The Belle-Époque-Beautiful Matild Palace Hotel Opens in Budapest

As Prague settled into post-Soviet middle-age around the mid-aughts, American Europhiles began to look a little further East, and suddenly Budapest was all the rage. But the Hungarian capital never really upped its hotel game to match its Czech counterpart, with its offerings focused mainly on grand luxury hotels, and a few here and there old world charmers that are admittedly showing their age.

So the debut of the stylish new Matild Palace comes at an ideal moment, as Europe is re-opening to international travelers, and the sense of urgency that results from surviving a deadly pandemic will surely find some skipping that next trip to Paris or London in favor of a destination yet to be crossed of the life list. And while we would always highly recommend the likes of Helsinki, Tallinn, or Ljubljana…a fab new hotel opening arguably bumps Budapest to the top of the list.

Fittingly part of the Luxury Collection, the structure itself was built at the height of Belle Époque fashionability – 1902, to be specific – at the behest of Her Imperial and Royal Highness Maria Klotild of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (awesome title, by the way). Meant to act as an architecturally grand visual “welcome” to those crossing over the nearby Elisabeth Bridge from the Buda side to the Pest side, its exterior presence bears all the neo-baroque hallmarks of the “beautiful era” – including the requisite sky-piercing spires.

Inside, a regal-but-chic teal, gold and copper color scheme – courtesy of London interiors firm MKV Design, whose portfolio also includes the nearby Hotel Kempinski Corvinus – is meant to pay tribute to the surrounding architecture of the area. But despite the grandiosity of the palace itself, public spaces actually feel intimate, almost residential – though an all-white marble entrance passageway looks straight out of classical Athens. And upstairs the 111 rooms and 19 suites feature high ceilings, handcrafted headboards, fishbone parquet flooring and in some cases awe-inspiring views of the Danube. Special spa rooms take inspiration from Hungarian thermal baths, and boast Italian designed cast bathtubs and rain showers, plus strikingly bold turquoise mosaic tiling. (There’s also the Swan Spa on site, with thermal therapy and Hammam rituals.)

Most intriguingly, America’s (by way of Austria) original celeb chef Wolfgang Puck has brought star-power dining to Budapest’s culinary scene, with three new venues and another on the way. Firstly, there’s an outpost of his exalted Beverly Hills movie star magnet Spago, serving up ricotta gnocchi and wild mushroom strozzapreti to a European audience for the first time ever. And it’s complemented by The Duchess rooftop bar (still a rarity in this city), a furtive liquor library for special sips, and coming in September the Matild Café and Cabaret, which will reimagine the high-society socializing habits of the Belle Époque.

If you’ve already done Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and most of Italy, Budapest is certainly very much worth considering in 2021, for its stunning architecture, first rate opera house, a splash in the historic Széchenyi Thermal Baths, and for nocturnal sorts its decadent ruin bars, trendy nightlife spots set up in abandoned buildings. It’s even got a chocolate museum and a pinball museum. And in the Matild Palace, it now has an “I’ve stayed there” hotel.

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