Journal & Journeys Seasons + Places

Tribute to the Spanish Riding School: Interview with Gaurav Walia

Mr. Gaurav Walia meets with Mrs. Elisabeth Gurtler, CEO of Spanish Riding School

Gaurav Walia met with Mrs. Elisabeth Gürtler, current director / CEO of the Spanish Riding School in the historic apartment of Alois Podhajsky (famed director of the school throughout World War II) on a memorable winter’s day in Vienna, Austria.

As the cultural heart of Vienna gets ready for its festive Spring Imperial ball season, Aldebaran Arabians pays tribute to the renowned white Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna and the 430-year-old performing art and tradition of the last Classical Dressage School in the world.

Here’s a glimpse from Mr. Walia’s visit:

“My visit with Mrs. Gürtler was an inspiring one; In addition to being an avid horsewoman she is also one of Vienna’s most respected hoteliers with an incredible historical holding in the heart of Wien. Her family owns the famous Hotel Sacher, one of the few luxury boutique hotels in the world to still remain in private hands. Aside from horses, we have that as another common pursuit since my own luxury brand based in San Francisco, also a family-run bespoke safari operation, is my private family-owned holding opting to remain exclusive and working with suppliers who share our values and ethics.”

Watch Video: Travel Journal 2013. Interview with Gaurav Walia

Gaurav Walia’s private luxury brand collection headquartered in San Francisco is one of the most respected buyers and representatives in the world for luxury boutique hotels across the globe, representing some of the most award-winning Relais & Châteaux resorts, particularly in Africa and the Indian Ocean. His partner, Soniya Hayat serves on the board of the company as the Chief Executive overseeing operations at their San Francisco studio located in the city’s Financial district and is also the brand ambassador for their conservation project, Journeys of Lifetime that outlines their portfolio’s philanthropic support toward conservation in wilderness throughout Africa. Their mutual love for photography and wildlife served as the inspiration for the founding of their luxury brand and went hand-in-hand with their passion for Arabian horses.

“We’ve both traveled the world to firsthand experience and curate the locations that we feature in our Luxury Safari Collection. Africa will always be home to us and we’re proud to share it with our guests and have them come out to see these regions of outstanding beauty and help contribute a helping hand toward the preservation of those areas and the communities that exist around them. We’ve worked with Save the Rhino International and World Wildlife Federation to incorporate their models into our programs, and we’ve contributed support toward the building of Schools and health clinics for the youth living in these rural places. It’s a spiritual journey – what we as equestrians gain from simply being around our prized animals and witnessing the growth of each foal crop is really the same driving force that our beginnings in Africa prompted us to develop that profound love for its wildlife. Explorers and photographers who join us share our perspectives in crafting sustainable journeys that are sensitive to the responsible footprint and positive impact we strive for when visiting these remote and special places.”

In a picturesque journey that extended from France cutting through the Austrian Alps, by jet and rail, encountering history and art from the opulence of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris to the modest Belvedere Winter Palace, now an art gallery where once significant chapters in European history took root as the birthplace of the French Queen Marie-Antoinette. “We were moved by the wealth of art and cultural initiatives that we discovered on this trip whether it was in the incredible galleries or attending many of Vienna’s Christmas ballet performances and engaging in stately concerts in beautiful halls such as the famous Musikverien that are so immaculately kept. Even just sampling a slice of the Original Sacher Torte that uses the same recipe invented in 1832, passed down to the Hotel Sacher and Mrs. Gurtler’s family!”

“That perspective of tradition and its preservation certainly extends into the art form of what the Spanish Riding School aims to preserve culturally and historically, not just for the people of Vienna but for all of us, as travelers or equestrians, across the globe. It takes its basis from a military knighthood tradition of horsemanship with methods originally developed to aid in battle, dating to as far back as Xenophon in Ancient Greece and the classical music to which the performances play out in the impressive hall, itself a national monument, reaches deep into Mozart’s origins in nearby Salzburg. Indeed the United States shared this inspiration when playing an important role in granting help for the program and resultant protection for the Lipizzan brood herd in Piber during the World War II. To go there and see it all from such an up-close, behind-the-scenes perspective, we take pride in witnessing firsthand all that history as a living relic and what it continues to be today. A real memorable journey for us at Aldebaran.”

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