The Danube flows southeast, from Southern Germany to the Black Sea. Its 2,850-kilometre journey has inspired classical composers and modern headbangers. It was the eastern frontier for the Romans and the western barrier for the Ottomans. It nourishes ten nations and four national capitals, including the Hungarian Capital, separating its Buda from its Pest.
Often ranked among the most beautiful cities in Europe, the roots of Budapest go deep; from the earliest Celtic settlements, to the Roman outpost in Óbuda, the palaces of Magyar kings, the Turkish baths, the neo-Gothic Parliament or the Art Nouveau architecture of the Gresham Palace – officially the Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace.
Facing the blue waters of the Danube, the Gresham Palace is located within a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the likes of the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, the Liberty Statue and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
The latter, located right in front of the Gresham hotel, is the first permanent structure across the Danube, the first permanent link between Buda and Pest, and between Eastern and Western Europe. The bridge is to Budapest and Hungarian economic, social and cultural life what the Brooklyn Bridge is to New York and the US. The suspension bridge was designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark and built by Scottish engineer Adam Clark. The British heritage of the bridge is shared by the adjacent Gresham Palace as evidenced by its name.
The site where the hotel stands today was initially occupied by Nákó House, a palace in neo-classical style. In 1880, the Gresham Life Assurance Company of London purchased the property as a source of rental income. Later, the company selected Budapest to be the hub for their continental operations and given the central location of their Nákó House property; it was the obvious choice. The company wanted to make a statement, and therefore, decide to demolish the existing structure and replace it with a grander one. It would serve not only as an office building but also as a residence for senior staff of the company. Local architects Zsigmond Quittner and Jozsef Vago were commissioned to design the new structure. Construction began in 1904 and completed in 1906 with the grand opening taking place in 1907.
During World War II, when Budapest was liberated and then occupied by the Red Army, the building was turned into an army barracks. It was later handed over to the communist government of Hungary who turned it into proletarian housing. As a result, it fell into a severe state of disrepair. When communist rule finally ended, the new government “gifted” the building to Budapest city, who in 1991, signed an agreement with India’s Oberoi group to convert a portion of the building into a luxury hotel and manage it. However, due to persistent legal conflicts with the remaining residents, the group was forced to walk away from the deal in 1995.
In 1998, the property was acquired by the Australian Gresco Investments Limited. It secured a permit from the Budapest Heritage Board to reconstitute the building as a luxury hotel with the promise to preserve its original Art Nouveau architecture. The following year, Gresco raised funds for the project and signed an agreement with Four Seasons to oversee the reconstruction and then to manage the new hotel.
In 2001, the property was purchased by the Irish investment company Quinland Private, who financed an extensive restoration project which included such original structures as the broad staircase, stained glass, mosaics, ironwork, and winter gardens. The hotel was inaugurated for a second time in June 2004. In 2011, the ownership passed to its current owners the State General Reserve Fund of Oman.
Today, the Gresham Palace is a majestic sight to behold as it sits proudly on the Pest side of the Danube. In front of it is a tree-lined park and the eastern end of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Across the river is the Castle District. Behind the hotel are medieval castles, wooded hills and traditional buildings.
The Art-Nouveau façade of the hotel has been beautifully restored and features arches, columns, floral motifs and classical sculptures. The palette is limestone beige with gold mosaic tiles and topped by a teal-coloured roof. The hotel interior is a mix of early 20th-century opulence and 21st-century comforts.
Entrance is via the building’s large and original black-iron gate featuring intricate patterns which include peacocks, a popular Art-Nouveau motif. Inside, the guests are treated to one of the most beautiful hotel lobbies ever. On the floor are two million cream stone tiles that produce a mosaic of swirling tendrils in dark green. Above, with spiky glass fragment, is the Preciosa chandelier hanging from the lobby’s domed ceiling with stained-glass panels. Three magnificent staircases are seen winding upwards. Wrought-iron vents and thick carpets line the hallways.
The hotel offers 179 rooms, 54 of which are Superior rooms that combine residential comfort with intuitive workspaces, the 55 Gresham rooms offer views of the hotel’s courtyard or either Zrinyi or Mérleg streets, and the 51 Danube rooms offer views of Budapest’s iconic sites. The interior features a modern interpretation of the Art Deco aesthetics to offer rooms that are spacious and elegantly appointed. Some rooms offer balconies and vaulted ceiling. The elegance extends into the bathrooms with Spanish black and chocolate marble floors and art deco-style mirrors with both showers and deep soaking tubs. Toiletries by Omorovicza are based on Budapest’s famous thermal waters. The 19 suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows that enhance the views looking out towards the Danube and other Budapest landmarks.
Kollázs is a contemporary, all-day-dining brasserie and bar that offers a montage of several European culinary influences against the backdrop of the Danube. The Bar and Lobby Lounge, located under the glass cupola and inside the historic Peacock Passage, is a lavish venue where guests can enjoy light appetizers, a wide selection of beverages or the afternoon tea and cake, served on famous Hungarian porcelain while a pianist plays softly in the background.
The spa, located on the fifth floor, has seven treatment rooms, a sauna, and steam rooms. Their signature treatments include the Hungarian Moor Mud Therapy based on the mineral-rich local earth and the Blue Diamond Facial which is a firming and brightening treatment using exotic ingredients such as diamond peptides to restore the energy of skin cells, supercharge the tissues and increase elasticity and smoothness. The indoor infinity pool, part of the Spa complex, has a slightly unusual design with generous windows offering views across the river and ample natural light.
The Gresham Palace of today embodies the tribulations that Budapest went through in the last one hundred years; from the prominence of the Austro-Hungarian days to the stagnation under communist rule, and the liberation that followed. Today it stands proudly along the Danube, as a symbol of the city’s rejuvenation.