New ho­tel of note

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - KATRINA LOB­LEY

I waltz straight past Aria Ho­tel Bu­dapest with my wheelie suit­case. I’m not sure how that hap­pened. Back­track­ing, I dis­cover the mu­sic-themed ho­tel’s name is no more than a faint squig­gle across its lime­stone-clad fa­cade. Clearly, I’ve been dis­tracted by the great hulk of St Stephen’s Basil­ica, which honours Hun­gary’s beloved first king (his mum­mi­fied right hand is in­side). The basil­ica is 96m tall, match­ing the par­lia­ment build­ing fronting the River Danube. No other build­ing can top th­ese em­blems of church and state.

Thank the saints, then, that good things come in small packages. The 49-room prop­erty is the lat­est ad­di­tion to the Li­brary Ho­tel Col­lec­tion group, which has an­other Aria in Prague and four in Man­hat­tan. The Bu­dapest prop­erty opened in March within a 19th-cen­tury bank; it fea­tures a ground floor where things just aren’t what you’d ex­pect.

A line of pi­ano keys set into the floor draws guests into a lobby fea­tur­ing a fu­tur­is­tic grand pi­ano (the black car­bon-com­pos­ite pro­to­type de­vel­oped by Hungarian pi­anist Gergely Bo­ganyi has been dubbed the Bat pi­ano). Re­cep­tion is tucked out of sight in an al­cove, while tall doors off the lobby (known as the Mu­sic Gar­den court­yard) lead to the concierge and gen­eral manager’s of­fices.

Don’t be sur­prised if you need help find­ing the dis­creetly lo­cated el­e­va­tors, which take guests to rooms themed along op­er­atic, clas­si­cal, con­tem­po­rary or jazz lines. Guests han­ker­ing to spend the night in a cham­ber hon­our­ing a par­tic­u­lar artist, such as Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Elvis Pres­ley or the re­cently de­parted B.B. King, can do so for an ex­tra fee.

I have Ludwig van Beethoven for a room­mate. There’s a mir­ror-framed car­i­ca­ture of him fill­ing a wall, two bi­ogra­phies on the cof­fee ta­ble and I soon add a Beethoven CD (pi­ano sonatas from leg­endary Hungarian pi­anist “Ash­tray An­nie” Fischer) from the in-house li­brary af­ter chat­ting with the ho­tel’s mu­sic direc­tor, Kor­nel Mag­yar, whose own mu­si­cal tal­ents lean more to­wards Asian per­cus­sion (he plays the ken­dang and mri­dan­gam drums). But his knowl­edge of Bu­dapest’s mu­sic scene is im­pres­sively wide rang­ing. We chat about Hungarian jazz and gypsy mu­sic and, be­fore long, he adds an Ele­mer Balazs Group DVD to my bor­row­ings.

Aria’s rooftop High Note SkyBar isn’t open when I stay but drinks could be set up there or in the two eyries known as the Panorama Ter­races, which look di­rectly on to the basil­ica’s cupola and spires.

A lap pool, gym, spa, in­fra-red sauna and ham­mam are tucked within the base­ment, and there are plans to add a side­walk cafe. Break­fast is taken in Stradi­vari restau­rant, a dra­matic room fea­tur­ing a half-bar­rel ceil­ing, a sheet­mu­sic fea­ture wall and black-fringed lights in­cor­po­rat­ing tiny vi­o­lins. The buf­fet is small but feels lux­u­ri­ously gourmet, thanks to cured meats, pa­prika-flavoured ewe’s cheese, trop­i­cal fruits and ar­ti­san breads. When the kitchen is com­pleted, the a la carte menu will ex­pand to in­clude the likes of truf­fle omelettes and Hungarian-style scram­bled eggs.

A pre-ar­rival email alerts me to din­ner op­tions such as the Miche­lin-starred Onyx and Borkonyha Winek­itchen. A touristy bistro across the road of­fers tra­di­tional fare such as fish­er­man’s soup and goulash; ad­ja­cent is an all-day queue for Ge­larto Rosa, which serves flavours such as basil-lemon and laven­der-white choco­late, the lat­ter daubed into the shape of a rose over the course of a minute. The re­sult is a thing of beauty, which should per­haps be con­sumed in a man­ner mod­er­ato. But hey, prestis­simo, it’s gone.

Katrina Lob­ley was a guest of Aria Ho­tel Bu­dapest.

CHECK­LIST

Aria Ho­tel Bu­dapest, Herceg­pri­mas utca 5, Bu­dapest H-1051, Hun­gary. +361 445 4055; ari­a­hotel­bu­dapest.com.

TAR­IFF From 360 ($530) a night, but with in­tro­duc­tory spe­cials of 306. Pre­paid ac­com­mo­da­tions start at

288; stays of three nights or more from 270 a night.

GET­TING THERE Emi­rates flies from Aus­tralian ports to Bu­dapest via Dubai. About 30 min­utes by road from the air­port, the ho­tel is in a pro­tected her­itage area, ac­ces­si­ble only to se­lect taxis and lim­ou­sines. The ho­tel can ar­range trans­fers.

CHECK­ING IN Mu­sic lovers, glam­orous cou­ples, so­phis­ti­cated sin­gles.

WHEEL­CHAIR AC­CESS One adapted gue­stroom, with ac­cess to public ar­eas, in­clud­ing the spa and rooftop bar.

BED­TIME READ­ING What­ever’s on the gue­stroom cof­fee ta­ble — mine holds Beethoven bios by Barry Cooper and Jeremy Siep­mann.

STEP­PING OUT The ho­tel is in Pest, the live­lier side of the city. The Bu­dapest Jazz Club and Sz­im­pla Ker, one of the first “ruin pubs”, are both within strik­ing dis­tance. Dur­ing the day, stroll along chic An­drassy Av­enue.

BRICKBATS The room’s smart TV, set within the mar­ble fire­place, proves too hi-tech for me and I have to call re­cep­tion sev­eral times for help.

BOU­QUETS Com­pli­men­tary wine and cheese are served each af­ter­noon in the Mu­sic Gar­den court­yard.

Clock­wise from main, High Note SkyBar; aerial view of the Mu­sic Gar­den court­yard; the Maria Cal­las suite

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