“ Address: Paulay Ede utca 31 / 1061 Budapest / Hungary „
~Pick and Mix~
The first time I went to Budapest was in the summer of 1989, a time when the east was showing every sign of impending change. For the locals, the two hottest attractions in town were the country's only McDonald's restaurant and their only Adidas store. Queues for both went round the block. I was Inter-Railing and I shared a room in a private house in Buda with five Australians. Twenty four years later I was expecting to find a lot of change and certainly looking to stay somewhere less basic and with five fewer Australians.
My first thoughts had been to stay at the Gellert Hotel, home of the famous spa and a place I'd visited for one of the most confusing afternoons of my life. However, reviews told me that the place was in poor condition, that the rooms quite possibly hadn't been decorated since my first visit, and I also realised I didn't really want to be on the Buda side of the river. Instead I did what I tend to do - went to Tripadvisor and looked for the best rated place that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. I narrowed down a few and then chose the Casati Hotel which was ranked in a very impressive 6th place from the 333 hotels listed in the city.
I would love to say that I researched the location meticulously in order to find the perfect part of the city in which to stay. I'd love to, but it wouldn't be true because I really had no idea how fantastic the area would be. It's very rare that we stay in a place where the nearest shopping neighbour is the Gucci shop with Dolce and Gabana and Louis Vuitton in spitting distance. Not that I want to shop in such places but our hotel choices are really much more likely to be next to C&A and Spar than top designer stores. Casati sits on a very quiet street that's one narrow block away and parallel to the city's most fashionable street, Andrassy utca. If this had been Paris, we'd have been half a block from the Champs Elysee but on a street so quiet it could have been in the middle of the countryside.
The nearest Metro station was Opera which was no more than a two minute walk from the hotel and perfect for travelling up and down the Millennium Metro line. For the other Metro lines, we had only to walk a few minutes in the other direction to reach Deak Ter, one of the intersecting hub Metro stations. For eating and drinking, we had dozens of restaurants to pick from within a five minute walk. I really couldn't believe I'd got it all so right.
After our flight from Luton we were dropped off by the shuttle bus service from the airport after a drive of about 30 minutes. Luckily we were the first to be dropped since some of the other passengers were seriously testing my zen-like state of holiday cool. Our first impressions when we stepped through the hotel doors were "Oh my goodness, why are there padded baby seats hanging from the ceiling?" but we quickly realised that it was 'art' and easily ignored. In the reception area we were greeted by Henrik, the first of many ultra-friendly and charming staff, who offered us a welcome drink, completed our check-in and then guided us through the ground floor to show us the bar and the breakfast area before we headed to the room.
The hotel was built in the 18th Century and was previously known as Hotel Pest, probably named by someone who didn't think about the double (or triple) meanings around cockroaches and rodents or lecherous stalkers. It was fully renovated in 2012 and everything is still in pristine condition. The small courtyard which would have been open to the elements in the original building has been covered with a glass roof to make an enclosed breakfast room.
Our room was number 16 and was on the first floor. We took the bags up in the lift, then left the main building, passed along an outdoor balcony and back into the building to our room. Once we'd managed to get the room key to work, we found ourselves in a large, bright room with an ultra-high ceiling and a very light, slightly stark colour scheme. The hotel's website says that they have four different colour schemes for their rooms and ours must have been one of the 'natural' colour scheme rooms.
The room was very 'designed' with everything in it carefully considered and put together. If I'm honest, it's not to my personal taste to be quite so minimalist but for a few days break, a change is allegedly as good as a rest. Just one wall was coloured with a light wall paper and the rest of the room was white, or possibly very light cream in colour. The flooring was light wood strips and I'm pretty sure, having suffered enough hotel laminate floors, that this was the real thing. A large round rug was placed in the centre of the floor space.
The room had three large windows, each of which had two separate parts that opened. During the day if we were in the room, we threw them all open and then at night just the upper sections since anyone who felt the urge to rob us as we slept would need to be a bit of a gymnast to get in. Curtains and sheers were hung floor to ceiling and there were no rooms that really over-looked ours so we tended to pull them back completely.
