With much of Europe out of reach for travellers at the moment, we’re dreaming of far flung shores and days to come when we get to live our fairytale fantasies in some of the most spellbinding of European cities.
Renowned as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and with direct flights from the UAE, it’s easy to see why Budapest is a popular destination for short breaks.
The city is often called the ‘Paris of the East’ for its romantic architecture, gourmet cuisine and cosmopolitan energy that comes alive after sunset.
Budapest, still in its infancy, is the result of a merger in 1873 of two contrasting cities: Buda on the western side and Pest on the opposite, divided by the mighty Danube river. Today, the stark difference between the two is extraordinarily apparent, with hilly Buda full of grand, fairytale buildings – Buda Castle and Citadella among its most famous, and Pest, the low-lying side of the city that buzzes with culture and life. Two worlds are separated by ornate bridges, the most famous being the historic the Széchenyi chain bridge, flanked by imposing Lion statues which legend dictates have no tongues – they do, I checked.
Architecturally, Budapest stands out with baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau buildings galore. One of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest is Gresham Palace – a stunning example of art nouveau architecture, completed in 1906 and named after the 16th-century English financier Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of the Royal Exchange in London. Now occupied by the luxury Four Seasons Hotel, stepping inside through the original black-iron gate is like walking into a storybook: 2 million mosaic titles, stained glass windows, an ornate Preciosa chandelier and dramatic sweeping stairways.
The incredible views from each of the 179 rooms (including 19 suites) out across the Danube towards Buda castle and the turrets of Fisherman’s Bastion are other-worldly – rooms with balconies are most definitely recommended. Classically elegant in style, furnished in keeping with the style of the hotel, it’s like staying in your very own fairytale.
The Budapest Royal Suite is the perfect accommodation for the more discerning guest. Reflecting Budapest’s imperial grandeur, the suite itself is vast and offers a true home-away-from-home. If your home is in a former palace that is. Art deco style meets art nouveau here, with jaw-dropping views. Stays in this particular suite also come with complimentary round-trip airport transfers for up to 6 people, which is welcome given the taxi system at Budapest international airport can be frustrating at best.
If you can pull yourself away from the beauty of your room, while away hours inside the historic Peacock Passage – Peacocks are a popular art nouveau muse – as you indulge in delicious Hungarian cakes and savoury cakes at afternoon tea, the tinkling of the live piano as a faint backdrop, all under the magnificent glass cupola.
For a dazzling evening, there’s no need to leave the hotel, a destination in its own right. Enjoy a meal for two at Kollazs brasserie & bar – a restaurant to see and be seen in Budapest on the banks of the Danube. Named after the Hungarian word for “collage”, this contemporary European brasserie highlights creative combinations in all aspects of the dining experience, offering a delectable menu of dishes, a melting pot of European culinary influences. Signature dishes include the mouth-watering. Octopus and Scallops with sausage and potato paprikash. If you’re visiting over a weekend, the Sunday brunch is highly recommended.
You simply cannot visit Budapest without setting foot in a spa. If al fresco (yet thermal) baths are not your thing, the Spa at Four Seasons Gresham Palace is a luxury alternative. Harnessing Budapest’s renowned heritage in wellness, the spa offers a range of facilities and treatments. Take a dip in the indoor infinity pool, soak in the bubbling whirlpool or treat yourself an indulgent massage. The Touch of the Earth spa body treatment is the ultimate in pampering. Using authentic Hungarian ingredients of lavender, grape seed oil, salt and Hungarian Moor Mud by Omorovicza, it’s one that leaves you both relaxed and glowing!
If you’re feeling more adventurous and wish to explore the best that this beautiful city has to offer – and you should, the concierge at the hotel is always on hand to help and create tailor-made experiences to your preferences. For recommendations check out the Four Seasons Budapest bucket list. Gresham Palace’s unrivalled location means all major sights are within walking distance. You can visit the castle district just across the water either on foot or by riding the funicular up the steep hill – for fun and to save tired legs, the latter is a great choice.
Budapest is a city of charm: from its stark contrasts of yesteryear to some of the most magnificent buildings in Europe, gourmet cuisine and character in abundance.
There are also important lessons in history to be learnt if you delve a little deeper beneath its photographic surface. Four Seasons at Gresham embodies so perfectly everything this city has to offer, casting a spell over you with its magic, earning its position as one of Europe’s most luxury hotels. And Budapest as one of Europe’s finest cities that should be on every travellers’ bucket list.
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