VIENNA Many people believe the Austrian capital Vienna is friendlier to dogs than it is to children, and a new service from the city's renowned Hotel Sacher seems to bear that out.
As of last week, hotel guests who cannot bear to leave their four-legged friends at home can book into rooms at the Sacher that have been newly kitted out especially for dogs, with baskets, doggy blankets, feeding bowls, muzzles and leads.
Dogs play a central role in the lore of the 19th century hotel. Anna Sacher, the cigar-smoking widow of Eduard Sacher who took over the hotel aged 23 and turned it into a Viennese institution, was famously inseparable from her French bulldogs.
Current manager Elisabeth Guertler says it was only natural that the hotel should provide special facilities for its canine guests and their owners, who have included former Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and fashion designer Valentino.
"There are so many guests, especially women, who travel with dogs. They are not big dogs, they are dogs that you can bring on the plane with you in a nice bag. They're also well brought up dogs, they're not some kind of dirty dogs with fleas," she said.
In the event they do make a mess, the owner will be charged for the damage, says 63-year-old Guertler, who is also director of the Spanish Riding School and used to run the Vienna Opera Ball that is the pinnacle of the city's social calendar.
She rarely travels without her own dog, one-and-a-half-year-old Ella, a Jack Russell terrier.
Dog-friendly rooms at the Sacher cost a mere 35 euros ($46) on top of the 400 to 5,000 euros that the hotel charges per night for its rooms and suites, the best of which overlook the neighboring Vienna Opera.
As well as doggy comforts, dog owners will find a rule book on "animal etiquette" when they check into one of the 40 parquet-floored dog rooms at the Sacher.
Dogs must be kept on leads in the hotel, and muzzled if they are liable to bite. They are not allowed in the spa, nor in the plush restaurants, or the cafe where the world-famous Sacher Torte is served.
Dog food can be purchased from the concierge, but for those with finer tastes, the hotel chefs will rustle up something custom-made from the kitchen.
"They should simply order up a tenderloin or a veal schnitzel from room service," says Guertler. "The dog will always get the best." ($1 = 0.7557 euros)
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan, editing by Paul Casciato)