Since Emirates and Qatar Airways started flying to Budapest, the former commercial capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire is on the map for the Middle East executive traveller.
Bang in the centre of this impressive downtown is the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, an art deco statement of municipal opulence built at the turn of the 20th century for London’s Gresham Insurance Company.
From the balconies of the Dh25,000-a-night royal and presidential suites you face directly across the famous Chain Bridge built by Scottish engineer Adam Clark to the Buda Castle on the hill across the Danube River. Location is an understatement.
When I stayed, Mercedes-Benz was holding an internal corporate event. Its lobby stuns with art deco details like stained-glass windows, mosaics and the lightest steelwork.
True, the smallest of its 160 rooms is not large – at 33 square metres – and costs Dh1,790. But the art deco marble bathroom and furnishings are stylish, even if the desk is none too big. The standard free internet is 1.5Mps. You pay Dh89-a-day for a faster service.
An ironing board and iron are available on request and the fastest laundry turnaround is four hours.
The Nespresso machine is standard but you might need to ask for a kettle for tea and fresh milk, as I did. A bottle of water from the minibar is Dh25 and a coke Dh17. Room service will deliver a club sandwich for Dh79, or burger and chips for Dh83.
You don’t wait long because service standards are outstanding. The microfibre cloth left next to my glasses was a nice touch. Other guests remarked on the concierge’s ability to sort their IT problems.
The 24-hour business centre has one Apple and two Microsoft PCs and a printer. Secretarial and translation services can be arranged. There are 10 possible boardroom meeting rooms, seating from 16 to 40 people, and three larger conference or reception areas to accommodate between 140 and 180.
Concealed within the hotel’s attic is a 12-metre swimming pool above a classy spa and well-equipped gym with five running machines and portal windows focused on famous city views.
Dining is limited to the all-day, Hungarian-French restaurant Kollazs, and while I loved its seared foie gras and venison steak, the hotel is surrounded by other Michelin-starred gastronomic options.
q&a luxury stop at Budapest
Yves Giacometti, the general manager of the Four Seasons Budapest, tells Peter Cooper about the business dynamics of modern Budapest.
How did you react to the opening of the Ritz-Carlton this year?
Before its opening, we were the only true luxury brand in Budapest. Mr Al Habtoor (Khalaf Al Habtoor of Al Habtoor Group bought it in 2012 for a reported US$80 million) has been very clever to take this hotel upmarket. Competition is good for the development of the Budapest luxury travel sector.
Do you see more Arab investors in the city?
This hotel is owned by the sovereign wealth fund of Oman, and Saudi Arabia’s prince Al Waleed and Bill Gates are the biggest investors in the Four Seasons. Hungary is a very stable country for foreign direct investment, and open to it. It is making a bid for the 2024 Olympics. This would drive a lot more investment into hotels and other infrastructure.
What size of business convention can you handle?
Ninety to 100 rooms. Aside from our own meeting rooms we can block off our street for a corporate event or arrange other venues, such as the whole Opera House for about €50,000 (Dh203,887) for the night.
Is business good this year?
Last year, our occupancy percentage was in the 70s and it will be slightly lower for this year. Revenue per available room was up by 20-25 per cent last year while this year we are more flexible on rates.
* Peter Cooper was a guest of the hotel.
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