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Budapest: Twin Cities Combine To Make A Unique Europe CityFebruary 9, 2009 By: Irvina Lew Travel Agent
The Basilica, Gresham Palace and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Architectural gems—a medieval castle, a domed basilica, a soaring Gothic church, plus glorious Belle Epoque, Art Deco and Bauhaus buildings—are Budapest’s calling card. Buda and Pest, former twin cities on either side of the Danube River, reflect a history influenced by Mongols, Turks, Romans, Austrians and Russians. The historic Buda Hill (also known as the Castle District), with its St. Matthew’s church, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pest side, across lovely bridges, is home to 19th-century landmarks along the Andrassy, a broad avenue that leads past the Hungarian State Opera to Heroes Square with its grand museums and famed Gundel Restaurant, and the Great Synagogue. This Byzantine-Moorish edifice with gilded onion-domed towers is the second-largest synagogue in the world home to a 3,000-seat concert hall. The three-story Great Market Hall is an all-weather destination where visitors mingle with locals and shop for foods, Hungarian wine and handicrafts.
An indoor swimming pool at the Danubius Hotel Gellert in Budapest
Unique to Budapest are its 130 thermal spring-fed pools, which have earned it the reputation as the “Bathing City” and an international medicinal bathing area since the 1930s. Some of the springs feed grand public swimming pools, including the exquisitely romantic Gellért Bath; the small, Bauhaus-styled jewel, the Dandár; and the recently restored Széchenyi, a neo-Baroque complex where 13 of the 18 pools are thermal and men play in-water chess as steam rises around them.
Taking the waters is intrinsic to the daily lifestyle, and The Danubius Hotel Group, which owns properties throughout Central and Eastern Europe, specializes in health spa resorts at thermal springs. These enormous spa facilities feature an array of indoor/outdoor thermal pools at varying temperatures and adjacent beauty, fitness and treatment areas. They often attract clients seeking medical relief from arthritis who stay for weeks, as well as leisure guests who “take the waters” and enjoy spa services such as a Cleopatra Bath in a hydro-tub. Each offers access to indoor/outdoor thermal pool facilities, medical spa facilities and spa packages. Typically, the packages include two meals daily and some services; medical packages include consultation with a physician who recommends specific therapies. All Danubius Hotels feature allergy-free rooms, singles, handicap accommodations linked to double rooms and connecting double rooms for families.
A guest room at the Danubius Grand Hotel Margitsziget in Budapest
I recently stayed at the 267-room Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget, on Margaret Island in Budapest. Here, most contemporary, air-conditioned rooms have two single beds together with one headboard, a desk and chairs, and a balcony overlooking either the Danube River or the pedestrian island oasis. The four-star property connects to the more traditionally styled, four-star superior, 164-room Danubius Grand Hotel Margitsziget with woodwork, marble hallways and stairwells. Room #432 is furnished with a chandelier and an antique armoire and has a view of the Buda Hills. Bathrobe-clad guests can access the huge spa from both hotels.
The 122-room, five-star Danubius Hilton Budapest is ideally located in the beautiful Buda Hills, but the best views are from executive suites 307 and 321 on the concierge floor facing the Danube River, the lighted Parliament Building on the Pest side and St. Matthew’s church across the street. The concierge floor is within what was a 13th-century Dominican abbey and its pointed-arched, stained-glass windows add to its warmth.
Also on the Buda side, the Danubius Hotel Gellert, with its exquisitely refurbished exterior and superb pool and spa complex, has the charm and “bones” of a grande dame in need of an update. (There are some balconies, but no air conditioning; and the paint, carpeting and soft goods need to be replaced.)
The four-star, 138-room Danubius Astoria Hotel is well located in the Pest business center and all the corner suites are recommended. Non-smoking travelers might be offended by a smoking area in the small lobby at the entry to its wonderful Belle Epoque Mirror Café and Restaurant.
In the quiet Hungarian countryside, Danubius Health Spa Resorts Heviz, Buk and Sarvar have similar facilities. DHSR Heviz is located in a scenic resort community about 120 miles from both Budapest and Vienna. It features a nearly 20,000-square-foot spa, and rooms 721-727 overlook the largest thermal lake in the world. The medically trained therapists usually give fast, 20-minute massages in minimalist cubicles. Agents are advised to make spa appointments when making hotel reservations, especially for afternoon treatments and hour-long services.
Tradesco Tours specializes in customized individual and group visits to Central and Eastern Europe and handles all transfers, tours, tickets for cultural events, even spa packages and appointments. Tradesco holds an exclusive contract with all Danubius Hotels (there are 12 in Budapest) as well as with other deluxe hotels in the city, including the Four Seasons, Kempinski, Intercontinental, Le Méridien and the Andrassy Hotel, a boutique hotel affiliated with Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Commission structure ranges from 10 to 12 percent. E-mail [email protected] tours.com or call Andras Volgar or Helen Mikhailova at 800-448-4321 or 239-495-5076.
A market hall in Budapest
Budapest is 18 miles from Ferihegy International Airport (Delta/Air France flies directly from JFK). Transportation is available by minibus, taxi or chauffeur. We recommend our driver, Attila Bator. There are three city metro lines, and public bus and streetcar/tram transportation links the Buda Hills across the bridges to the Pest business district. There’s also a cog-wheel cable car (siklo) to travel up the steep Buda Hill.