Why I went back to Budapest — so soon
My first trip to Budapest was in March of 2013 when Mr. TWS and I arrived for a short visit after attending ITB in Berlin (a huge international travel show). That was the business part of our trip. Then it was time to indulge in and experience the intrigue of Budapest, a city that always seemed so seductively remote and unreachable to me. But there I was. It was really happening.
Nine months later in December, I felt compelled to go back, longing to revisit Budapest highlights we experienced before and to check out others that we had missed. Mr. TWS and I had already decided to return to Europe in December because of my affection for European Christmas markets, but we hadn’t committed to any specific location. My thoughts kept returning to Budapest, but I felt that we should explore cities we hadn’t visited yet first. Ultimately, I stopped fighting the urge and told Mr. TWS that Budapest was on the list.
Why would we go back to Budapest for a second time in one year?
Five Budapest highlights (but there are many more)
It’s not possible to cover everything is much detail here, so stay tuned for future posts.
The blend of beauty and history
Throughout Budapest, you run into history and we touched on some of that in our posts about Budapest’s Palace Neighborhood and the Hungarian National Holiday. There’s more to be covered soon about the sites in these photos and many other places that are the essence of Budapest’s past and present.
You might recall that I regretted that we hadn’t taken the time to try out any of the famous thermal baths in Budapest on our first trip. However, it gave me one very good reason to return. I absolutely loved the warm healing mineral water of this outdoor thermal pool at the Szechenyi Baths. With the outdoor air temperature at about 28F/-2C, steam rose from the surface of the heated pools. Surrounded by the Baroque buildings, it was a bit surreal.
Mr. TWS has much more to say about our experience at the Szechenyi Baths in this post. You’ll find out if I was able to convince him to join me in the thermal baths — or not.
Food and Wine
I love goulash and I choose this from the menus as often as I can when in European countries where it is a traditional dish. Not all goulash is the same, however. Hungarian goulash includes plenty of vegetables and can be pretty spicy. It’s also not served with dumplings as are other versions I’ve had in places like the Czech Republic. At Grundel Restaurant (shown below), I learned that the traditional way to present goulash soup is to serve the vegetables and meat in a dish and then add the broth, as pictured below.
But it’s not all about goulash in Hungarian restaurants, exemplified by the sampling of some of the delicious dishes we enjoyed as shown below.
Clockwise from top left: Baked Cod at Borkonyha WineKitchen, Pumpkin Soup with Saffron Gnocchi followed by Roasted Baby Duck at Four Seasons Gresham Restaurant, Pumpkin Cream Soup with Pumpkin Seed Cracker at Gundel Restaurant, Mangalica Pork at Borkonyha WineKitchen
On our first visit, we were totally surprised and impressed with the extraordinary wines of Hungary, tasting Pinot Noirs that compared nicely with the fine Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey County wines I love here in California. In March, we went underground into the caves of Budapest to do wine tasting at Faust Cellars beneath the Hilton Hotel in the Castle District. In December, I tried a few notable Pinot Noir vintages in restaurants with my favorites being Etyeki Kúria Pinot Noir served at Gundel, Pannonhalmi Pinot Noir at Borkonyha WineKitchen, and St. Andrea Pinot Noir 2011 Eger served at Pest Buda Bistro.
Although I don’t typically like sweet wines, a luscious dessert wine Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos at the Four Seasons was the right after-dinner touch to warm us before venturing out for a late night walk along the river. I recently read a quote of Voltaire’s that I found amusing. He said of the Tokaji Aszú, “This wine invigorates every fibre of my brain and, deep in my soul, produces a charming glint of intelligence and good humour”.
The Christmas markets
Although it was not our first visit to the city, it was our first time experiencing Budapest’s Christmas markets which I’d heard were among the best in Europe. We were not disappointed. The locations at St. Stephen’s Basilica and Vorosmarty Square, decorations, food and hot wine, crafts, music, and overall festive spirit of the markets were just right for beginning our 2013 Christmas market tour.
