For the first time in our lives Cheeky and I were venturing to Budapest in Hungary. It goes without saying that we were just a little bit excited about visiting this part of the world, as it was on our list of cities to visit. The five star hotel that would be looking after us was the Corinthia Hotel Budapest. It turns out that they had arranged something special for us during our stay called ‘Portraits of Budapest’. Along with several of Budapest’s top creative individuals the Corinthia Hotel Budapest has created a package where one can follow the story of these talented creatives and experience Budapest through the eyes of a local native. Along the journey of discovery one gets to visit some of Budapest’s most iconic sites and experiences unique to Budapest. The Corinthia is perfectly positioned to visit many of the cities attractions on foot such as Fisherman’s Bastion, Hero’s Square, Rudas Baths, Castle District and Buda Castle. As we were to discover, this was going to be a fantastic way of exploring the city and getting under its skin.
The Corinthia Hotel Budapest first opened in 1896 as the Grand Hotel Royal, which incidentally is the year that Hungary celebrated 1000 years since the Magyars’ arrival in the Carpathian Basin. Many of the great monuments, buildings and parks of Budapest were constructed for the 1896 celebration including their underground train system, making it the second in the world after London. This was the year that Budapest became a truly modern metropolitan city and the Corinthia really echos these times. It is obvious when one walks around the central area of the city why it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architect Rezső Ray designed the Grand Hotel Royal in the French Renaissance style and over the years the hotel has led a colourful life from fires, wars to Nazi occupation and it has had several make overs and also housed the first Cinema in Budapest designed by the famous Lumiére brothers. The most recent rebirth came in 2004 under the Corinthia umbrella and the Pisani family of Malta who own the group. There is a lot more history to this hotel, I would advise when staying to take the ‘behind the scenes tour’ with the very charming character Tibor Meskál, the Senior Duty Manager who first started working at the hotel in 1961. Such interesting facts include that the Director Wes Anderson based the film ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ on this magnificent hotel, when walking around you can understand why!
When Cheeky and I arrived at the Corinthia we had time to settle into our expansive and rather stunning Executive suite. As big fans of interior design the apartment pushed all the right buttons for us, screaming style and luxury in every detail and every corner. A mix of modern with eclectic furniture sat comfortably alongside elegant fabrics and wooden floors, this was a light and airy space that we would be happy to spend a lot of time in. Sometimes on our travels we borrow interior ideas that we can take home to add to our own domestic surroundings; on this occasion there may be many design ideas coming home with us from our Executive Suite. The hotel now houses 439 luxurious rooms including 31 suites and 26 apartments. The architecture and interior design hint at a bygone era, one can sense the rich history that is entwined within the brickwork. Once unpacked, we had time to make ourselves decent, proceeded to get suited and booted and then made our way downstairs for the evening’s entertainments.
We started with welcome drinks in Le Bar with Jean Pierre the hotel manager. With G&Ts in hand we were introduced to the ‘Portraits of Budapest – A city in 360’ virtual reality experience. With Oculus Rifts strapped to our heads we watched the lives of four local talents from various backgrounds. Lili the ballet dancer, Gaspar the architect, Hubert the restaurateur and Andrea the singer. All had fascinating stories, the Oculus Rift helped one immerse oneself deep into each of their worlds. After a few more few G&Ts, it was time to head over to one of the Hotel’s restaurants for dinner. The Brasserie & Atrium restaurant has an international and Hungarian mix of cuisine. The restaurant is the brainchild of the head Chef Balazs Ölvedy, with a ‘Farm to Table’ seasonal philosophy. Throughout the development of the menu, Balazs travelled to the far corners of Hungary to discover farmers and producers who could work along with his vision. Through these relationships, supply of outstanding produce and the professional team in the kitchen, Balazs has created a menu to be proud of.
