I was simply overwhelmed by the wonder that is Budapest. With the river cruise product resuming, the city is vibrant again with visitors. We saw quite a few Americans on flights and on the ground; it was so encouraging and seemed so normal, which is really what we all need, isn’t it?
At the moment though there are no nonstops from the US, but there are so many easy connections that make the trip simple. I went from Newark to Budapest via Munich on the outbound, and via Frankfurt on the inbound, and they were seamless. Those second flights are only about an hour or so, and on arrival in Budapest the airport is swift and you move right through. There is currently a PCR test requirement within 72 hours of departure on entry and it’s just about a 20-30 minute drive from the airport to the city center.
On arrival at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, you’re immediately at ease in this highly luxurious, yet comfortably welcoming hotel. The staff, as you would expect at any Four Seasons, is amazing. Intuitive, kind, relaxed, and welcoming. They make everything easy and seem to know what you need even before you ask for it. This former palace was restored to balance timeless elegance with a modern flair. The entry is impressive with high ceilings and a regal feel, and their new Musza cocktail bar is such an eye catching part of the grand lobby. Rooms here are lovely – bright, airy, and spacious with incredibly comfortable bedding, fantastic luxe amenities from unique bath products to coffee makers, and crystal glasses for beverages, and some rooms with lovely views of the Danube. One of the most impressive things we got to see was the Royal Suite. Royal indeed- multiple rooms and bedrooms with lavish furnishings that have a very comfortable feel, luxe bathrooms, and a terrace with possibly one of the most gorgeous nighttime views I have ever seen of the lit up gorgeous architectural wonders just across the river and in the hills. I was able to use the fitness center here which was top notch, not crowded at all, and it’s paired with a gorgeous indoor pool, also with impressive views. The restaurant onsite is absolutely lovely. It has a very traditional feel and a menu filled with authentic local specialties and the most gorgeous desserts
Out and About
We set out on a walking culinary tour that had us inspecting every corner of the Great Hall Market. It is an impressive, spotless and grand array of fresh produce stalls, local chocolate and wine makers selling their treats, embroidery, fashions, local handicrafts and everything in between. We were treated to Langos, fried dough topped with cheese, sour cream, and sometimes meats. As we strolled along, we stopped in at a popular chocolate maker, we tried a plate of unique sausages and meats, caught a glimpse of some award-winning pastries and sweet treats at Gerbeaud, one of the city’s most elegant coffee houses. There are so many wonderful restaurants in the city, from Michelin starred to local tables serving up traditional authentic fare prepared with old world techniques. It’s a culinary treasure trove.
We visited the Aria Hotel, part of the Library Hotel Collection. While the city is filled with grand large hotels, this is a gem for those looking for a more boutique experience. It’s carefully hidden in a lovely area and the entire hotel is centered around celebrating different genres of music. The fun here is looking at all the unique touches that reflect this, from lamps in the lobby shaped like harps, to different wings with rooms all decorated in a specific musical theme with photos, décor, and other elements. There is a spa and gym here, a cool bar with mirrors where musicians that visit sign their names, and the best secret is the High Note rooftop bar which features gorgeous views of the city.
I noticed how easily accessible everything is in this city- it is so walkable. The underground metro is safe and efficient and their above-ground trolleys have a cool vintage feel.
We then moved to the Matild Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel. This too is a former palace, lovingly and carefully restored to maintain it’s elegant old-world feel, but with an infusion of the most modern design elements and amenities. The impressive high ceilings are gorgeous, the décor is lovely and there is an authentic cabaret theater/bar for shows and events. Spago by Wolfgang Puck here has an impressive interior but also extends outside for a luxe, comfortable and more casual setting. The spa is located below ground and has a fitness center, Hammam, salt sauna, and steam room. The rooms are elegant and vintage, but contain high-tech amenities including a TV embedded in the vintage mirror on the wall, a full panel of room controls next to the bed, ambient lighting and the bathroom has a high tech smart toilet, and a large glass enclosed space that houses both the shower and the bathtub.
Underguide, an edgy experiential DMC provided us with an eclectic artist guide who had all sorts of unique unexpected ideas to see the city. The theme of the day was art – this guide showed us impressive murals, galleries, art-inspired streets, and unique architecture. We walked through parks and the Jewish quarter, home to the world’s second largest synagogue. After lunch, a pair of Tuk Tuks picked us up and took us all around the city, stopping at some of the more important and significant sites -a perfect way to round out the day.
Dinner that night was at the Parisi Udvar, one of the city’s newest luxury hotels. It was a very elegant shopping plaza decades ago, and is a step back in time.The entry has you looking up before you look ahead with elegant gold and wood accents, stained glass wonders, hand carved columns, soothing colors, fresh flowers, and just an explosion of Art Nouveau design. We had dinner at the brasserie set right in the middle of the lobby and were treated to a gorgeous menu of unique dishes. The top treat here was seeing their Paris Residence suite. I hesitate even to call it a suite, as it is a MASSIVE 3,100 sq. foot apartment with its own spa area with Hammam, steam shower and sauna with lounge chairs in the main part of the spa room, 3 bedrooms with sleek design, open plan living room, seating area and dining room with kitchenette and a nearly wrap around terrace with tons of incredible views of the city. This place has one of the most unique designs I can ever recall seeing in a European hotel.
Dynamic Tours, a DMC focused on the luxury traveler, took us to the Dunarama, an elegant Venetian style boat with dark wood and plush green seats. We were taken on a lovely 20-minute ride up and down the Danube, while treated to champagne and exceptional views. A Mercedes van was waiting for us as we disembarked and took to Parliament where we were treated to a private tour. We saw the elegant halls where sessions are held.Onward, we went to the Strudel House for lunch, an elegant refined eatery that (as you can guess) focuses on Strudel of all kinds- poppyseed, apple, cheese and even vegetable.
We moved on to the Pest side across the river, to an area called Castle Hill, filled with quiet streets, unique shops, a traditional feel, a castle and the incredible Matthias Church. A special restaurant here called Fisherman’s Bastion has tiered floors and gorgeous views.
Spa is huge here – people take full days to full weeks to recharge themselves.The Gellert Baths are housed in the former Hotel Gellert and are vast and unique- with therapeutic pools ranging in temperature, a café, an outdoor area with more pools, and a system that encourages you to stay and heal as long as you need to. An incredible value too, I might add, tickets for the day start at around US $20 with nominal additional fees for a locker, etc., and no time limit. Stay, swim, bathe, tan, read a book, and enjoy all year round. It’s one of Budapest’s treasures, and there are these kinds of spa experiences all over the country.
We did a site inspection of the Kempinski Corvinus. This hotel is a classic icon of the city which opened in the 90s, after many of the changes Budapest experienced. It is elegant, sleek, has an incredible amount of meeting spaces, a lovely array of rooms, many with a focus on art from local artists.The spa and fitness center are lovely and their suite product for families and larger groups are spacious, smartly designed and a wonderful value. This hotel is home to Nobu which brings in quite a bit of recognition and international traffic, the Blue Fox Bar which has been voted one of the best in Europe, and we were fortunate to have dinner at their ES Bistro which is an eclecticly designed space with a gorgeous menu ranging from comfort food items with a flair, to intriguing specialties and fun new innovative creations in a comfortable space, with a lovely outdoor area as well.
Budapest is back – not only because of the cruise product but its value, accessibility, level of unique, elegant accommodations (with more to come, the St. Regis is building right across from Matild Palace!)