Set on the banks of the Danube, the Hofburg Palace is not simply the most magnificent castle in Vienna, it's also a veritable box of delights. The documented seat of government since the thirteenth century, the Palace has been the home of most Austrian royalty, in particular the Habsburgs and the emperors of Austria and Austria-Hungary, and is now a must for visitors for a whole host of reasons. This was the residence of Emperor Francis Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria, immortalised in film as “Sissi”, and the museum holds a selection of original mementoes of the Empress . It's also home to the crown jewels and the regalia of the Holy Roman Empire, the Imperial Library and the offices of the President of the Republic.
From May to December, the Wiener Hofburg Orchestra offers classical concerts and you have the chance to hear the waltzes of Strauss and Mozart's arias in this beautiful baroque setting. But these concerts are not the only spectacles presented at the Palace: the Spanish Riding School, has its headquarters here, and their displays of the art of horsemanship are unmatched. This classical equestrian art has been practised for nearly four and a half centuries, and the great stars of the show, the Lipizzan horses and their riders, work in perfect harmony.
The stables are in the oldest wing of the Palace, the Renaissance Stallburg building, and visitors can attend the morning practice sessions, which allow a peek behind the scenes at the work of the trainers and stallions, and a chance to admire the simple relaxation exercises of the animals. Nothing, though, can beat the elegant precision work of the gala displays with the highlight movements The Levade, Courbette and Capriole.
The Lipizzan horses perform their “airs above the ground” ballet in the baroque Winter Riding School, magnificently designed by the architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, and in the Summer Riding School, a secluded courtyard of the Hofburg Palace.
For around six weeks in July and August, the dancing stallions take a summer break, and in their place young stallions, brood mares and foals make a guest appearance at the Hofburg Palace. There's another special event, too, on July 10, 2010, when a grand Fete Imperiale is to be celebrated for the first time. At this fund-raising event organized by the Spanish Riding School to preserve and protect the magnificent Lipizzaner breed, the equitation areas will be transformed into the setting for a magnificent summer ball.
Spanish Riding School of Vienna
Fete Imperiale, VIP ticket: 180 €, normal: 100 €, tables: from 280 €
Austrian Tourist Board