We dined on some of the finest and fascinating foods from black curried foie gras and foie gras spring roll, apple gel, walnut crumble and cider sorbet to fillet of trout with crispy chickpea croquettes, fennel and courgette, kapia gel and our particular favourite the roasted duck breast and leg confit with foie gras, sweet potato purée, wilted spinach and sherry jus. These stunning courses were accompanied by Hungarian wine from the various 22 wine regions of the country. It seems that people of this part of the world have been making wine for a lot longer than most other countries, with a winemaking knowledge going back further than 1000 years, a climate and terroir made for vines they produce some of the world’s best wines. With rich red wines, exquisitely sweet Tokajis and a selection of sparkling wines every palate is catered for. In such fine settings, with floor to a several stories high ceiling all made of the glass the restaurant feels vast with natural light everywhere, it certainly was a evening to remember.
The next morning it was time to experience the Corinthia ESPA spa. Originally built in 1886 under architect Vilmos Freund in the Art Deco style, it operated until 1944. The spa had been abandoned and left to fall into disrepair until it was rediscovered in 1983. Initially it was going to become a car park, but luckily the plans were turned down and the Corinthia group invested €100 million to bring the Spa back to life in its original Art Deco style. The refurbishment saw the reinstatement of the 15 metre swimming pool, Jacuzzis, Saunas, Steam baths and the ESPA spa treatment facilities where natural products are combined with modern technology to help defy the ticking of the skin’s clock. After spending some time floating around the pool and unwinding in the wet facilities, it was time for a Swedish massage with Brigitta in the ESPA facilities. She went to town, like a guided missile tracking down tight muscles in my back and legs using her hands, forearms and elbows to pummel them into submission until every muscle was left like jelly; a perfect way to start the day before exploring Budapest. First was lunch at the iconic Gundel cafe, as a local institution this is a must-visit restaurant with classic Hungarian and international cuisine. After some fine food it was off to see some of the sights of Budapest. There are many thermal baths all over Hungary, so it is worth visiting one whilst in town; the Széchenyi Thermal Bath is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe and also the first thermal bath of Pest, it can get busy but with its natural supply of calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium, sulphate and a significant content in fluoride and metaboric acid it is worth experiencing. Allegedly, the Hippopotami in the local zoo live in this water and seem to live a lot longer than they do elsewhere in the world! Not far from the baths and worth wandering over to see is Heroes Square, where the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars are immortalised as giant courageous statues.
It was time for the evening’s entertainment, so we were whisked off to The Hungarian State Opera House to see Swan Lake featuring Lili from the ‘Portraits of Budapest’. They do not make building like the Hungarian State Opera House anymore; visiting such a classical and elegant building made for the start of a magical evening. Once inside, we were shown to our box next door to the Royal box. As my first Ballet experience this was quite something to experience, especially knowing a little about the life of one of the dancers. After the performance, it was time to head backstage to meet Lili in person and go behind the scenes. However, the night was still young and it was time to experience another of the ‘Portraits of Budapest’ in the shape of Babel the restaurant as owned by Hubert. A small and intimate space but with a great balance of modern design and rough brick, this was a very choice venue. The cuisine was exceptional, fun and inspiring; we were often left wondering how he had achieved this texture or this flavour… quite a unique experience. It is only a matter of time that Hubert is decorated with Michelin stars and more.
The following day we had more time to get to know the city that is Budapest. Foot is the prefered mode of transport if you want to get to know the place, from the coffee shops to the historical buildings of the Hungarian parliament, closely based on London’s houses of parliament to the Fisherman’s Bastion or Matthias Church, the city is beautiful. If you are familiar with London’s Hammersmith bridge or Marlow bridge then check out their big brother Széchenyi Chain Bridge joining Buda with Pest. One can walk for hours taking in the architecture and the atmosphere of the city, just stopping from time to time to soak up the wine or coffee shop culture. It is worth heading up Castle Hill to take in the views along the Danube and towards Pest, quite spectacular. After admiring the views it is worth exploring the streets of Buda’s old town and if feeling hungry then check out the fine food and wine of 21 Hungarian Kitchen.
