A stately Art Nouveau hotel, Budapest’s Four Seasons Gresham Palace offers the perfect marriage of luxury and history for a pre-wedding break or minimoon
Words Libby Norman
There is an almost giddy romance about Budapest. Packed with Art Nouveau architecture, and with the mighty Danube separating the two sides of this historic Habsburg capital, it is also city of ancient springs – taking the waters is not a treat but a way of life here.
Four Seasons Gresham Palace is the place to savour all the sights. Its location, opposite the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge (usually known simply as the Chain Bridge), means you have the best of both worlds. A short stroll across the bridge, if you are lucky accompanied by the strings of a busker violinist, and you are enjoying the tranquil hills of Buda. And the bustling shopping streets and squares of Pest are located all around the hotel. Four Seasons Gresham Palace – like the bridge – is a national monument.
This is a city where spa time is considered a cultural necessity
Built by Gresham Life Assurance Company of London as a headquarters and apartment block, it was saved for the nation and restored, retaining its palatial features but with no hint that it’s been preserved in aspic. Now it’s all about contemporary luxe and its grand lobby with stalactite-like chandelier welcomes you into calm seclusion. This is most welcome because Budapest is having a heatwave when we arrive and this cathedral-like space is blissfully cool.
Our room has its own step-out balcony, with a bird’s eye view of the stone lions that guard the Chain Bridge. And – oh bliss – we are greeted with a tray of bite-sized macarons and refreshing fruit salad in neat Kilner jars. The marble bathroom, cosy armchairs and ridiculously comfortable mattress tell us this is going to be a very comfortable home from home.
Before venturing out into Budapest’s baking streets, we check into the hotel spa for a few laps of the infinity-edge pool and a session in the whirlpool. We forgo the steam room, but do check out the array of beauty therapies on offer – everything from a sugar scrub with gold particles to a classic Hungarian Body Wrap. The spa uses lush Omorovicza products and has seven treatment rooms, but then this is a city that is believes spa time is a medicinal, social and cultural necessity.
After cooling down, I’m very interested in eating cake – having been told that this is another cultural rite in Budapest – and the hotel’s Kollázs brasserie has a most tempting pastry counter by its entrance. Based on this evident mastery of all things sugary, we decide to eat in the brasserie that evening and are impressed. If you thought Hungarian food started and stopped at goulash, this is the place to dispel that myth. I dine on octopus and scallop with potato paprikash (delicious), while my companion samples a perfect rare steak from the extensive oak charcoal grill menu. The flavours are bold and fresh with some unusual sweet and savoury pairings – a touch of exoticism – not at all heavy. Soups are on the menu here, as with every other Budapest restaurant. It’s a 365-day dish for hungry Hungarians and well worth sampling, whatever the temperature, because it is always made with love. The desserts are divine and we share an ice cream and sorbet selection.
While our trip is for R&R rather than sightseeing, we do make forays to the Buda side for a visit to the Cave Church and a wander along the riverbank. We also check out the indoor market on the Pest side – the place to find everything from paprika and salamis to buffalo-skin handbags. Finally, since no trip to Budapest is complete without at least one thermal baths session, we talk to the charming and all-knowing concierge. He says that every one on the Gresham Palace concierge team has a personal favourite, so we opt for the Széchenyi since it’s close by and among his recommendations. And, nice touch this, we pop back to reserve our taxi and pick up the courtesy fluffy Gresham Palace towels and slippers to make our thermal spa session a truly immersive home from home.