Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest is not only an extraordinary venue due to its multiple-starred services and world-famous guests, because Gresham Palace, its rich-historied building mixing the characteristics of Secession and Art Nouveau, is an architectural gem without comparison both among luxury hotels and the members of the Four Seasons-chain. The mission of our visit to the once-upon-a-time headquarters of Gresham Life Insurance Company located at the Pest-side end of Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) was to discover the presidential suite; to find either proofs or disproofs for our preconceptions about swollen luxury and gold-plated toothpicks.
The light of the pastSince we have no intention of either kicking down the doors of the presidential suite or neglecting the significance of the past, let’s take an exhausting look at the history of Gresham Palace. At the very beginning of the 20th century, London-based Gresham Life Assurance Company decided to erect a palace at the Pest-side end on Budapest’s oldest bridge named after István Széchenyi; both as an investment and as a spectacular display of power and prosperity. The tender to design the Gresham-headquarters was won by Zsigmond Quittner, one of Hungary’s leading architects at the time, who was also responsible for numerous apartment blocks in downtown Budapest. Thanks to an ample budget, Quittner and his associate, József Vágó, were granted the opportunity to cooperate with the most talented Hungarian artists and craftsmen of the era.
The tiles of the ground floor passage, the courtyards, and the interior walls were produced by the legendary Zsolnay Ceramics Factory, the facade’s sculptures and ornamental elements were brought to life by Ede Telcs and Géza Maróti; the exterior glass mosaics and stained glass windows were made in Miksa Róth’s workshop, while the wrought iron railings of the main staircases and the breathtaking gates with the peacock motifs were crafted by Gyula Jungfer. An intriguing crumb of information regarding the palace’s architectural finesse: one of Gresham’s executives requested the tiny Baroque domes topping the turrets of the Tower of London to be incorporated into Gresham’s very own towers. Besides serving as a never-before-seen spectacle, the palace was also way ahead of its time in technological innovations, boasting both central heating and a dust extraction system. Ironically, the former led to the building’s demise, for the water flowing in the rails froze over in winter, playing a major role in disintegrating the walls.
Following its completion in 1906, the Danube Promenade’s newest crown jewel became an instant sensation, and blossomed into the most popular meeting spot and residential place in Budapest within a blink of an eye. Those who could afford to shop in the boutiques of the stained-glass covered passage were priviliged and fortunate individuals. Gresham-Venezia Café attracted the era’s most renowned artists the way a poet attracts misfortune, and served as a regular gathering venue for the Gresham Circle, a group of influential writers; while Podium Cabaret, opened in 1921, the home of satiric shows featuring explicit political humor, was always packed with widely-respected intellectuals. The least bit surprisingly, due to political reasons, the Cabaret was shut down twice within a couple of years, the second time around because of its founder, László Békeffy, who was reputed to be a member of the British Secret Service. After the storms of World War II and the Communist Era blew over, and Gresham Palace survived its multiple-decade-long identity crisis - during which it became a temporary dwelling place for diplomats, a U.S. public library, the headquarters of various state companies, a protected though saddeningly dilapidated landmark in the 1970s, and the home of a celebrated Hungarian actress, Ida Turay -, it was wholly renovated between 1999 and 2004 for an unbelievable 100 million Euros; and has been serving as the Central European gem of Four Seasons Hotels.Back to the present
On account of lacking the ability to teleport, before being granted access to the most sough-after suite among the hotel’s 179 rooms, we had to stroll through the glass-domed lobby where an out-of-a-fairytale crystal chandelier was hanging above our heads. Despite the Art Nouveau interior, which is a mixture of arabesque and down-to-earth design elements, and the Hungarian receptionist’s confusingly perfect English, we felt like as if we were in a shrine: the lobby was as silent as a temple during a sermon. When we stepped into the film noir-worthy elevator, excitement took over, and we could hardly wait to finally find out what’s behind the heavy wooden doors of room No. 405. When our guide said open, sesame, our preconceptions about swollen luxury were washed away.
The living room contained a pair of beige couches, a fireplace with noiselessly dancing flames, a pair of presumably antique vases, a balcony providing a priceless panorama on Lánchíd and Buda Castle; while the room opposite to the balcony gives home to a dining table, and is spiced up with embossed wall ornaments and a state-of-the-art service kitchen.
The suite’s rear premises include a French-bedded bedroom, a wardrobe, and a fabulous bathroom covered in Italian marble.
The low-key Art Nouveau elegance was both a nice surprise and a spoonful of disappointment, and left us with bittersweet feelings.An inside look
Although we were a bit confused about what we’d seen on the outside, we knew that what matters the most is what’s on the inside; and we were absolutely in awe when we were faced with the hotel’s services and basic principles, and all the initial blemishes vanished like coffee stains in a detergent commerical. It is important to note that, from a safety point of view, Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest’s presidential suite is way ahead of its five-starred competition. Moreover, members of the hotel’s staff never forget about their Hippocratic Oath-likesecrecy principles; thus when we’ve inquired about stranger-than-fiction requests, A-list movie stars, and outrageous parties, we were only rewarded with a story about an Arabian attache. The aforementioned prominent guest from the Middle-East, upon his arrival to Budapest, fell in love with the city at first sight, and felt like taking a bike ride around town the next morning. To make his dream come true, he told the hotel’s staff to get him 200 bikes – only to change his mind the moment he woke up. The fates and whereabouts of the bicycles are unknown, though we presume that the camels living in the vicinity of the attache’s home now prefer two wheels to four legs.
There are no extra services attached to the presidential suite, which is just as sympathetic as the child-centered approach of Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest. The youngest guests are asked to fill out a questionnaire which, among others, aims to explore the favourite cartoons of the little ones in order to greet them with not only a bowl of popcorn, chocolate chips, and a separate minibar, but also with a tiny cake topped with the picture of their beloved cartoon characters. To make things even more sweeter and homely for the mini-men, a plush checkered-eared bunny guards their dreams at night while snoozing a fit-to-size bed. As for flesh-and-bone four-leggers, they’re allowed to freely wander around rooms, although the same cannot be said about common premises – especially when it comes to elephants and tigers.Too good and true
The top floor houses a spa sprinkled with a massage saloon and a gym full of science fiction-ish machines, while the ground floor gives home to Páva Restaurant, a bar, and a handful of boutiques, which would all be worthy of a series of articles, but let’s just stay on course and conclude our impressions.
The sparse disappointment caused by the presidential suite did not overshadow our clairvoyance, thus it was not hard to notice that Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest is the homely shrine of luxury hotels; an as-good-as-it-gets hideaway where, thanks to an up-to-date database, all is known and kept in mind about the preferences of recurring guests, where famous and important people are not sold out to gossip tabloids, where secrets are well-kept, and where the privilige and exclusiveness of the presidential suite was the least bit overwhelming. Apropos: our egos still shrunk a few centimeters when we were informed about the prices: a night at the presidential suite costs between 3300 and 4600 Euros, while an hour-long massage can shorten your budget by as much as 200 Euros, which equals the price of a moderate trip to most Western European metropolises. We’re not the types to throw around demagogue phrases, but too much is too much – though what’s too good is too good, and that’s exactly what Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest is.