After an afternoon of winding our way back to the Corinthia, it was time to experience the newly opened in-hotel restaurant Caviar & Bull by top chef Marvin Gauci. Marvin, ambassador for Maltese gastronomy and celebrity chef has created yet another restaurant that will blow your socks off. Just walking into the restaurant one gets a sense that one is about to experience something quite unforgettable. We were welcomed in like royalty and shown to the best table in the centre of the restaurant. Classic architecture mixed with clean modern design make for a fantastic atmosphere, again with many design features that we may be borrowing. The armchairs were super comfy, so we settled in, champagne in hand, and waited for the show to begin. Dish upon dish were delivered to the table for all to share. Such delightful dishes were presented to us from White Pearl Albino Sturgeon Caviar, Salmon skin crisp, Seared Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, 200° flash seared Foie Gras with walnut and red currant toast topped with Hungarian Tokaji to the showstopper that was Meagre Fish (Gurbell) Iceberg Flambee buried in rock salt, baked at 200 degrees and brought to the table where the waiter poured Sambuca on the salt and set it alight. Once we had devoured spectacle upon spectacle it was time for once final piece of theatre, ice cream made at the table using liquid nitrogen. The night continued as we drank cocktails, more champagne and enjoyed good banter into the wee hours of the morning. For an unforgettable night of fantastically delicious food wrapped in the theatre of gastronomy take yourself along to Caviar & Bull in Budapest.
On the Last evening the Corinthia had arrange something of a treat for us. Once we had eaten our full of fabulous dishes from across the orient at the in-hotel restaurant The Rickshaw by Yang Zhijun, we made our way down to the banks of the Danube where we were welcomed aboard a big commercial river cruiser. However, one must never judge a book by its cover, for this was just a gateway to a whole other dimension; we walked straight through this cruiser and out to the other side where a private Italian style Rivera speedboat adorned with highly polished wood and plush leather seats and stocked to the rafters with copious amounts of bubbly. We lounged in the aft of the speedboat, whilst bubbly was served, the mooring ropes untied and we cast off into the Danube. We pootled our way along the river taking in the beautiful architecture of Budapest such as Buda Castle, Hungarian Parliament, Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Liberty Statue; every building and bridge was lit up like Christmas and once again we were reminded how beautiful Budapest is, possibly one of the most beautiful cities I have experienced especially at night. We were camera snapping crazy, as the city presented photo opportunity after photo opportunity. After several bottles of bubbly and several full Camera SD cards the captain put the pedal to the metal and showed us what this little Riviera speedboat was capable of, we sped up and down the Danube making sharp slalom turns all to the soothing tones of AC/DC, whilst passing river cruiser after river cruiser looking and feeling like Rock gods! I have to say that this is the way to see The Danube, a truly extraordinary experience that makes me chuckle each time I cast my mind back to it.
If you are looking for a city break that will give you a lifetime of memories then look no further than Budapest. The ‘Portraits of Budapest’ at Corinthia Bupadest lets you immerse yourself into the heart of this stunning city like no other experience. Our hunger for culture, gourmet cuisine, architecture, history and unforgettable memories were satiated beyond belief. The motto of the Corinthia Budapest is to ‘treat and look after guests as if we were welcoming them back home’; I have to say that the staff of the Corinthia have taken this motto to heart, there is no doubt that we experienced nothing but perfect service from everyone with passion, warmth and soul behind everything that they do. But I feel that this motto is possibly in the Hungarian blood, as they are some of the friendliest people on this earth. With perfect service and an amiable attitude this is a proud nation, only too happy to welcome visitors in. As you will discover the country has a colourful history of change and extremes, but through all this adversity it seems to have made the people stronger and perhaps they appreciate life more because it?
Corinthia Hotel Budapest
Erzsébet körút 43-49