The Four Seasons Hotel
I can’t imagine many hotels that I would include among my reasons for returning to a city. The Four Seasons Gresham Palace is one of those. I previously wrote about savoring our stay at this Budapest luxury hotel after our first visit. Our most recent stay was again in a Danube River View room, so I won’t repeat the photos or review — the quality, service, friendly staff, style and comfort have not changed. We also enjoyed the full American breakfast buffet and main dishes in the Gresham Restaurant each morning as we had in March. (I hope you’ll take a few minutes to come back to that article which is linked in this paragraph.)
On a private tour of the hotel, we were able to see several additional areas, luxurious suites, the spa (including the very inviting infinity pool), and get insights about the history behind the buildings origins, changes through years of disrepair and destruction during wars, and the major reconstruction and renovations before opening as the Four Seasons in 2004. In the previous article, I also shared a few photos of the hotel’s gorgeous design features.The next series of photos depict more of the design touches that epitomize the elegance of the hotel.
Sir Thomas Gresham, a 16th-century English financier, is pictured on the center panel of this beautiful stained glass set of windows. It was the Gresham Life Assurance Company of London that purchased the property in 1872 and in 1906 built what they saw as a “jewel in the crown” to prominently showcase the company’s money and power. The grandeur of the staircase is enhanced on each landing with uniquely designed stained glass windows and other elegant decor.
In the photo above, we’re looking up through the center of the wrought iron railings of the main staircase from the ground level. The glass ceiling at the top is actually a part of the floor on the spa level which we also saw on our tour.
It was also a treat to see the hotel in full Christmas splendor with this year’s theme, “A Winter Wonderland”.
Mr. TWS and I indulged in a lovely dinner in the Gresham Restaurant where the menu includes both Hungarian and Italian fare (two of the dishes were shown above — duck from the Hungarian menu and pumpkin soup from the Italian menu). Each course was accompanied by fine wines selected by the very knowledgeable and engaging sommelier. We were interested to learn that the hotel’s chef, Chef Leonardo Di Clemente, is from the Puglia region of Italy. As you know, we fell in love with Puglia and its culinary offerings last June.
Do I have any reasons to return to Budapest again?
Of course, I do. I’ve only scratched the surface of this fabulous city. A few of those reasons are:
Ruin bars — These are cafes that have been established in old buildings that had fallen into disrepair and abandoned after World War II. They are very popular with the locals and considered a must-see in Budapest. We just didn’t have time on this trip.
Food — I’m sure that I haven’t sampled enough goulash. I also have a fairly long list of restaurant recommendations that I need to try from landmark, traditional restaurants to gourmet restaurants of various cuisine types.
Wine -– It’s time to take a side trip to Hungarian wine country such as the Tokaj wine region.
Hungarian State Opera – Although we had a wonderful tour of the Hungarian State Opera, I would have loved to see The Nutcracker there, but the tickets were sold out. Next time, I’ll get tickets in advance for a fabulous performance in that historic and gorgeous venue.
People –- We’ve had the pleasure of friendly interactions with many people — locals who helped us with directions, residents enjoying coffee in small cafes in quiet neighborhoods, vendors at Christmas market booths, Christmas market goers, hotel staff, and tour guides. I’d like to become acquainted with more of them.
See the city in a different season — Budapest’s appeal isn’t dependent on weather. I’ve been there on chilly and gray days in March and quite cold and gray December days. A bit of mist and overcast skies can even add to the mystique of such an intriguing city. But I’m ready to see Budapest in the spring, summer or fall. That gives me a reason to return at least three more times.
Perhaps I’ll never run out of reasons to come back to Budapest.
Is there a place that keeps pulling you back?
Disclosure: A portion of our stay was hosted by the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, but our opinions are based on the high quality of service, comfort and amenities that we personally experienced.
We’re contributing this post to Nancie McKinnon’s Budget Traveler’s Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday. Enjoy other links to photos and stories on her site, too.