EDITED BY TARA MANDY
After enjoying a summer as one of the EU’s sexiest new members, Hungary is realizing a new confidence—one that’s most manifest in its capital city and fueled by the fact that all things Magyar, from paprika-infused facials to celebrated bottles of Furmint to Hungarian thermal baths, are topping the trend charts here in the U.S. “I remember communism, of course,” says Eniko Gaskó, a Budapest tour guide. “But only Westerners and old people seem to still be fixated on it.” To be sure, a fresh energy has translated into a wave of mass consumerism (the beat-up Lada junkers of the nineties have been replaced with shiny Audis and BMWs) and a spate of openings that includes forward-looking restaurants (Mokka Cafe, Goa Cafe), funky bars (Szóda), and upscale stores (everyone from Hugo Boss to Max Mara is moving in). What’s especially appealing is the way these modern influences are juxtaposed with Budapest’s historic, moody architecture: Trendy clubs like A38 are popping up on communist-era barges docked along the Danube, and the dingy former Hungarian Communist Party headquarters (dubbed “the White House”) now sports a McDonald’s sign off to one side.
The ideal base for exploring the city is the brand-new Four Seasons Gresham Palace, located on the Pest side of town (36-1-268-6000; fourseasons.com; from $330). Orient yourself by crossing the Chain Bridge directly in front of the hotel and heading up to the outlook on Gellért Hill, crowned by the only remaining communist-era statue in Budapest. You’ll have an optimal view of the city-defining Danube. Make it a point to visit the Castle District’s medieval streets, walking Tárnok Street from the Royal Palace to the thirteenth-century Matthias Church and the unesco World Heritage Fisherman’s Bastion, an old fish market converted into a fairy-tale jumble of turrets, ramparts, and arches.
Another day, hit the eclectic stalls in Grand Market Hall for Hungarian lace, paprika, and salamis on hooks, then cut through the financial district to the embassy-lined Andrássy Street, the Champs-Elysée of Budapest. At Andrássy’s end, you’ll find the Museum of Fine Arts and Mucsarnok Museum, skateboarders popping tricks at Heroes’ Square, and the Széchenyi thermal baths, housed in a sprawling Beaux-Arts complex dating to 1913. For dinner, snag an outdoor table at Buena Vista, in Liszt Square. Order the local süllo (baby pike perch) grilled in bacon, then stroll past the cafés, bookstores, antique shops, and alternative hippie stores on Raday Street before dancing to break-beat rhythms at the Süss Fel Nap club, near Margit Bridge, until the sun peeks over the Danube.
Deal Of The Week
At the St. Regis Los Angeles, a new “Escape Package” offers a nightly rate of $375, plus a free dinner for two (up to $100) or a $125 spa credit. Not bad for a hotel where the rack rate alone is usually $485. Through October 31, call 310-277-6111 and refer to promotional code SRE.
If You’re Going To …
What is it with Italian fashion houses and their hotel fantasies? First it was Ferragamo, then Bulgari and Armani. Now Cerruti is launching a line of hotels. While the details are still being worked out, we know the first boutique property is expected to debut in Vienna, followed by hotels in Dubai and Kuwait—fueling the current Middle East–as–hot spot rage (www.cerrutihotels.com).
CC Africa, safari outfitter to the deep-pockets set, is merging with India’s cushy Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. The resulting Indian safaris, debuting at two CC Africa–Taj lodges in Rajasthan next year, will combine exquisite hospitality with the kind of top-rate wildlife guides who won’t quit until you’ve been a little too close for comfort with a tiger or two (ccafrica.com; from around $300 a night).
Next month, London’s favorite meet-for-drinks neighborhood welcomes the Soho Hotel. Expect swank interiors by Kit Kemp, two screening rooms, and a restaurant, Refuel, whose rotating menu includes dishes like carpaccio of monkfish and char-grilled Dutch veal cutlet (44-207-581-4045; from $420).
Steve Sims, the Über-connected Palm Beach concierge who can secure anything from admission to the best after-parties at Cannes to front-row seats at the Kentucky Derby, is opening an office in New York this fall. Expect to pay an 8 to 15 percent fee per service; call Bluefish Concierge at 866-270-3879 for details.