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BudapestSeptember 26, 2008 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Travel Agent
Exploring this lively metropolis on the banks of the Danube
Move over, Prague. In the past five years Budapest has moved across travelers’ radar screens to become the shining star of Eastern Europe. Actually composed of two cities spanning the glorious river Danube—Buda, with its hilltop castle, and flat Pest, with its urban boulevards—Hungary’s fashionable capital was built on top of 100 thermal springs. The baths in Budapest are world famous, and your clients will love a day spent at the locals’ favorite bath complex, Széchenyi Baths, playing a game of chess while soaking in pools of warm mineral water (The Art Nouveau Gellért Bath, with its colorful tiled mosaics, is also popular). Rooted in Old World grandeur, Budapest flourishes with lively nightlife and an exciting restaurant scene. At the city’s cutting-edge restaurants, there’s a lot more than paprika-laden goulash on the menu these days. In addition to the white dessert wine Tokaj, oenophiles hail Hungarian wines as the next global grape hot spot. This could be the “Paris of Eastern Europe.”
The extraordinary exterior of the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal
Budapest plays host to exuberant events like the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix every August, Budapest Spring and Autumn Festivals, the Summer Opera and Ballet Festival and the Island Festival, the largest concert in Central Europe. Keep in mind that it’s best to book hotels at least one month in advance for these dates.
The Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal embodies the Belle Époque grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When it opened in 1896 for the Millennium Exhibition (commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the region), the hotel wowed visitors by its sheer size and Turkish-style spa. Today the 3,280-square-foot Royal Spa provides state-of-the-art facilities in the same classical setting. Tropical rain showers, Niagara bathtubs, mud baths and seaweed baths complement the traditional saunas, steam rooms, Jacuzzis and relaxation lounges. There are 12 treatment rooms for therapeutic massage and body treatments, enhanced with marine-based products from Algotherm. Insiders tell us that György Dávid is the most popular massage therapist; reserve a Deep Blue Massage by contacting Spa Supervisor Gabriella Jófeju ([email protected], 011-36-1-479-4650).
Stepping into the lobby, your clients can marvel at the opulence of a bygone era: marble columns, a soaring atrium enclosed with a glass roof and an impressive staircase flanked by statues. Managed by Adrian Ellis ([email protected], 011-36-1-479-4701), the 414-room hotel provides a glimpse of the Old World in the heart of Budapest. From its inception as the grandest hotel on the Continent, the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal has hosted countless celebrities, presidents and artists, including Josephine Baker, the Real Madrid soccer team, Ricky Martin and Snoop Dogg. Chief Concierge Tamás Ungár ([email protected] or [email protected], 011-36-1-479-4800) can handle all kinds of requests for this guest roster—from the mundane (limo transportation to the airport, sightseeing boat trips on the Danube) to the extraordinary (private birthday parties with extravagant amenities).
For a family traveling together, choose a Deluxe Suite, as both the bedroom and living room have separate entrances to the hall; two bathrooms means you can comfortably shut the door to divide the suite in two. There are 22 such suites in the hotel. Advise your clients not to miss the V.I.K. (“Very Important Kids”) Brunch on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. in the Brasserie Royal, Atrium and Rickshaw Restaurants. The lavish buffet spread and complimentary wine and drinks aren’t the only enticements; kids love the face painting, games and clown entertainment. For your clients traveling on business, request “business room facilities”—part of a new initiative by the hotel. Road warriors will appreciate the extra services for business travelers, like a scanner, fax, printer, telephone, secretarial service and in-room office corner with all the necessary supplies. For long stays, the hotel’s 26 Royal Residences are a good bet, functioning as fully equipped apartments.
The best rooms to book for your VIPs are the three suites on the fifth floor, named for Hungarian composers: #5100—Bartók Béla Suite (Ambassador Suite); #5200—Liszt Ferenc Suite (Presidential—Royal Suite); and #5300—Kodály Zoltán Suite (Ambassador Suite). These three oversized suites look out over the Buda Hills and have Bulgari amenities and deep soaking tubs in the bathrooms. The palatial Royal Suite comes with its own kitchen and private dining room with a 15-person capacity. Internet access and entrance to the Royal Spa are included in the rate for all room categories. Contact Reservations Manager Orsolya Takács ([email protected], 011-36-1-479-4815) for VIP requests. Note: It’s possible to organize a private meal or function in this space; the hotel’s executive chef can prepare a beautiful meal in the suite’s kitchen, which has separate access so as not to disturb guests.