Someone had probably spent a lot of time thinking about the lights and lampshades. At either side of the bed there were small pendant lights with cute little frilled shades and a rather aggressively bright single spot light shining down on the bed. On one wall there were two rather funky curved blob lights Wall mounted funky lights. Two pendant lights with cute little frilled shades and one big ceiling spot light.
There was a wall mounted flat screen television with a wide range of channels but the only ones in English were news channels and I rather like NOT knowing what's happening in the world when I'm on holiday. My husband started watching films in German which was odd because he doesn't speak or understand any German at all. There was a small desk which I used as a bag stand as we didn't need a desk, and it came with a reading light and green curvy plastic chair. A second arm chair and small drum table were also present as well a large free-standing unit with a kettle and tea and coffee supplies and a fridge stocked with drinks and snacks inside.
The bed was enormous and a bit too soft for my preference but then I know my love of rock hard mattresses isn't typical. On either side there were small round side-tables made of cork. Each side of the bed came with an electrical socket and I appreciated the accessibility of the sockets after far too many times scrabbling around on the floor reaching behind desks to try to find somewhere to plug in. In the entrance to the room there was a large wardrobe with a long hanging area, a long mirror on the outside, and a laptop safe inside.
~A (Bath)room with a view~
The bathroom can fairly be described as a bit weird and if you're considering staying at Casati with friends rather than with a partner, you'll need to consider how much bathroom privacy you need since the room has glass walls. There is discretion film strategically placed so you don't catch the odd glimpse of your companion on the loo or in the shower. I rather liked the design but then I was there with my husband and we've never been bothered by who sees what. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to share the room with the five Australians from 1998. The shower was a wet-room arrangement with a glass wall onto the room at one end and no door at the other. Our shower fittings seemed to be a bit buggered and we struggled to push the head up the supporting pole in order to get wet above shoulder level. I can only assume it's a design fault as we asked the receptionist to see if they could fix it and it was fine again for about 12 hours and then sliding down again. The water pressure and temperature were both fine and it wasn't such a hard ship to have to bend down under the shower head. The white toilet and ceramic sink were both quite old-fashioned in style and there was a long shelf behind the sink for all our toiletries. A leather framed round mirror hung above the sink and the area was lit by two of the frilled pendent lights and a central spot light. People who need really good light for doing make up might not have found the light quality good enough.
Breakfast was served in the breakfast room (no surprise there) which was on the ground floor in the covered courtyard with an old covered well in the middle of the room. On week days breakfast ran until 10 am whilst at the weekend it's available until around 11.30 am. The selection was extensive with both hot and cold food. The coffee was from a machine but it was drinkable and my favourite temptation was the sweet cheese strudel which I found completely irresistible but which my husband - never previously known to say no to any form of cake or pastry - wasn't impressed by. Next to the breakfast room there was a brightly decorated bar which looked great but in which we never saw anyone at all. I think the receptionist on duty could be called to come and poor the drink but there wasn't a full time barman (or bar woman) so it lacked any atmosphere.
In the basement the hotel has a fitness section with a sauna and gym and if you want a massage, they'll happily call someone in at an hour's notice. Similarly if you want anything else - tours, tickets, taxis, whatever, the receptionist will fix that for you too. We bought our tickets or a tour of the synagogue and Jewish museum through the hotel but they could book boat tours, entrance to the spa baths and many other attractions.
We loved the hotel but I did struggle to sleep. The first few nights were unbearably hot and the central air conditioning was really poor and ineffective. This will probably only be a problem a few weeks each year but we were quite uncomfortable. We had to open the windows to try to get a bit of a breeze going and I got miffed one night that someone using the smoking area out on the balcony was happily sitting there talking for ages on his mobile phone. Other than that, being on an internal courtyard meant we had really quiet and peaceful conditions.
The location is perfect, the rooms are large and comfortable, the staff eager to please and ever so friendly and the sweet cheese strudel worth going for on its own. I paid £270 for four nights with Hotels.com but that included a discount of £55 which I'd built up with their loyalty scheme so you can think of it as around £80 per night. I thought it was great value, especially for such a great quiet but central location. The only disappointment was the dodgy air con but other than that, I really couldn't fault the place and I would definitely consider staying there again if we returned to Budapest.