The Parisi Udvar in Budapest, Europe’s newest luxury five-star hotel, finally opened its doors this month after a four-and-a-half year renovation to transform this art nouveau icon.
When first unveiled in 1912 as the Belvaros Savings Bank headquarters, it was the most valuable building in this opulent city. Local operator Mellow Mood Hotels has masterminded the renaissance of the abandoned building for its new Abu Dhabi owners, who have spared no expense.
As you approach, look upwards at the fifty statues hanging off the side of the building on the third floor. These art nouveau originals were hidden in the basement during World War II and some only replaced during the renovation.
German architect Henrik Schmal clad the exterior with 250,000 green Zsolnay tiles and mixed many styles, including Venetian gothic, renaissance and oriental elements. The interior is arguably even more fabulous.
The double-height Parisian Court has a coloured glass vaulted-ceiling and a hexagonal glass dome, beautiful mosaic tiles, balconies, fine detailing and more sculptures. This was once a public passage for 32 shops though the ground floor of the building, but now serves as the hotel’s reception and restaurant.
For the biggest suite in town, take the 291 square-metre Paris Residence that spans the top floor with its rooftop terrace and outstanding panoramic views (€6,000/Dh24,000 per night). Savour its classic white leather sofas, white Moorish panneling, crystal chandeliers, white marble bathrooms and traditional Hungarian oak parquet.
All 90 white-and-gray rooms, 18 suites, and two royal residences have the same gothic and Moorish-inspired detailing. No two rooms are identical. Prices start from €495 per night.
Nothing is missing for the business traveller: from the Nespresso machine to an iron and ironing board and Terrycloth bathrobes and slippers; and a full-size desk with three two-pin plugs. Budapest internet is the fastest in Europe.
Order from room service and a club sandwich or spaghetti will cost €13, a coke €3.70, and a small Acqua Panna €4, although you get two complementary bottles.
My favourite space is the stunning Club Lounge with its full-height atrium, original green tiles and stained glass windows. Its matching green leather furniture and carpet is beautiful.
This just has to be the most prestigious location for a meeting or small conference in Budapest today. Four multi-functional meeting and event spaces can accommodate up to 160 guests on the mezzanine and second floors.
The Parisi Passage Cafe & Brasserie offers breakfast and all-day Hungarian and international dining with attentive service standards from a bygonne era, albeit the open kitchen and interaction with the chefs is much more modern. Nearby the elegant Patisserie & Cafe transforms into a stylish cocktail bar at night.
Downtown Budapest is a walkable foodies' paradise with six Michelin-starred restaurants and a myriad of lesser alternatives and urban distractions.
To burn off those calories there is a small but fully-equipped TechnoGym fitness centre with two running machines, open 24 hours a day. Or for more leisurely relaxation place yourself in the hands of the therapists at the cool Zafir spa. Sadly there was nowhere to put a swimmingpool in this heritage building, but it lacks nothing else.
Budapest is currently chronically short of such high-end hotel rooms. But this is changing rapidly with three more heritage properties now under redevelopment or renovation.
Another is owned by a Dubai-based developer, Constellation Hospitality: the long-delayed Marriott W in a former ballet institute opposite the Opera house.
The Golden Age of Budapest is being reborn, largely financed by Gulf investors.