Nearby is another opulent city symbol: the Boscolo New York Palace Hotel, home to the world-famous New York Café, former gathering place for the city’s literary set. After a grand debut at the turn of the century, the once-glamorous hotel fell into disrepair until the Italian hotel chain Boscolo resurrected it in May 2006. Behind the impressive Italianate facade, the hotel is a veritable Italian masterpiece, decked out with marble, elaborate frescoes and Murano glass. And as far as the city’s top luxury lodgings go, it certainly gives the Corinthia and Four Seasons a run for their money. Choose the fifth floor (City View) rooms for the best views; the 22 Deluxe Rooms boast balconies. The three-room Presidential Suite promises a memorable stay for the most exacting of guests, and the two-room Royal Suites, with their own gyms, are similarly posh. Operations Manager Gaetano Petruzzella ([email protected], 011-36-1-886-6111) is on hand to assist with your VIP bookings. Complimentary upgrades are sometimes available. To arrange dinner reservations or spa appointments, Head Concierge Áron Szucs ([email protected], 011-36-1-886-6111) is happy to help.
The opulent lobby of the Boscolo New York Palace Hotel
The grand architecture on Andrássy Avenue has led to the boulevard’s induction into the UNESCO World Heritage hall of fame, and the boutique Andrássy Hotel offers a chic, contemporary refuge right off the avenue in the city’s diplomatic embassy area. The hotel was designed in 1937 by Alfréd Hajós, the first Hungarian Olympic champion who won two gold medals at the Athens Olympic Games in 1896. During the Communist years, the Andrássy was the hotel of choice for visiting dignitaries; Gorbachev and Brezhnev are among the prominent names on the guest list.
A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (the first Hungarian hotel to join the collection), the Andrássy is housed in a Bauhaus-style residence and offers 63 rooms and seven suites. Considering that the hotel attracts the local glitterati and visiting celebrities (actors such as Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent, as well as Formula 1 champions), the room rates remain reasonable, starting at about $162 for a Classic Room. For a five-star hotel, the Andrássy is definitely a good value. Managed by Jean-Claude Annen, the hotel features the fashionable Bakara restaurant and leafy garden terrace facing the picturesque Andrássy Avenue. Guests have access to a well-equipped fitness center and sauna at the sister property, MaMaison Residence Izabella.
After a complete makeover in 2007, the guest rooms sport a sophisticated, contemporary design. They all have free wireless Internet, satellite TV and in-room movies, minibars and plush bathrobes. Room categories range from Classic Queen (193 square feet) to the large Ambassador Suites (750 square feet). Superior and Deluxe categories have balconies and en-suite bathrooms with tub/shower combos. (Classic Rooms have massage showers, but no tubs). All suites have Jacuzzis in the bathrooms, and the two-room Ambassador Suites feature fireplaces as well. The Ambassador Suites are bookable over the GDS, though you may wish to contact the front office manager, Gergo Franciscy ([email protected], 011-36-1-462-2180), for assistance with your VIPs. Some of the Junior Suites and Ambassador Suites overlook Andrássy Avenue; request one at the time of booking.
Breakfast can be enjoyed on a balcony at the Andrássy Hotel
The Andrássy remains a popular choice because of its personalized, attentive service; the front desk staff ([email protected], 011-36-1-462-2185) is a wealth of information on local attractions and can arrange helicopter excursions, trips to the local spas, classical concert tickets at the nearby Opera House and sightseeing trips in an antique Trabant car or other luxurious old-time vehicle.
The city’s best three-star lodgings can be found at the historic Hotel Pest. After a meticulous restoration, this beautiful gem offers real value in a charming, quiet setting. Note that the 25 guest rooms cannot be booked over the GDS. Contact Sales Manager Virag Major ([email protected], 011-36-1-343-1198) for bookings. Room rates—starting at $126 in a single room—include a lovely buffet breakfast.