By Julia Reynolds
The first time I visited the wonderful country of Austria was nearly ten years ago (in my impressionable early twenties). I remember thinking something to myself like: “Man, these guys have really got things figured out.” Streets and entryways were so clean they nearly sparkled; everyone brought their own bags and crates to the grocery store (buying your own cost around 0.50 euro) and everything, and I mean everything, got sorted and recycled.
Even today the United States is at least another ten years behind where Austria was back then, in terms of properly executed environmental initiatives. So it comes as no great surprise that a hotel as innovative as Boutiquehotel Stadthalle Vienna exists in Austria.
The Boutiquehotel Stadthalle is the world’s first urban hotel to achieve a zero-energy balance. This achievement serves as an example to hoteliers worldwide of what is possible when it comes to environmental sustainability in accommodation. Over the course of a year, the Boutiquehotel generates an amount of energy equivalent to what’s required to run its daily operations.
This rather admirable feat is accomplished via solar and photovoltaic panels, three wind turbines on the property, and groundwater heat pumps, along with plenty of the outside-the-box thinking for which Austrians are rightfully famed (Freud, Mozart, anyone?). Even the hotel’s sign generates its own electricity and well water is collected to flush the property’s toilets and irrigate its flourishing gardens.
Boutiquehotel Stadthalle was the first hotel in Vienna to earn the European Union’s eco-label, among numerous other environmental accolades. Book a cozy yet opulent junior suite in the property’s passive house and enjoy the terrace with its sweeping views of enchanting Vienna. The hotel even provides yoga mats in every room, and the scent of roses and lavender wafting from the gardens completes the amalgamation of wellness and ambience the property projects.
Owner Michaela Reitterer explained to The Guardian in a 2013 article by Elisabeth Braw:
"It's not just about being CO2-neutral. It’s about the whole concept, and as the owner you have to be willing to pay a bit more for some things. And the guests appreciate that. Sure, there are some people who don’t come back because we don’t have minibars or air conditioning, but most people are fine with that.”
Reitterer offers guests something more from their experience at Stadthalle, where zero-energy efficiency meets comfort, ambience and even luxury. Reitterer is also running a business though, and obviously profitability is a factor. During renovations the hotel invested around 700,000 euros in rainwater collection systems, solar panels, water pumps, LED lighting, and more. Reitterer can take pride in the positive results of the investment in green initiatives:
“Normally in a 3-star hotel in Austria, the energy benchmark is around 6-7 percent, but we have 2 percent energy costs. So, it really saves money,” Reitterer said in a case study for The European Portal For Energy Efficiency in Buildings. “We have nearly doubled our staff numbers. We had 18 before, and now we have about 35-36. But we also have a lot of new jobs that we did not have before, in quality management, and communication and social media. Because going green is a topic that you can talk about.”
In this era of “green-washing” marketing scams and eco labels being thrown on properties just for having a vegetarian option on their room service menu, it’s nice to see a business doing things right. Managing to turn a profit whilst sticking to environmental and sustainable ideals? I knew those Austrians had things figured out.
Ins and Outs of Vienna
If you stay at the Boutiquehotel Stadthalle, be sure to take advantage of their “Green Bonus,” in which guests arriving by train or bicycle receive a 10% discount on room rates. Guests can store bicycles in the hotel’s “bicycle garage,” and cycling is a lovely way to see the city of Vienna.
By train: The hotel is about a 2.8 mile walk from Vienna’s main train station, Wein Hauptbahnhof (Wein Hbf). Travelers coming from within Austria, can book tickets here. From Germany, tickets can be booked here. For booking trains to Vienna from other countries within Europe or for ease of use, head to LOCO2.
By plane: Travelers flying into Vienna International Airport can get to the city center by booking a train or taking a bus.
Schönbrunn is Vienna’s city center with beautiful sights like the Viennese Stephansdom with its stunning bell tower representing Vienna’s most iconic landmark. The Rathaus Vienna at the Ringstrasse across from the Burgtheater is another spectacular neo-Gothic building.
For dinner, try Paul, a restaurant at Johannesgasse 16 in the center of town for perfectly-executed Austrian cuisine with plenty of vegetarian and even vegan options, rare in a country where meat, butter, and cream are revered.
Lebenbauer Vollwert Restaurant on Teinfaltstrasse 3 is also worth checking out for its scrupulous sourcing, plethora of vegetarian and vegan options, and excellent wine list. Try their three-course prix fixe vegetarian menu; it’s an excellent value at around 27 euros.
Austria for the environmentally conscious traveler? Begin with the world’s first zero-energy balance city hotel, rent a bike, and let this wondrous country draw you in with its myriad charms and breathtaking natural beauty.
Julia Reynolds is a travel writer, adventure enthusiast, and serial nomad living (mostly) in the Hawaiian islands. She is currently on a one-year trip around the world, avoiding air travel when possible and traveling slowly over land and sea. Some of her best travel experiences to date have been kayaking the Napali Coast of Kaua'i, diving the isolated atolls of Belize, and rock climbing in the Krabi region of Thailand. Her worst travel experiences have been getting robbed in Guatemala, breaking her back in Thailand, and breaking multiple bones in a mountain bike accident in Alaska. She still loves the places where the worst experiences occurred.