten of the Hofburg are all more or less sterile places in terms of their design, although the Maria Theresien Platz – sandwiched between the Natural History Museum and the National Art Gallery – is filled with very interesting plant sculptures. Some of these threaten to obtain the oversized (if not quite so grotesque) proportions that are familiar from Levens Hall. The Prater is, of course, to Vienna what the Bois de Boulogne is to Paris or Hyde Park is to London, but these are scarcely retreats, more recreation areas. At the smaller scale it’s worth the five minutes walk to the south of the Schubertring, where the Rennweg gives access to the Belvedere. Of all the accessible gardens in the central area of Vienna, this one offers a real opportunity to get away from it all.

The garden itself was created Girard in 1717 before the buildings were started. It separates the Lower Belvedere, built as a summer home, from the later Upper Belvedere, originally a banquet hall. Both buildings are in the high baroque style and house art collections ranging from medieval stone carvings to 20th century Secessionist pieces. Two rooms are devoted to the larger than expected gilded paintings by Gustav Klimt. The garden is what has come to be known as ‘formal’, although regularly geometric would be a more accurate description. It is broadly terraced and affords tranquil views northwards over the city, the skyline being punctuated by the immense south tower of the Steffl. The space is wide and open, clearly designed for grand procession, but now a serene haven. High walls divide it from the university’s botanic garden but these walls are themselves concealed behind well-trimmed hedges, creating the illusion that the verdant spaces beyond are an extension of the garden.

Bench seating is arranged in lines on both sides facing the centre, which is occupied by stone-built pools and cascades, large lawns edged with box and cone bollards of yew demarcating the pathways. Small bedding displays are mostly innocuous, not detracting too much from the peaceful setting and quietly dignified layout. Cambered gravel paths relieve and add subtlety to the ground plane of this largely uncluttered and well-kept garden. The monumental flights of steps add dramatic incident. On the broader scale, it is the two buildings which unite the composition and the unexpected, borrowed view of the city which doubles the pleasure usually associated with enclosed gardens of this type. A good masterplan working in harmony with the topography and detailing is the key to this endurable and enjoyable retreat. The Belvedere can be closely compared to the Boboli in Florence. The visual and physical relationship between park and city is very similar. This place oozes dignity, so go well prepared, with strawberries and a chilled Auslese. Too vulgar? Then simply stroll around with Cecilia Bartoli signing Mozart – just for you, through a discreet headset.

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