Recently, I was lucky enough to make my first visit to Budapest. It was very much love at first sight. An elegant, swaggering confection swathed in gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture, the city of Budapest enjoys a marvellous setting along both banks of the mighty River Danube.
In any city break, location is everything, and nothing emphasises this like the sheer scale of Budapest. With a population of two million, the two parts of the city- vast, working class Pest and hilly, more patrician Buda- the combined city has more than a fifth of the entire population of Hungary. In short, Budapest is a big city, and it feels like one as well.
Similarly, the quality of accommodation can make or break any city stay. After a hard day exploring a new destination, there is nothing as gratifying as returning to the warm, welcoming cocoon of a comfortable, well run hotel. Similarly, there is nothing more maddening and soul destroying than returning to an establishment so badly run that it makes Fawlty Towers look like the Fontainbleu Hilton.
So my hotel was a critical choice. Because I had never been to Budapest before, I wanted somewhere near the Danube itself. There’s something about strolling the river banks of a city that is just so good for the soul. And I also wanted somewhere near one of the major underground stations.
So I ultimately settled on the Danubius Astoria. And experience would prove that I got it exactly right.
The Astoria opened in March, 1914, when Budapest was still one of the twin capitals of the over blown, tottering Austro- Hungarian Empire. It was just months from the fiery conflagration of the Great war when the seven story Astoria first opened its doors for business.
The hotel was decorated in contemporary style; all rich, deep wood panelling, elegant, barrel vaulted ceilings in places, gorgeous chandeliers, and the obligatory smattering of opulent, potted palms. Happily, the Astoria has changed very little to this day.
One hundred years later, it looks- and feels- like a uniquely charming time capsule; elegant yet human in scale, with a welcome and hospitality that is genuine, without the over the top bowing and scraping from staff that sometimes comes with these places.
The Astoria is comfortable, commodious and easy; a great four star hotel at a superb price. The Cafe Astoria- the main dining room (no mere restaurant, this) is one of the best regarded among locals in the entire city. It’s a gorgeous, split level room with windows on one side that look out on the city. The buffet breakfasts, complete with chocolate cake, french fries and multiple kinds of bread, represent an awesome challenge. A bit light on fruit choices yes, but come on- chocolate cake for breakfast! It does not get more old world decadent than that.
My fifth floor room was more than big enough, though I was a bit surprised at first to see that it came with two single beds. Being a corner room, it had not one, but two Juliet balconies, giving different viewpoints of all the bustle going on down below. The bathroom was huge, and came with a shower and bathtub combination, plus a toilet and bidet. Most importantly, there was no shortage of good quality towels.
I was initially concerned about being located right above a busy, traffic intensive street. Would I sleep? Well, I did. And like a baby.
So, ladies and gentlemen, i give you; the proud and beautiful Danubius Astoria. I have found my ideal Budapest hotel. And I cannot wait to return.