Some brands know how to take the extra step when it comes to satisfying their clientele. One car company is known for matching the upholstery of a car to a customer's nail polish color, or building a customized wood veener from a buyer's own tree. Another brand has 80 hotels in over 35 countries, offering one-of-a-kind access to some of the world's most wanted destinations, and (with utmost discretion) the desire to fill any guest request. Now these two brands, Bentley Motors and the Luxury Collection Hotels and Resorts, have teamed up to deliver guests a luxurious travel experience.
I knew I had to try this experience first hand, so joined up on the Springtime Bentley Grand Tour, a journey from Vienna to Salzburg with visits to Austria's decadent Luxury Collection properties.
We began our trip at the Hotel Bristol, a grand affair overlooking the Vienna State Opera House. This was one of Mahler's favorite locales. He often came to dine straight from the opera, still in coat and tails. Guests mistook him for a waiter, none to his amusement.
Close by is the Vienna Musikverein, home to over 800 concerts a season, including the annual New Year's Eve Concert, one of the most coveted tickets for any music lover. The Musikverein's vaults contain over 2 million priceless artifacts from classical music history, including original compositions and instruments. The Golden Hall boasts some of the best acoustics on the planet, built well before modern technological advances. We sampled some instruments, enjoying listening to every single note clearly. Great acoustics are simply defined as those that allow the music to touch you.
We were led into the portrait gallery where the walls are decorated with Classical music's greatest: Mozart, Schumman and Liszt to name a few. A museum guide brought up boxes of original sheet music from the vaults. A Hayden piece from 1762 was littered with mistakes, proof of the poor composer's exhaustion, left to compose at night after tending to his court duties. A messy composition book showed the beginnings of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, revealing his technique of focusing on the ideas over the details.
Next up was dinner at the Hotel Imperial in Vienna, the former Palace of Württemberg, turned into a hotel in 1873. The Hotel Imperial is host to so many royals and celebrities, they need a rotating exhibition just to showcase the gifts left behind, such as a key signed by Sigmund Freud, or Queen Elizabeth's tea set. Wagner often chose the Imperial as his workplace.
The next morning at the Bristol we found awaiting us a fleet of Continental W12s and V8s, with accompanying Bentley boys. If there's one thing that attracts attention in a city that has seen it all (Hello Life Ball) it's a lineup of Bentleys. Viennese surrounded the impressive row of cars snapping photos and tweeting away.
I hopped into a gold Continental GT with a V8 engine, taking a moment to appreciate the impressive growl of the new 4.0 litre twin-turbo engine. After a scenic ride around Vienna's Ring Boulevard it was onto the highway and engaged the back massaging chairs. I never imagined I would leave a car more relaxed than when I got in it.
Our first break out of the city was at the daunting Stift Gottweig, a Benedictine monastery built in 1083 atop a high hill in the Danube Valley. Stift Gottweig is surrounded by vineyards and fresh apricot groves, the bread-and-butter of the 20 monks who live and work there. It's a worthy afternoon stop for a late breakfast and to take a walk around the property. Don't miss the museum to see the famed Imperial Staircase, the largest baroque staircase in Austria, a marble entity crowned with a heavenly fresco.
After coffee, I switched cars to try out the Continental GTC W12. The climate was chilly and the sky was alternating between clouds and sun, but in the Bentley GTC this proved to be no obstacle. The front of the car offers both seat heating and "air scarfs," a steady stream of heat blowing onto your neck, keeping the climate just right. Outside of polar climates, the Bentley GTC is the perfect car to make your year-round convertible.
The Bentley GTC is the first convertible I've been in that didn't feel like driving around in two separate cars. The coupe-like body is made with unbroken lines, with no latching points visible. The thick fabric hood contains acoustic glass and under-body panels for ultimate noise isolation, and can be raised or lowered in just 25 seconds in one graceful maneuver. No need to stop the car when going at low speeds. The heating system automatically adjusts once the roof is down. For once, putting the top down becomes second nature, rather than a disruption in your journey.
Bentley GPS lives directly above the steering wheel and on the navigation panel, so the driver doesn't mind if you take ample time to fiddle around with the sound system. The GTC Naim system features Dirac Dimensions™ digital signal processing. It creates a virtual 'sound field' independent of the 10 speakers in the car, allowing concert hall-quality sound for all passengers. It didn't feel quite like being in the Golden hall, but I had no complaints.
We stopped at Galerie Tanglberg for lunch, and found it well worth the quick detour to Vorchdorf. The Michelin two star restaurant offers simple fare made from the freshest local ingredients, all in the tradition that has served the village well for centuries. The charming restaurant is also home to a gallery and guesthouse. Call in advance as their popular six-course tasting menu is usually booked well in advance.
When we arrived in Salzburg we were saddened to turn in the Bentley keys, but the blow was lessened once we were welcomed into the Hotel Goldener Hirsch. Once we walked inside the cottage-style building, it was as if we were transported to another world. The Goldener Hirsch first served as an inn in 1407, and today remains a pure example of rustic luxury. It is filled with centuries-old farmhouse furniture and priceless original antiques, allowing for a unique hotel where guests fill right at home. The dining room is decorated as an original hunter's lodge, with a green and white tablecloth, deer antlers, and intricate wood carvings everywhere. We sat down to a delicious dinner of local fish, freshly caught at Lake Fuschl.
Our last stop was the nearby Schloss Fuschl castle hotel, a magical location surrounded by a lake and mountains that still offers access to ta great city. Built as a hunting lodge in 1450, the Schloss Fuschl presents guests with the very best of nature year round. Guests are invited to hike around the lake, visit the Castle Fishery on the water, enjoy the bathing jetties, or simply sit on the sundeck and enjoy the scenery. A flawless spa offers top massages with a most relaxing view of the lake, perfect for couples enjoying a unique getaway, or anyone seeking a quick city detox. Original tower suites are offered in Baroque and Biedermeier style. And for the truly decadent, rent out the Sissi suite, filed with a unique collection of Old Master paintings from the 17-19th Centuries. It's the same spot where Romy Schneider stayed while filming the classic Sissi trilogy.
The view alone is worth the price of admission.