We celebrated Diwali this year in Budapest, Hungary. The decision to be in Europe during the Autumn season was very deliberate on our part, as both Laveena and I enjoy the cool temperatures of November and the wonderful autumn colours. While in Budapest, we chose to stay at the music-themed Aria hotel, part of the Library hotel collection.
In 2017, Aria Hotel Budapest, swept the Traveller’s Choice awards, winning the title of the #1 hotel in the world. It also won the #1 Hotel in Central Europe/ Conde’ Nast Readers Choice Awards 2018 and Top 10 Best European City Hotel, Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. With so many well recognised and coveted awards to it’s name, the property had much to live up to. Since Laveena and I always judge the luxury hotels we stay at on various criteria, the pressure on the Aria Hotel Budapest, was on, the moment we walked through the doors of the exquisite 49 room boutique property.
At first glance, we loved the sparkling polished look of the flooring, with its shiny ebony and ivory piano keys, which trebled and based their way to the garden courtyard area, cleverly extending onto a screen like sculpted protrusion behind the grand piano. The shiny black space-age like piano is said to be one of only three of it’s kind in the world, made by the great Hungarian pianist, Gergely Boganyi. The corridor leading to the reception area was lined with red flower arrangements and the very kind Bell Boy, Adam, announced our arrival to the receptionist, young Viktor Lakatos, who seemed genuinely happy to see us. As he checked us in, Viktor recommended we visit the High Note SkyBar at the hotel as well as the underground spa and swimming pool during our stay.
Located on the Pest side of the Danube River, the Aria has four wings, each representing an individual musical genre – Opera, Jazz, Classical and Contemporary. What makes this charming hotel even more appealing is the fact that each bedroom is dedicated to a legendary artist. Our room, The Terrace Room (#505) was in the classical wing of the hotel and was dedicated to the Italian composer and violinist, Niccolo Paganini. It had a New Baroque design and as the name suggests, a wonderful terrace, from where we caught a glimpse of the St Stephen’s Basilica, located just steps away from our magnificent hotel.
We had checked in early in the morning and had ample time to indulge in breakfast. We walked down to the stunning glass-enclosed courtyard, where there was an impressive spread laid out for residents. With light classical music playing in the background, Laveena and I feasted on some delicious fruit, domestic cheeses, freshly baked breads, home-made jams, honey, cereals and eggs. Attending to us at breakfast that morning, was Dalma. She was so very tuned in to the needs of every table she was attending to, that each time I stood up to get myself some water or juice, she would glide over elegantly to our table, ask me what I needed and would efficiently return in a matter of seconds to fill up my glass. We were very impressed with the high service standards at the Aria Hotel Budapest and were beginning to understand why this hotel bagged one of the world’s most coveted awards, the title of #1 hotel in the world. As a guest of the hotel, you cannot help but admire the brilliance of master designer Zoltan Varro, who had the vision to create a property which gives one the feeling of being in a luxury private residence with rich Hungarian touches. Compliment that with a music-themed concept and you have a winning and appealing combination.
After a well deserved hearty breakfast feast, we stepped out to visit the St Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in all of Hungary. The church is named after the 1st King Of Hungary and his “incorruptible” right hand is said to be housed in the Reliquary. What stands out are the two distinct styles in which the Church has been built. Originally designed in the Neo-Classical style by architect Jozsef Hild, the Basilica was finished in the Neo-renaissance style by Miklos Yibl, known to be one of Europe’ s leading architects at the start of the 20th century.
Budapest is a city where visitors are encouraged to walk. Given the prime location of the Aria Hotel Budapest, all of the key sites in this stunningly beautiful and charming city, are a short walking distance away. After St Stephen’s Basilica, we returned to our hotel to get my jacket, as it had suddenly turned cool.
We then set on out toward the Danube, where we came upon the famed Szechenyi Chain Bridge, simply referred to as the Chain Bridge. Opened in 1849 and designed by English Engineer William Clark, the Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary. The Bridge is easily recognisable and a great photo stop.
We walked across to Adam Clark Square and from near the Zero Kilometre Stone, we boarded the Castle Hill Funicular, leading up to Buda Castle. We spent an hour walking around this magnificent castle and when done, decided to grab lunch not far away from the castle at a lovely restaurant called Bistro 1786. Located in the old town hall, the origins of which date back to the 13th century, the restaurant serves classic Hungarian homestyle food. When I asked the gentleman attending to us why the number 1786, he said that the date could be found on an iron gate which leads to a wine cellar in the building. He said, the owner loved the iron-gate and decided to attach the number on the gate to the name of his restaurant.
We headed home to our hotel and were in time for the wine and cheese reception, which was on every afternoon between 4pm and 6 pm at the glass-enclosed courtyard. As we sat back and relaxed on the comfortable green chairs, with our long-stemmed wine glasses in hand, Kasai Jnofinn, from Dominica West Indies, began to play on Boganyi’s grand piano.
