Destination: Hungary: Budapest
Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
The Four Seasons Gresham Palace, which opened in 2004, is not only the most luxurious option in Budapest, it’s one of the most glorious properties in the hotel company’s entire portfolio. Located in an Art Nouveau palace, it was built in 1906 for the British Gresham Life Assurance Company and painstakingly restored over five years with the help of 100 artisans and craftsmen. The lobby is a folly of stained glass, lofty domes, delicate wrought iron, walls lined in handmade tiles and cream-colored mosaic floors accented with swirling black arabesques. Passing through the imposing wrought-iron peacock gates for the first time, I was thankful for the rather long walk to the reception desk, so as not to arrive with my mouth agape for check-in.
The 179 rooms are spread across five floors, and the ones to get are those with Buda views. The Gresham Palace, which has a fancifully adorned white stone façade that is recognizable from miles away, sits at the foot of the Chain Bridge, with spectacular views of Castle Hill. Many of the palace’s original details were left intact, including soaring vaulted ceilings and heavy Art Deco–inspired wooden doors, but the overall design scheme has a light, modern touch, with a neutral color palette, honey-wood furniture and spacious marble-clad bathrooms. Amenities are predictably luxe: flat-screen TVs in most rooms, L’Occitane or Aqua di Palma products and an elegant glass tray of miniature petits fours left on your bedside at turndown.
There’s a luminous wellness facility on the top floor, including a lap pool and an exercise room that overlooks the rooftops of Budapest. The petite spa has seven treatment rooms; if you go for a facial, book the Páva, which uses Omorovicza beauty products made with Hungary’s mineral-rich waters. Meanwhile, Gresham’s bar on the ground floor, which spills into a glass-domed passage off the lobby, is a nice—albeit pricey—place to meet for afternoon tea or an aperitif.
The only caveat is that there is no wireless Internet service (yet), and to go online, you have to use a small business center off the lobby (for a fee). But I found the friendly staff, exquisite surroundings and central location more than made up for that slight inconvenience. And for me, returning to the hotel at night and walking through those peacock gates after long days of sightseeing never lost its magic. Rooms from $608.
WHO SHOULD STAY: First-time visitors and travelers who cannot do without five-star luxury (for the latter, this is really the only option in the city). The Four Seasons is also a great choice for families: complimentary cribs, roll-away beds and child-size bathrobes, as well as cookies and milk, toys and drawing materials are available upon request, and they also provide wooden puzzles with the child’s name on it.
WHAT TO KNOW: Book a Buda-view room with a balcony; breakfast is served there when the weather is warm enough. Of the suites, the most romantic is the fifth-floor Tower Suite, where a king-size bed sits under a dome, and the living room has terrific views.
WHAT’S NEARBY: Some of the city’s major sights, such as St. Stephen’s Basilica and Parliament, are within walking distance, as are restaurants Tom George and Café Kör. The funicular that leads to Castle Hill is just across the Chain Bridge.
New York Palace
When seen from Erzsébet boulevard, surrounded by Communist-era buildings and nondescript storefronts, the imposing New York Palace looks like a transplant from Rome or Venice. Its Renaissance-inspired exterior incorporates Italianate spires, carved figurines and fanciful columns. No wonder that the 1894 palace, originally built for an American insurance company, was snatched up by Italian Boscolo Hotels, the company that took charge in 2001 and spent five years and $126 million restoring the property to its former glory. The result is a 107-room hotel that showcases design styles ranging from Baroque to contemporary minimalism with an unmistakably Italian flair (think Murano chandeliers, gold-paneled elevators and five kinds of Italian marble).
Don’t expect subtlety: everything at the New York Palace has an element of flash, from the soaring white marble lobby, which rises six floors to culminate in a huge skylight, to the spacious guest rooms, some of which have oversize gilt-framed mirrors, silk-covered walls and bathrooms clad in colored marble. The hotel was clearly conceived as a competitor to the Gresham Palace, which had been unrivaled as the city’s grande dame property, and in room size and amenities, it can hold its own. However, the Gresham has a better location and a more destination-specific design scheme. The New York Café, with a separate entrance on the ground floor, was a famous gathering spot for Budapest’s intellectual and cultural elite in the early 1900s, and it, too, reopened in 2006. If you’re in this part of town, it’s worth a stop for tea or a light lunch. Rooms from $330.
WHO SHOULD STAY: Families and friends traveling together who are looking for large rooms and five-star amenities, and who don’t mind the ultra-opulent design. Some of the rooms connect.
WHAT TO KNOW: Considering the hotel’s central location, the views are not the sweeping Danube panoramas you get by the river, like the Sofitel and Four Seasons Gresham Palace. Rooms facing broad Erzsébet boulevard have the best views.
WHAT’S NEARBY: Not much in terms of tourist sights, which is the major drawback. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk to the old Jewish ghetto and the Great Synagogue, and you have to take a taxi to reach the Danube and Buda.
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