Story & photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal
Erzsébet krt. 43-49
1073 Budapest, Hungary
Erzsébet Boulevard, also known as the Grand Boulevard, was initially conceived as a waterway as early as 1850 by István Széchenyi, one of the pre-eminent developers of what would eventually become Budapest, to satisfy his canal-envy of Venice. The plan was to build a waterway that would span Pest and would accommodate big ships as well as smaller craft. But, frugal heads prevailed, and by the 1870s when the boulevard was finally constructed, the resulting broad avenue became home to noteworthy buildings that were the focus for the artistic and cultural scene of the day. Foremost among the popular gathering places was the Royal Hotel & Spa, an imposing French Renaissance triplex building consisting of a central structure with flanking wings that occupied the largest piece of real estate on that major artery. Adding to its appeal, the Royal was just a few short blocks walk from aristocratic Andrássy Avenue, which was also constructed during the 1870s just prior to the formation of Budapest as a city. Andrássy is an avenue of stately homes and mansions built in the Hungarian Art Nouveau architectural style known as Hungarian Secessionist. This purely Hungarian eclectic blending of Art Nouveau with Neo-Baroque, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Romanesque – singly or in combination - is charming, amusing and a completely unique architectural expression. Today, Andrássy Avenue is a World Heritage site and Budapest, not unlike Paris, is a walking city and outdoor museum for students of architecture and lovers of Art Nouveau. A walking tour of Andrássy Avenue made with “Unique Budapest” firstname.lastname@example.org helped me discover highlights of this distinctive artistic form in a friendly, informative walkabout.
Fast forward a hundred plus years through all the vicissitudes of history and incarnations of the Royal, for the Malta-based Corinthia Group (CHI Ltd.) to take over the building and invest 100 million euro to restore and refurbish it again as a hotel. The resulting reconstruction links the main building and its flanking wings by enclosing the atriums with glass skylights. Also constructed was the courtyard Royal Residence, a separate building for short or long-term stays consisting of 26 individually designed luxury apartments positioned in a delightful garden setting. The Royal Residence can be accessed through a private entrance or directly from the Hotel through a covered bridge.
Winner of Europe’s ‘Best Hotel Architecture Award’ and member of ‘The Most Famous Hotels in the World’ The Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal has just been included in the Expedia Insiders’ Select list that represents the top 1% of all 80000 international hotels and resorts Expedia covers. These and many other awards recognize that The Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal has reestablished the old world hospitality the Royal had built its reputation upon, and blended it with a contemporary understanding for the needs of the 21st century traveler. So, at the curbside, you are warmly greeted by a smartly uniformed attendant and your luggage is whisked away to he held until check-in is completed either at the main reception desk or at the ultra convenient Executive Lounge. You are personally escorted to your room with your luggage in tow by an impeccably dressed bellhop, all the while being informed of the many services the hotel offers. Upon entering your room, you are courteously led through the necessary familiarization that will make your stay comfortable. No expense was spared in redecorating the rooms and suites with the finest in materials and workmanship as well as the state-of-the-art electronics expected in all five-star rated hotels.
The restored lobby is especially old-world-elegant with its sweeping grand staircase, splendid marble floors and richly appointed seating areas. In this age of charming boutique hotels with limited lobby space, it is delightful to enter into a hotel lobby that has room aplenty for meetings during the day and social gatherings during the evening. There are large seating areas where you can enjoy a drink and listen to the live Hungarian music group that includes strolling violins.
Of note is also the size, scope and opulence of the Grand Ballroom, richly restored and updated. This feature alone reestablishes the hotel to its former status of prime meeting venue for cultural and social gatherings.
During my stay at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, I had the pleasure of meeting and touring the kitchen with Executive Chef Vincent Astier. Originally trained in France, Chef Astier has served in luxury hotels all over the world, including New York City. His philosophy is simple; take the familiar ingredients used in local cooking and elevate them to a high cuisine by blending them with classic elements. But those are just words, or were they? The real test came during dinner at the lobby Atrium Royale Restaurant, when I ordered one of Chef Astier’s variations on a theme; veal and foie gras with dumplings in paprika sauce. I was told this dish is typical Hungarian fare but this was no goulash. From the presentation to the last bite, this is a dish of distinction and one of the best I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Two rounds of flavorful dumplings form the base upon which sat a three to four inch filet of prime grilled veal, topped by a pan-fried whole goose liver, all floating in a sea of aromatic paprika sauce flavored with chopped dill and decorated with milk foam. The veal could not have been more tender; the paprika sauce more aromatic; the liver more creamy with just the right amount of crisping on the outside; and the dumplings solid without being heavy… kudos to Chef Astier for the entire meal, but especially this dish. Dinner began with tuna tartar placed on a bed of formed parsley and decorated by crisps drizzled with Virgin olive oil, and ended with a delightful mint crème brûlé with chocolate ice cream decorated with spun sugar and raspberries.
Another top dinning choice at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal is the Rickshaw Asian Restaurant & Sushi Bar also located in the lobby. Perhaps not such an oddity in Budapest due to the global embrace of all things oriental, this Japanese style black lacquered teahouse restaurant is pleasing to the eye with its bamboo baskets, hanging lanterns, painted fans and textured wall coverings. Executive Chef Henry Betah is Malaysian born and trained in all major Asian cuisines. I ordered sushi, and while the variety was limited, what was available was of excellent quality and handsomely presented. I moved on to an interesting combination of deep fried duck and squid with vegetables in a sweet/sour sauce which was very tasty, and dinner ended with another unusual dish, deep fried orange with chocolate ice cream. Although not as successful as the more traditional deep fried banana, it was nevertheless well presented and for those that have room for a sweet, it certainly was.
One of the outstanding treats at the hotel is the buffet breakfast that offers just about any possible breakfast choice. And while you are invited to select from the many stations of fruits and freshly made breads and cakes, eggs and accessories, fishes and salads, hot or cold cereals, pancakes, waffles and French toast, Hungarian traditional breakfast dishes, or order something special from the open kitchen, the sheer variety of really good choices was overwhelming. And, if you are looking for a treat to take home, or to munch on while sightseeing, stop at one of the oldest and best pastry shops in the city, Szamos Marcipan, entered from the atrium or the street.
Of course, a review of the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal is not complete without reference to the Royal Spa. Whether you center your visit to Budapest at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, or simply pay a visit for the spa or the food or even the unique V.I.K! (very important kids) Sunday Brunch, it is a walk into a gracious and welcoming milieu, not frequently encountered in the modern world.
© January 2009 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.