As we loved our stay at the Hotel Parlament last time we visited Budapest, when we went back last winter we stayed at the sister property, Hotel Palazzo Zichy. The elegant four star boutique hotel is housed in a classic 19th century building, formerly the residence of the Hungarian noble Count Nándor Zichy, in a great downtown location on the Pest side of the city in the historical Palace quarter.
The boutique hotel has a lovely contrast from being a stately, historic building finished with modern interiors. The 80 rooms are furnished with large beds and contemporary design touches including flat screen TVs and huge walk-in showers. During the day, complimentary refreshments are served in the spacious hotel lobby and guests fuel up each morning with a good buffet breakfast in the glass-roofed restaurant.
We went for Thanksgiving weekend for a big dinner at our friends' house, which was also the first weekend the Christmas markets opened. The weather was pretty chilly at the end of November, so we made plenty of café stops, my favourite being at the breathtaking Alexandra Book Café in the Lotz Hall ballroom, which is one of the most beautiful cafés I've ever seen.
The opulent, majestic Lotz Hall has a traditional grand café feel to it, with lots of people sitting with coffee and cake listening to the live piano under a glitzy, golden ceiling with chandeliers and ornate frescos. Old world atmosphere at its finest!
The 19th century Neo-Renaissance building is on a shopping street called Andrássy Avenue and originally served as a casino in 1884, then was turned into Hungary's first department store before being transformed into a bookstore. You enter the rather ordinary-looking Párizsi Nagy Áruház store on the ground floor before going up escalators to be faced with the ballroom-turned-cafe in all its gilt gold glory. Totally unexpected. It's called the Lotz Hall after the celebrated Hungarian artist Karl Lotz, who decorated the ceiling and painted some of the most elaborate murals around the city, including St. Stephens Basilica.
Like Vienna, café culture has a longstanding tradition in Budapest, flourishing during the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1800s. Today, there are dozens of old school places dotted all over the city, like the restored Hadik Kávéház coffee house on the Buda side, which opened in 1911 and had many writers and journalists as regulars back in the day. We stopped by for lunch and warmed up with soup and simple Hungarian dishes like pork with noodles and, of course, some coffees.
One day we walked up to the top of the Gellért hill overlooking the Danube river, one night we climbed the steps to the 13th century Buda Castle and Hungarian National Gallery, outside which we tried a delicious trdelník (a sweet pastry made from dough rolled around a wooden stick, grilled and topped with sugar - yum) and on another evening, we strolled around some of the Christmas markets with mulled wine and sausages. My only regret from these two great weekends in the "Paris of the East" is that we still haven't visited one of the city's famous baths! Next time...