Budapest | Hungary
We drive through the boulevards of Budapest, tree-lined and grandiose arriving at our destination, the Buddha-Bar Hotel. It had to be the Buddha-Bar. I’ve been listening to the eclectic sounds which originated in the lounges of this hotel group for years, and promised myself that if I were to visit this city I would stay here.
The hotel is housed in one of two Klotild Palaces, built for the Duchess Klotild Habsburg in 1902. The buildings are a stunning example of the neo-baroque architecture, the style of which is abundant throughout the city. We are shown to our room, a two storey suite with a bath-tub big enough for four. We are just two, so we bathe star-fish like, before setting out on some serious sight-seeing.
Budapest’s history reads like a fated story book: repressed/thwarted, rising from the ashes/optimism, ill-fated choices/crushed by oppressors.
The Romans gravitated towards the abundant thermal springs of Óbuda, renaming it Aquincum. The Huns all but annihilated the population. The Turks brought with them paprika and coffee, igniting the coffee culture Budapest is so renowned for. The Habsburg empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire was the golden era for Budapest. And then came communism.
Present day Budapest is 3 cities in 1 – Óbuda, Pest and Buda – inextricably woven together by the Danube river. Streets are flanked by opulant, elegant and graceful architecture which alone will make you want to visit. On the Buda side of the Danube, a funicular ride will take you up to the hilly heights of Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, where stunning views up and down the winding river, and across to Pest and the impressive Parliament building await you. Budapest has the largest number of thermal springs in the world, and so was officially named City of Spas in 1936. And if this weren’t enough, there is the food, the exquisitely gilded opera houses and coffee houses, a fashion avenue-Andrássy Út-elegant enough to match the Champs Elysées, Paris. And, most surprising of all, is Hungary’s best kept secret, its wines.
Hungary was once one of the most prestigious wine making countries in old Europe. But an outbreak of Phylloxera, war, and communist rule saw the demise of Hungary’s viticulture. Thankfully though Hungarian wine is on the up and up, and turning out some intriguingly beautiful wines. A mix of limestone and volcanic soils, hilly topography and sweet-spot latitude makes for exceptional wine growing terrain in the regions of Tokaj, Pannon, Eger and Észak-Dunántúl to name just four.
Budapest itself also has a lavish wine scene with Michelin starred wine bars and wine restaurants offering tantalising selections from regional winemakers. Plus, Budapest plays host to a few very notable wine festivals. We head to the Rosalia Festival, held every May in Budapest city park. Thousands of people attend this Spring-time festival to toast in the warm weather with a glass or two of Hungary’s exceptional Rosé and sparkling wines, from over 70 producers from all over Hungary.
The Hungarian words for wine is Bor which, unlike in other languages (bar a few) has no hint of a latin base, leading historians to believe that Hungary was a wine producing region long before the arrival of the Romans. Hungary also grows one of three types of oak tree best suited to wine barrel-making – Quercus Petraea – which are grown near the Tokaj wine region near the boarder of Slovakia. Hungary has a near 1000 year tradition in oak barrel-making. They were widely exported to other wine producing countries including France and Italy, and only stopped during communist rule. Hungarian wine makers use local oak barrels to temper their wines, which gives distinctive, characterful, creamy and warm flavours and aromas to the wines. Lush, light, fruity, or bold Hungarian wines are intriguing, very understated and oh so delicious.
So unleash your adventurous side and head to this lesser known wine country via a fabulous stay in Budapest. You’ll be pleasantly, very pleasantly, surprised.
Where to Eat
Borkonyha Wine kitchen
This superb Michelin starred wine restaurant offers up the most amazing food with up-to-date versions of some of Hungary’s classic favourites. They have a tasting menu where each course is matched with a Hungarian wine. This menu can take over 2 hours, so book well in advance. We arrived a little late for this menu, however, we enjoyed 3 superb courses and our sommelier matched each dish for us with a selection of equally amazing local wines. You might like to try the flat-iron veal steak with sage and apricot, followed by a delicious raspberry dessert with liquorice French Macaron.
Doblo Wine Bar
Any serious wine fanatic will not want to miss this gem of a wine bar. Doblo has a list of no less than 13 tasting menus offering Hungarian regional wines and Pálinka (Hungarian brandy). We chose the Tourist menu, naturally, which focuses on wines mainly from the Tokaj wine region, a region which was awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 2002, and home of the worlds oldest Botryized wine (noble rot grapes). The knowledgable sommeliers will give a thorough history of each wine, plus, you get a selection of tapas-style Hungarian hams and cheeses to accompany your beverages. Entertainment is provided by local Jazz musicians which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Where to Stay
Even if you don’t stay at this hotel, you can enjoy a cocktail in Buddha-Bar’s totally gorgeous lounge-bar. They have a guest DJ most Saturday evenings, but check their website for detail.