A couple of years ago I rode – for the second time – the Donau Radveg, the 200-mile-long bicycle path that follows the Danube from Passau, on the Austria-German border, to Vienna. It is a beautiful bike ride, the classic European cycling idyll, with a grand finale amongst the sumptuous Habsburg architecture along the Ringstrasse.
Cake stops are near and dear to the heart of every cyclist, especially after a long ride. And when it comes to cafés, coffee and cake – or strudel as the case may be – it doesn’t get better than Vienna. Café culture here runs so deep and so rich, with so many grand old art nouveau cafes, that the whole Viennese café scene has been granted World Heritage status, as part of the city’s intangible cultural heritage. The strudel is pretty good too.
Among the grandest of the old Viennese cafes is the Café Landtmann, in the heart of the old quarter. Elegant, high-ceilinged, dark panelled and chandeliered, it has been a Viennese institution since it first opened its doors in 1873. It was frequented over the years by the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Gustav Mahler, Viennese poet Peter Altenberg and the writer Felix Salten, best known for his children’s story, Bambi. It was also Sigmund Freud’s favourite watering hole back in the days when he was working at the university, nearby. On that basis alone a passing cyclist would have to be crazy not to go there.
Being just down the road from Austria’s national parliament, Vienna’s town hall and the country’s stock market the Landtmann is a favourite hang-out for Austrian politicians and business leaders. It used to be said that the waiters at the Cafe Landtmann were among the best-informed people in all of Vienna.
The other cafe pictured here is the Cafe Sperl – quiet, musty in a genteel sort of way, very much a locals’ cafe, well off the usual tourist rounds and frequented, I am told, by artists and performers, architects and art students. It doesn’t appear to have changed much over the past century. It was apparently a favourite haunt of a young Adolf Hitler when he was studying art and architecture in Vienna – although perhaps not surprisingly this is not something the cafe brags much about these days. I visited both of these cafes at the end of my ride and took this little galley of images while sitting over my Turkish coffee and strudel.