London, Paris, Barcelona … we’ve loved them all. As some of the most tried and true destinations on the continent, it’s easy to understand why. But why stop there? For our last vacation, we kept right on flying until we reached the breathtaking eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. This part of the world is gorgeous, loaded with historical intrigue, and a little less travel-worn to boot. Needless to say we loved every second. Here are the highlights of our Adriatic adventure.
Once it comprised three cities separated by the Danube River. But in 1873, the western Buda and Obuda joined the eastern Pest to form this magnificent capital of Hungary, now known for being one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe and one of the most beautiful on the entire continent. It’s also one of the hottest, with more thermal springs than any other city on Earth! This was the perfect place to start our journey.
FORMULA FUN: August is racing season. Budapest hosts the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix, so bars are filled with fans and upscale hotels pulse with the energy of team members coming and going – some of them quite famous. We felt a little famous too, as the paparazzi snap photos indiscriminately of anyone who exits the hotel, just hoping for that one money shot. The lively city becomes a little more raucous at night, so be prepared to join them, because you certainly can’t beat them!
FOUR SEASONS GRESHAM PALACE: We stayed at this graceful hotel situated at the end of one of the city’s most famous landmarks: the Chain Bridge that connects Buda and Pest across the Danube River. Sitting on Szechenyi Square, it offers spectacular views of the Danube and the hills of Buda. Inside, the classic art nouveau architecture and unparalleled service make it an elegant place to rest from the activities of the day. When you’re ready to emerge from your comfortable cocoon, the hotel is ideally positioned as a starting point for walks along the river or into the city.
HONORABLE MENTION: For a more Bohemian feel, book a room at Brody House and unleash your inner artist. Climb eighty steps from the heart of the city and you will find yourself ensconced in comfort, surrounded by contemporary art, vintage up cycled furniture, and all the best that comes with a boutique hotel experience. We visited the hotel for drinks and live music, and were impressed with the youthful creative atmosphere. Located in the former Tauffer Palace, all of the eleven rooms are were once art studios, named after and filled with the creations of the artist who worked there.
See the Sights
Stroll the square’s large green park during the day, or stop by at night to reserve a the VIP cabin on the Budapest Eye – a first-class ferris wheel experience complete with sofas, champagne, and a longer 30-minute ride to savor the view (€100). A block or two in any direction and you’re bound to pass a vendor of traditional Hungarian paprika – some even sell the dried chilis whole. The colorful tins make nice gifts for foodie friends.
Climb Castle Hill
Just across the Chain Bridge from the Four Seasons Hotel is the site of a medieval castle, now turned into two museums. Back in its heyday, this was also the area where the common people lived and where, ironically, their former homes have been morphed into coveted real estate overlooking the city. You can take the funicular railway or walk the wide steps toward the Royal Palace. With all the cafes and shops to be visited and monuments to be seen, you could easily spend half a day here.
Do the Danube
There are plenty of options to explore the famed river, from day to night, informative to romantic. No matter what you choose, your tour will take you through the highlights of Budapest. If cruising isn’t quite your speed, you can take a walking tour instead. Stop at one of the cukrászdas (“patisseries”) overlooking the water for a slice of Dobos Torta – tender yellow cake layered with chocolate buttercream and caramel.
Spring into Spa Day
Take advantage of those many thermal springs we mentioned, and head to one of Budapest’s many medicinal spas and baths. Gellért Bath is the most upscale and the only place to offer a private bath for couples. They also have spa services, such as massage and mud treatments. Swimsuits are required here, so no need to feel shy about the European tradition of public bathing in the nude – it’s simply not allowed at Gellért.
Buda Bling Feast your eyes on the famed Hungarian crown jewels in the historic Parliament – the tallest building in Budapest, the largest in Hungary, as well as one of the oldest legislative buildings in all of Europe. Its Gothic revival-style domes and windows overlook the River Danube, and the surrounding area is full of sculptures depicting the region’s great history.
A Bite of Budapest
We’re not sure which is worthier: the expertly executed local dishes or the ambiance of the terrace with views of the grand parliament building – either way this jewel of the Castle Hill district is well worth the visit. We sampled the regional cuisine with Hungarian Goulash, which uses local paprika.
Enjoy fine dining with a Budapest twist at the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Hungary. Their motto is “without compromises” and the food attests to this creed. Presentation is nothing less than a work of art. We went with a gorgeous (and delectable) tasting menu with excellent wine pairings.
One of the region’s top Italian chefs creates this incredibly flavorful cuisine, using local ingredients and making many pastas in-house. We started into a plate of arugula spaghetti with shrimp, garlic, and fresh tomatoes, and just couldn’t stop.