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20th Oct 2016 10:24am | By Russell Higham
If you’ve seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes as the resourceful concierge of a venerable old European hotel, you’ll know that a building can sometimes take on a personality and charm all of its own. What you may not know is that the Corinthia Budapest, which started life in 1896 as the Grand Hotel Royal, provided the inspiration to director Wes Anderson for his acclaimed 2014 film.
Budapest itself is one of Europe’s finest jewels, a living repository of fine classical architecture that gives even chocolate-box Vienna a run for its money. It’s a favourite destination for weekend city breaks due to its proximity to London via several low-cost airlines and the amazing choice of restaurants, bars and clubs offering great food and drink at low prices (from £1.25 for a pint of beer or glass of wine). With all that money being saved on air fares and dinner bills, why not treat yourself to a touch of high luxury when it comes to accommodation?
Commanding a position on one of the Hungarian capital’s largest and busiest thoroughfares close to a UNESCO world heritage site, the Corinthia retains its impressive old world splendour on the exterior but delivers every modern convenience and luxury inside, having been extensively rebuilt in 2003. Despite the renovations which are completely in harmony with the original style, history still resides in every corner: in 1956, the hotel was almost totally destroyed when Soviet tanks shelled it in attempt to flush out revolutionary leaders hiding there during the country’s uprising against the communist government; and the baroque stye ballroom was previously a cinema, the Royal Apollo, which was the venue of the Lumiere brothers’ (two of the first ever filmmakers) second ever movie screening.
There are now 414 bedrooms, 26 apartments and 31 suites, including the Presidential Suite which, at €5,000/night, is the largest hotel room in the country. Standard bedrooms can be had from a much more affordable €99/night, however, if booked far enough in advance — a substantial saving on the rack rate which is still lower than at an equivalent five-star luxury hotel in many other European capital cities.
My room on the Executive floor was spacious and sumptuous with a bed so wide that when I tried to reach across to the bedside table for a glass of water, I almost phoned the doorman to hail me a taxi to get from one side of it to the other. The in-room entertainment system can be synchronised with your smartphone over Bluetooth or USB and the free WiFi works perfectly throughout the entire building. A Nespresso machine dispenses your morning coffee with style and panache, even if you don’t look like George Clooney when you wake up, and the generously apportioned deluxe bathroom toiletries are all by ESPA. Thoughtful design means there is a private lift serving all guest floors that will take you directly to the spa facilities (more on those later) in your bathrobe and slippers without risking the embarrassment of bumping into anybody in the public areas. Guests staying on this premium floor also have access to an exclusive lounge which, as well as offering business facilities, serves complimentary breakfast and snacks plus unlimited free drinks (hot, cold and alcoholic) from morning until night. Non-Executive level guests can pay to access this lounge for €40 per day.
There is a wide choice of eating options available in the Corinthia’s three restaurants. I was treated to dinner at the hotel’s pan-Asian offering, Rickshaw, which serves far eastern cuisine in a contemporary oriental setting. My starter of grilled scallops with papadum and wasabi carrot salad had a delicate, subtly spicy flavour which was complemented by the local Sauska wine recommended as an accompaniment to my chosen dish by the knowledgeable and attentive waitress. Another Hungarian wine, this time a blackcurranty red also from the Sauska winery, was the ideal match to my main course of Rendang crocodile steak with fresh coconut and wok fried vegetables. A musician played the mystical sounding ‘space drum’ to softly serenade me as I enjoyed soothing green tea afterwards, deftly prepared and poured by the hotel’s resident tea sommelier.
Breakfast with complimentary champagne is served in the Brasserie and Atrium until 11am. There is a huge choice on offer including all the usual cooked favourites, continental hams and cheeses, natural yoghurt, muesli and fresh fish as well as an omelette and pancake chef who will whip up any egg-based concoction that you might desire.
Budapest has been known as the “city of healing waters” since Roman times and visitors have been drawn to it for centuries by the health restoring properties of its thermal springs and baths. The Royal Spa, housed in an elegant Art Deco building spread over 1,000 square meters, is possibly one of the finest and most indulgent pampering and wellness centres around. Its 15 metre swimming pool, covered by an enormous yet ornate glass ceiling, predates even the original hotel itself. There are multiple saunas, Jacuzzis, a steam room, Niagara bathtubs, a Vichy and tropical rain showers as well as a range of optional therapeutic and massage treatments from experts who have been trained by, and use luxury natural skincare products from, ESPA.
From the huge, imposing staircase that sweeps dramatically into the reception area from the banqueting halls, to the comforting richness of the bedding and furnishings which adorn the guest-rooms, to stay at the Corinthia is to feel part of something special, a character in a story that stretches far back into Europe’s epic history. It’s a feeling summed up well by a comment I notice written in the guest book by actress Dame Helen Mirren after her stay here: it is “the grandest of times in the grandest of hotels”.
Walk down to the Danube (a pleasant 15-minute stroll from the Corinthia) and take a 90 minute Legenda river cruise with free optional visit to Margaret Island: legenda.hu/en
Purchase a 24, 48 or 72 hour Budapest Card for unlimited use of all public transportation, free entrance to 12 museums, St.Lukács thermal baths and discounts on many other attractions throughout the city: budapest-card.com/en
Visit BookCafé in Andrássy Street, located on the second floor of the former Paris Department Store, to listen to a live pianist play whilst you enjoy coffee and cake under the regal splendour of its beautifully painted ceiling.
Corinthia Hotel, Erzsébet körút 43-49, Budapest H-1073, T: +36 1 479 4000 / W: corinthia.com/en/hotels/budapest
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