Luxury Hotels

Budapest’s iconic luxury Four Seasons hotel

GM Yves Giacometti in the lobby

Budapest Four Seasons Gresham Palace is, as its name implies, a palace, designed in 1906, by local architect Zsigmond Quittner, to be headquarters of the Gresham Life Assurance Company. Then, the gal learned, it went through two World Wars, and Hungary’s 1956 uprising and at one time it was briefly headquarters of the Red Army. Jump forward to the beginning of the present century and it was top lawyer Béla W Fejér, a friend of Isadore Sharp, who led the initiative to turn the six-floor palace, or what remained of it, into one of the most beautiful of luxury hotels. Opened in 2004 with 179 rooms and suites, and a rooftop gym and indoor pool, it was bought in 2011 by its present owners, Oman’s State General Reserve Fund.

Bedroom coffee cups…

Sometimes, but not often, bedroom designs last more than a few years. Richmond International’s concept for the rooms here evoke European style, understated rather than in-your-face – see a video of one of two Chain Bridge suites, room 103.  I loved the hand-painted Herend Hungary floral china that went with the Nespresso machine, an illustration of art meets function. Richmond International, under its ultra-creative leader Fiona Thompson, is currently ‘tweaking’ public spaces, whatever that will mean.  The hotel had, actually seemed perfect when it opened but it is even closer to perfection now.  Originally it had restaurants flanking its main entrance, looking across Szecheny garden to the Chain Bridge. In 2008. the ‘crisis’, which saw the collapse of the national airline, Malev, meant the closing of the haute cuisine Pavas restaurant.

Kollás foie gras omelette…

GM Yves Giacometti and the owners, therefore took a bold step. A side-street facing meeting room was combined with Pavas to produce Kollázs a massive L-shaped space, with a prominent outside entrance on Zrínyis: come in and face Josper and other grills, walk left, or right, through a succession of wood-lined rooms, with a circular bar at the heel of the L (designer is EDG). Local politicians and other A-Listers come in through the side door, while hotel guests come in direct from the lobby.  And who are those guests? Well, like most top hotels in this immediate area, about 50% are North American, but here the whole complement of guests also includes about 9% from the movie world.

.. and to-go, anytime

There are several studios nearby, of which the largest, Origo Film Group, has 9 complete soundstages. The Government gives all the support the studios need for such movies as Atomic Blonde, Blade Runner 2049 (in which director Denis Villeneuve used Budapest’s former Stock Exchange as a Los Angeles casino) and Evita.  Yves Giacometti never names names but it is known that Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Rosamund Pike and Charlize Theron have been working in Budapest in the last few years. It is also common knowledge that some scenes of the 2015 movie Spy, with Jude Law, were actually shot in the hotel’s gorgeous lobby… so, come to this luxury hotel, and you never know whom you might meet picking up a coffee-to-go from the kiosk at the lobby-set entrance to Kollázs. WANT TO SEE CHAIN BRIDGE SUITE #103?

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Luxury Hotels

This luxury Budapest hotel is also a ‘plane hangar’

Arrive in a Tesla

This hotel has had a plane hanging in its main ten-floor open atrium – see above – since it opened as the Atrium Hyatt in 1982. In 2006 the hotel was re-positioned, under GM René Angoujard, as Sofitel. Now, in 2019, it is the first thing that catches the eye as you enter the hotel (the sensible will have booked the hotel’s Tesla car to pick them up from the airport).  The plane is said to be a model of the first to fly out of Budapest after the city’s WWII Siege, although it looks nothing like the Lisunov Li-2 HA-LIQ that is today displayed in the city’s Aeropark Aircraft Museum. Yes, says the gal, this is a luxury hotel that may not have history itself but is a reminder of some of Hungary’s past.