The dexterity with which this young man played was indeed impressive, as was his mellifluous voice which accompanied his brilliant instrumental skills. A perfect fit for a musically themed boutique hotel. The effect of the grand skylight with the mix of the green furniture, almost gave us the feeling of being in an outdoor garden and we both decided that during the length of our stay, we would visit the courtyard lounge, find us a seat near the shadow of the grand piano and enjoy a glass of wine, or two, every day.
At 6:30 pm, we headed to Vaci Utka, voted as the 7th best pedestrian street in the world. We enjoyed shopping on the street and were also entertained by street performers, who we found to be very talented. We had dinner at The Casablanca where Laveena ordered fish and I asked for steak which was cooked on a hot stone.
The next day at breakfast we met with our hotel’s music director. He kindly offered to curate a special playlist for us from the hotel’s extensive music library. We picked our favourites and these were promptly uploaded on our television, for us to enjoy during our stay at the magnificent Aria hotel. While at breakfast we were also met the very lovely Katalin Moor, Director of Sales and Marketing at the hotel.
While in conversation with this very warm and charming young lady, we were informed that Mr. Henry Kallan, the owner and President of the Library Hotel Collection, was in the hotel. We said that we would love to meet with him and we were indeed lucky, as we had the rare honour to meet and spend time with this great man.
Kallan’s story makes for a perfect Hollywood script. It encapsulates the American dream as Henry started off as a busboy at the Gotham Hotel in New York and through sheer hard work and determination, returned to the same hotel as General Manager. Today, Henry owns 7 hotels, including the fabulous Aria hotel we were staying at in Budapest. Henry was a fireball of admirable energy, enthusiasm and excitement and was brimming with ideas and an eagerness to expand. He arranged to have us visit the building next door, which he had purchased and which he said would be an extension of the Aria Hotel Budapest.
After spending a rather thrilling morning with Henry, we stepped out to visit, the Hungarian Parliament Building, in Lajos Kossuth Square, on the banks of the Danube. This impressive Gothic cupola of an architectural landmark, the seat of the National assembly of Hungary, was also a short walk from our hotel.
We also visited the composition titled ‘Shoes On The Danube Bank’, sculpted by Gyula Pauer, in honour of the Jews killed by fascist militiamen during World War II.
Budapest is a fascinating, postcard panorama of a city. It’s fairytale like buildings, the gilded cafés, museums, theatres and the broad boulevards, have an almost seductive quality to them. And it is at one of these ornamented styled tourist destinations we next found ourselves in, the Fisheman’s Bastion, on the Buda side of the river. We stopped for a coffee at Halaszbastya Etterem, from where we had the most spectacular views of Pest, including the dome of St Stephen’s Basilica and the majestic Parliament Building.
We walked over to Matthias Church where we prayed and offered our gratitude for having had an opportunity to visit this beautiful city.
We returned to our hotel and headed to the all-season rooftop, High Note SkyBar for an early evening drink. Views of Budapest from the bar are enchanting and for us, as would be for most guests, the highlight was the front-row seat views of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Attending to us at the bar was Mark, who was from the city of Budapest. He explained that the current theme at the High Note SkyBar, which would continue until the end of March 2019, was the cocktail menu which offered creations inspired by legendary Hollywood movies.
We had chosen to sit outdoors, on the rooftop, but Mark pointed toward the flashing lights on the red carpet indoors and said that guests seated inside were made to feel like they were on a movie set. We still preferred to be outdoors and with wine glass in hand, we sat back and drifted into sublime conversations about our time in Hungary’s beautiful capital and how we couldn’t wait to return to this beautiful city hotel, real soon.
We talked about our evening walk to Andrassy Avenue where we took some fabulous night-shots of Heroes Square, our visit to Budapest City Park, the Central Market Hall where we feasted on some Hungarian goulash and enjoyed interacting with the friendly locals.
Dinner that evening was at Dubarry, a restaurant with one of the finest views in the city. Located on the Danube, with views of the Castle, The Chain Bridge, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, we really did make our last night in Budapest count.
I called over to a street violinist and asked him to serenade Laveena and as he did, against the backdrop of the shimmering fairy lights adorning the castle, we danced by the side of the road, overcome with immense joy and gratitude. The gentleman who served us at Dubarry, was Laslo, who recommended some fine local Hungarian dishes, which both Laveena and I greatly enjoyed.
We were scheduled to leave for Vienna, Austria the next day and we both knew that we had fallen in love with Budapest. We both new that the hotel we had chosen to stay at, the sophisticated, brilliantly located, high on interiors, high on service standards, musically themed Aria Hotel Budapest with very, very comfortable guest rooms, had become our preferred choice of hotel in Budapest. There is nothing to fault in the property and as we were checking out the next day, we were already glancing at our 2019 calendar to see if we could fit in a repeat visit to Budapest and to the Aria Hotel, this despite a very busy travel and holiday schedule.
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