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Onsite: An Insider's Look at Budapest

August 20, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Travel Agent

BUDAPEST-Travel Agent's Europe Editor, Jennifer Merritt is traveling in Budapest this week. Of all the things Budapest has to offer, you might be surprised to hear the one thing it has an abundance of--American tourists--especially these last three days, when Hungary celebrates St. Stephen's Day, the former Communist country's equivalent of the Fourth of July. Along the Danube, mixing well among the locals enjoying the specially commissioned music, events and markets for the occasion, Americans are roaming the streets, taking in the Parliament, shopping in the city's newly established fashion district and eating at Gerbeaud Ház, the city's famed pastry and coffee shop.

You could say that being an American has attuned my ears to an utterance of an English word, but in Budapest, you are hard pressed not to find someone who speaks English, which makes it a very easy city to navigate. The reason I know Americans are beginning to flock here is because Julien Carralero, general manager at the Gresham Palace Four Seasons Hotel here, where I'm staying, tells me that 60 percent of his guests are American leisure travelers.

Though tourists often march in and out to admire the detail-oriented renovation, as well as the hotel's stunning lobby, the 179-room hotel is rarely at occupancy. The building itself offers a rich history that spans a life as a luxury apartment building, insurance headquarters and was sadly in a state of neglect before the Four Seasons took it over two years ago and renovated it. It is so breathtakingly beautiful that Condé Nast Traveler in 2007 voted it best in design, service and rooms on its Gold List.

Indeed, my room, a Standard King that overlooks the Danube and the Chain Bridge, is quite comfortable-a welcome respite from the 10 or so hours it took to get here. (Malev, Hungary's carrier, flies direct from New York, but flights are so full-further evidence of an American invasion-I instead flew Oneworld alliance partner American Airlines to Zurich and connected from there to Budapest on Malev.)

Also helping me to relax is the helpful staff, particularly Magdi, my masseuse at the hotel's spa, who dutifully worked out the kinks in my shoulders and was so highly trained she said to me as she worked on my left hand, "You must type a lot." A hazard of the job, I told her.

A delicious dinner and wine pairing at the hotel's restaurant, Páva-appropriately translated as "peacock"-rounded out my first day. Well done simple pleasures like tomato soup, asparagus risotto with truffles and chocolate molten cake fulfilled me well enough to carry me through three hours of private car sightseeing the next day, graciously arranged by the hotel concierge. Such an extravagance isn't necessary, however, as the hotel is located well, across from the famous Danube and within walking distance to a good number of the city's attractions and landmarks.

If it sounds as though I'm being pampered, well--I am. What else would you expect from the Four Seasons? Room rates at this time of year average 350 euros. For more info, agents can contact Sherryn Bates, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, at 36 1 268 6000 or [email protected].

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