New hotel of note
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.
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