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Steeped in history, embellished with awe-inspiring buildings, blessed with natural beauty yet enriched with spirituality, Budapest is a dream city. It has something for every discerning tourist – from incredible restaurants and quaint cafes to splendid churches and shopping centres; from street musicians and pulsating pubs to intellectually stimulating theatres and operas. This is a city that has achieved the impossible balance between a glorious past and a modern future and it’s not hard to fall in love with it at first sight. At least I did when I set foot in it on a balmy summer day. The drive from the airport to the hotel was spent glancing and admiring the stunning structures dotting the cityscape but nothing prepared me for the hotel I had chosen – Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace. The imposing 108-year edifice with a long and interesting history behind it elicits a simple response when you step inside it – wow!
Sculptures on the hotel's facade
There is something inexplicable about the charm of a heritage hotel and the Gresham Palace abounds in that X factor. I found the history of the place, fascinating. The location, I was told, initially belonged to the Nako House built in 1827 as a neo-classical palace which was then bought by the Gresham Life Assurance Company in 1880 and redesigned in the art nouveau style by 1906. Over the years, the palace served as a staff residence for the company, then as barracks for the Red Army during World War II, an apartment building during the People’s Republic of Hungary movement and eventually transformed into its present form as a luxury hotel. History aside, it’s the elements of the Art Nouveau style incorporated in every aspect of the design that make it so charming. The huge chandelier enriches the lobby as do the peacock motifs on the doors, the large winding wrought iron staircase, stained glass and mosaics and intricate carving on the façade. In short, everything reminded me of a movie set! Of course, no description of the property would be complete without a word on the location – situated alongside the gorgeous Danube river, the hotel directly faces the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge, right in the thick of all the action that make up Budapest.
A close view of the chandelier adorning the lobby
Our Danube river-view room was nothing short of a dream. Offering panoramic views of the Danube river and the Chain Bridge, the room was luxurious and boasted of every amenity we needed – built-in safe, internet connections, work station and so on. The marble bathroom with L’Occtaine products was made for pure relaxation. But if it’s sheer indulgence you are looking for, we suggest you choose the Tower Suite or the ultra-luxe Park Suite. They are royal celebrations of luxury, located right under the dome of the tower offering unbelievably stunning views of the Buda Hills, Danube and other highlights.
The ultra-luxe Park Suite offers gorgeous views of the city
The main dining option is the Gresham restaurant, modelled on a street-side café. Hungarian delicacies dominate the menu though it has good options for Italian as well. I loved my elaborate breakfast sitting outside sipping coffee, enjoying the views of the Chain bridge. For a quick meal including light refreshments and a glass of grape, I preferred the elegant Bar and Lobby lounge facing the ‘Peacock Passage’. The soothing notes of the live pianist set the tone for a perfect evening of tea and conversation.
The Gresham Restaurant has lip-smacking Hungarian delicacies among other cuisines
The indoor pool located on the top floor of the hotel with a cool infinity edge is a soothing invitation for your senses. After a long day outside, sightseeing and walking about, all I could think of was to jump into the pool and the whirlpool adjacent to it. Another must-do is the Herend Afternoon tea, a very British high-tea with distinctly Hungarian elements. The menu includes desserts such as a delicious chocolate cake, sweet pastries, plum strudel, pumpkin scone, macaroons, jams and Devon cream along with delicate sandwiches, classic cheeses and delightful teas – all served in refined Herend porcelain, favoured by British aristocrats and royalty. A quintessential Budapest afternoon would be incomplete without this classy experience.
The luxurious pool
INFO: Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, Széchenyi István tér 5-6, 1051 Budapest, Tel: + 36 (1) 268 6000, www.fourseasons.com/budapest
WHAT TO DO IN BUDAPEST
Budapest is best explored by walking. Just go around the city, taking in the divine views, eat at charming cafes, let your hair down at the hip clubs and explore the vineyards. While it’s impossible to list everything that you can do in this amazing city, here are a few suggestions:
Wine Tour in Etyek: The hotel concierge organised this excellently for us. The City and Wine Private tour took us to the picturesque area of Etyek countryside (around 30 mins from Budapest) where we were given a tour of three vineyards, a meeting with the winemakers and ended in a traditional Hungarian dinner at a quaint eatery in the village. A must-do! www.cityandwine.hu/en
Visit the Szechenyi Baths and Pool: Among the many baths that Budapest is known for, the historic Szechenyi Thermal Baths and Pool is the best. With indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and steam baths, it’s like one huge community spa! The only way to enjoy it is to experience it. www.szechenyibath.hu
Go for the Danube River Cruise: Quite like our own Dhow cruises of Dubai, this cruise up and down the Danube river showcases the best aspects of Buda as well as Pest side of Budapest. There are one hour evening cruises as well as two hours or more. www.budapestdanubecruise.com