“I’m putting you up in my favourite hotel in Budapest,” my travel agent said.
“But you’ve never been to Budapest,” I protested. He and I had swapped travel tales and we knew each other’s territory.
“Yes but if I was going to Budapest, this is where I would stay – look.” He turned his computer monitor around to show me. “It’s like a palace.”
I took one look at the building. It was lit up at night and looked elegant and grand. The exterior (pictured above) was a splendid mix of Greek, Roman, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. The interior (below) was pretty plush too, in a more modern fashion. “The price is pretty good, considering,” he said. Considering what? Easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one paying!
I had to make a quick decision. I should really say no – it would be too extravagant. I am a humble journalist, raised in the wilds of Africa. In five-star hotels I feel like a fish out of water. But it would be a new experience. Something interesting to write about. Besides, you only live once. You have to treat yourself every now and then, and sometimes you should let fate – or its agents – decide these matters. “Okay,” I assented. “Book me in.”
And so I went off to Hungary to live out my travel agent’s fantasies.
A CAFE LIKE NO OTHER
I am not here to plug hotels. Time To Wander is not TripAdvisor and doesn’t want to be. Everyone has their own priorities and price ranges, and I don’t think it’s fair to recommend a hotel without having compared it to all its rivals. But there is something you should know. The hotel in questions was the Boscolo Budapest, which was once the offices of the New York Life Insurance Company (details here) and other businesses. I have no regrets about staying there – on the contrary, I enjoyed it tremendously – but bear in mind that it is quite centrally situated on the Pest (eastern) side of Budapest, about two kilometres from the Danube river, and if you want a hotel with river views then obviously it is not the place for you. That said, Budapest is a big city and not all its attractions are down by the river, and the Boscolo is pretty handy for the main railway station.
Whether you stay in the Boscolo or not, though, you must visit it at least, preferably for mid-morning or afternoon tea, because it has one of the most beautiful cafes in the world, the New York Café (details here). Just look at how sumptuous it is.
The cafe serves exotic coffees, hot chocolates and cakes as well as savory dishes such as caesar salads and burgers, but what you should really come for are the high teas for two, with finger sandwiches, cakes and scones.
Being a journalist, I like the fact that the cafe once served as the offices of an important, but now defunct, literary magazine, Nyugat. I wish my office looked like this.
Downstairs from the cafe is the breakfast room. As you can imagine, for hotel guests it feels pretty good starting your day with a buffet in this setting.
Budapest is a big city, busy and noisy, and exploring it usually involves a lot of walking. Returning to this elegant haven after a hard day out and about is bliss.
A note to my travel agent: when you eventually get to Budapest, you know where to go. TTW
Bernard O’Shea travelled to Hungary and stayed at the Boscolo at his own expense. Photos © Bernard O’Shea.