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I was chatting with a staff member of The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest near the front door. Looking at me apologetically, she asked to excuse herself and pointed in the direction of a gentleman nearby.
“That’s the ambassador for Saudi Arabia,” said Anastasija Kovalenko, the director of meetings and special events planning for the hotel.
It couldn’t have been better timed. Just moments before, Kovalenko was pitching me on Budapest’s serious potential to become a top-tier luxury destination.
“I used to live in Paris, but I think Budapest is almost better,” she said.
Supporting her case is the city’s old-world beauty and value — both of which allow her to pull off special feats for her guests. She tends to alternate groups between the hotel’s meeting rooms and the spaces she rents at Buda Castle and the Hungarian State Opera House.
Though the city has had a Four Seasons property for years, this April’s entrance of The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest is helping solidify the destination’s reputation for luxury and evolve its offerings, she says.
And there’s no doubt that high-end clients will love what they experience at the 200-room hotel. Located in a historic building that dates back to 1918, the property features original marble statues on its walls and a Hungarian aesthetic throughout, though The Ritz-Carlton’s standards for luxury and top-tier service are unmistakable. The linens may be new, but the staff is experienced — many stayed on from the location’s previous owner (Le Meridien Budapest) or migrated from the brand’s U.S. properties.
I immediately experienced this expertise upon check-in, where my rapid-fire questions about the city were handled in stride. After getting a lay of the land, I dove onto my crisp, white bed, sinking into the room’s relaxing, river-inspired color palette. In a standoff against sleep, my devilish side propelled me off the bed and face first into a platter of welcome confections. Pistachio macaron in hand, I walked over to the window and tucked aside the curtains. The sun was setting over an unobstructed view of Erzsebet Square, establishing an energizing sense of place.
After a rejuvenating shower in the full marble bathroom, my jet lag gave way to hunger. Casual, close and praised as hip and delicious, the hotel’s Deak Street Kitchen (DSK) made the cut.
Any misgivings that I was dining at a design-driven New York City eatery dissolved as I took my first sip of palinka, a Hungarian fruit brandy that tastes a bit like rubbing alcohol to uninitiated palates like my own.
Though DSK’s straight-off-the-grill menu is among the best in the city, diners will likely be shocked at the sticker price. After spotless service from the restaurant’s manager and sommelier — and a meal for two including two soups, two entrees, one side, two aperitifs and four glasses of wine (don’t judge) — the damage was only a little over $130, including tip.
My insistence on sampling the Hungarian wine list could have made waking up the next morning a bit tough, but my partner and I were eager to try out the Club Lounge’s around-the-clock complimentary food service and unlimited espresso, available to guests staying on the Club Level. (The spa and fitness center are slated for a January opening, so we experienced no guilt for not exercising.)
My partner had noticed that the downstairs Kupola Lounge served his favorite dish of eggs poached in a peppery tomato stew and asked if he could order that. Since it wasn’t on the Club Lounge’s menu, I rolled my eyes at him, but our server didn’t miss a beat. As though he was an ambassador, she returned triumphantly — special order in hand.