All three mornings that I woke up in Budapest I had that new George Ezra tong stuck in my head – but for those of you who don’t know, he’s mispronouncing the name of the city. Buda-PESHT, as I’ve been told over the years and was once again reminded by our guide Julia, a perky Hungarian who made it her mission to teach us at least one word in her language. for me, that word was Budapest, since every other Hungarian word is SO CONFUSING. The problem with pronouncing Budapest correctly is that I think mispronounce any other word with an “s” sound afterwards. For example, to say “Budapest is the best city” I would say, “Buadpesht ish the besht shi…” 🙂
I’ll get the hang of it one day.
We arrived at night to the Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace, rightfully voted by TripAdvisor as the best hotel in Europe and the number four hotel in the world – it was an honor to just see the property, much less spend three nights in one of their Danube Rooms with a stunning view of the Chain Bridge and Royal Palace, an incredibly gorgeous scene regardless of time of day, but especially breathtaking at night.
Stepping into the lobby of the Four Seasons Gresham Palace is an experience in itself – the property was once an insurance company that, over the course of the second world war, was left in a derelict state before Four Seasons pursued the project, starting with a 5 year, $110 million dollar renovation that led to their 2004 unveiling. The Art Nouveau architecture is complimented by a mosaic floor made up of 2 million individual tiles and the sweeping glass-and-iron-laced ceilings with a stunning blown-glass chandelier cause every new guest to strain their neck in an attempt to take it all in.
Julia called it the holiest place on earth – when guests walk in, the look around and proclaim “Oh my God!” and when they check out and see their bill, they loudly proclaim “Jesus Christ!!!”. Good thing Exeter gets our clients access to the best rates and anyone booking through Epperly Travel can take advantage of our Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits. It’s worth the price to stay at the unrivaled best property on the continent of Europe.
We began our touring on the Pest side, which is the flatter side of the two cities that constitute Budapest (“Remember, Pest is flat like a PAN-cake, Buda is Bumpy with mountains – and like our history,” Julia informed us). Our day began with a tour of the Market Hall, an architectural and modern day staple (can you imagine if Publix looked like this?:
After this, we took in the Jewish Quarter, visiting the Dohány Street Synagogue and the Holocaust Memorial, a sculpture of a weeping willow to commemorate the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who perished in World War II. Especially striking is the artistic meaning behind the weeping willow – the willow is actually a Menorah turned upside down because, according to sculptor Imre Varga, everything during World War II was flipped upside down.
Our first day ended with a VIP experience of Gundel Restaurant, recognized as the best fine dining experience in Budapest. We enjoyed a private wine tasting of Hungarian wines in the cellar before a three-course lunch of delicious asparagus soup, our choice of entree, and a traditional walnut-filled crepe with chocolate sauce.
That evening, we went for a visit of the Aria hotel, Budapest’s brand new property with a musical influence and quite the modern twist. A juxtaposition to the Four Seasons in every way, except for the quality of service, the Aria is funky, trendy, and every room is dedicated to a different composer or style of music. The staff was generous and hospitable and the hotel will surely be a staple in the city – especially for their gorgeous sky bar, which all clients should make a note to visit once it opens.
The next morning we enjoyed a guided tour through Hungary’s largest building: the House of Parliament, which is the image I’ve always had when imagining Budapest. Those ornate red domes set atop a castle-like infrastructure – it is absolutely humbling to see in person, especially to get a glimpse of the inside. From the little we saw, the gold-laced walls and Holy Crown of Hungary, it was evident that the building is quite the landmark. We also had a hard time trying not to make the stiff-faced guards crack a smile.
We continued our day of touring with a visit to the Varhegy castle area, complete with the Royal Palace, Matyas Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, which affords sweeping views of the Pest side.
It’s always my goal to take a photo with our Epperly Travel shirt in each place I visit, so I endured the 40 degree weather for a quick picture – well worth it!
For our final stop on the itinerary, Exeter and our lovely contact at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace surprised us with a struedel-tasting – we sampled every traditional type of struedel, from cream cheese to poppyseed to sour cherry and anything else in between. Yum!
We had the rest of the afternoon free and a few of the ladies went to the Gallard?!? hotel to experience the famous hot springs baths, but I decided to hang back and enjoy the Four Seasons. Just sitting in the room with the sunlight steeping in, getting to write and stare out at that view, was the perfect way to relax and end the trip for me.
Our night ended with a beautifully presented farewell dinner at Gresham, the Four Season’s restaurant. I sat back and watched as each of the ladies chatted and laughed with one another, struck by these new and unexpected friendships. It could have been the depth and heaviness of some of our touring that brought us together so quickly, or it could have been our shared thirst to see and experience more of the world to better serve our clients – either way, it was a really good group that I was genuinely sad to leave.
Bravo to Exeter for hand-selecting some of the best in the business and preparing an unforgettable trip, I learned so much from each of the ladies and walked away with a profound knowledge and deep love for these two new cities.
I cannot wait for our clients to experience this same level of touring in any Eastern European destination, just email firstname.lastname@example.org to begin planning your upcoming getaway!