Lobby, ground floor view

For the record, the Battle, or Siege, of Budapest, was a 50-day encirclement by Soviet forces, from December 26th, 1944, and ended, after surrender, as a strategic victory for the then Allies. I arrived mid-evening.  Oh, we have been waiting for you, smiled a cheerful young woman on front desk – all the reviews I have read mention the friendly service. Corner suite 620 must be one of the most desirable in the entire 350-room hotel.  Even in the dark I can see I have views across the Danube to Buda, with its castle atop the hill. Slightly to my right is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, named for its promoter, Count István Széchenyi – perhaps he was influenced by seeing Marlow bridge over England’s Thames? He certainly used the same English architect, William Tierney Clark.

Ladies Wine Store

After the agreed design was constructed in UK, by Scottish engineer, Adam Clark (no relation), it was shipped in pieces to Budapest, strung together as if Meccano, and opened 1849. Enough of the past.  Today this hotel has a bar that is, to me, unique.  The Ladies Wine Store stocks exclusively labels that are produced by Hungarian women, say Macha Csetvei Krisztina, Csetvei Pince; Wille-Baumkauff Márt, Pendits Birtok.  The displayed bottles are well promoted, as are the winemakers. Macha Csetvei Krisztina, Csetvei Pince, for instance, is quoted as saying: ‘I love my life, look at me – this is who I am, a girl in jeans, I never want to be more than that’, and, from Wille-Baumkauff Márt, Pendits Birtok, I read ‘I think I am privileged because I do what I love.  I know that not many people can tell the same’

Gym motivation

It is often difficult to find differentiators in the hotel world but this is certainly one. Another unique feature is that René Angoujard, who had ‘made’ this luxury hotel Sofitel, is returning as GM after such a long spell elsewhere.  In the interim others have honed the offering.  There is a really good gym, next to the indoor pool, and I loved both my breakfasts, first, yoghurt in the excellent club lounge and then in the  main Terrasse restaurant – see the second video, below.  You go up stairs from reception, past a mezzanine library with lots of good books, to the restaurant, which has one of Europe’s most copious buffets, with every Hungarian delicacy as well as dim sum and the now-ubiquitous omelette chef. SEE A NOCTURNAL ARRIVAL VIDEO, CORNER SUITE 620, AND THE FOLLOWING MORNING’S RESTAURANT BREAKFAST

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Luxury Hotels

More on a luxury Budapest hotel

GM Stephan Interthal and a Lady in Red

The gal knows a Kempinski from the competition by the Lady In Red. This is such a simple idea, devised by an impresario from the entertainment world, Bruce Tallon, early this century.  Mr T has moved on, to creative pastures elsewhere, but his idea remains, and, honestly, is one of the few ‘arrival features’ that really stand out.  Come to think of it what else IS there? Doubletree by Hilton offers cookies to say hello. Swissôtel has a four-sided clock and, possibly, a bowl of help-yourself Swiss chocolates. The list seems to stop there. Kempinski’s corporate scarlet clothing for its Lady In Red hosts also provides a burst of colour in what otherwise sometimes seems, particularly in a corporate luxury hotel, a rather grey-suited businesslike environment.

Breakfast doughnuts

This particular Kempinski is, indeed, a business base, running at 50-50 business-leisure for most of the year, although during high summer, and when the Danube is awash with river cruises, the leisure percentage soars to 95%. Everyone, whether on business or not, enjoys this hotel’s super ES Biztro. Commuters come in for breakfast from 7 a.m. – there is an outside entrance on Déak Street (‘fashion street’) behind the hotel, and when the weather allows the bistro extends out into that street.  I breakfasted there with hotel GM Stephan Interthal and I loved quaint pointers, things like a server coming round with doughnuts, and an old-fashioned bread cutter, above, just in case you need one. Interestingly, this is a luxury hotel which in fact is only nine years old but it oozes tradition as well as today. This is the Budapest base for co-working, as I have said before.  All day and evening long outsiders make maximum use of the good seating, lighting, electric sockets and free WiFi along both sides of the curved corridor that leads from the main lobby to Déak Street. And yes, in case you wondered, the hotel DOES make money from all this because the to-go kiosk, along that corridor, makes a mint from coffees and snacks. This is a very clever, and viable, luxury hotel. SEE ROOM 714, AND THE BREAKFAST BUFFET

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