By Rory Winston
“Overwhelmed, blown away, smitten:’ each an ordinary superlative and each – just as verily – implying a form of marvelous defeat. Whether overcome by an awesome spectacle, captivated by a seductive melody, knocked out by a ‘breathtaking’ meal or held in the throes of a rapture that ends in la petite mort, the recurring theme is one of ecstasy by way of submission. Historically speaking, this makes sense. After all, countries such as Hungary had been occupied many times over and each time around, they benefitted culturally. Celts, Mongols, Romans, Ottoman Turks, the Hapsburg Empire… they all had invaded her lands. In return, Hungary inherited: bathhouses, viticulture, Viennese pastry, spires, and a host of influences that catalyzed dynamic changes in music and cuisine. While the hordes that had once conquered the Magyars have disappeared into the annals of history, the Hungarians have managed to retain cultural elements from each. ‘Pity the victor for it is the vanquished that has inherited the best of both worlds:’ It is the art of incorporation, juxtaposition and adaptation that is responsible for Budapest’s most auspicious creations. Nowhere is this ability to both maximize as well as harmonize conflicting traditions more evident than in the luxurious Kempinski Hotel, Corvinus.
Entering Budapest’s Kempinski Hotel is like walking onto a lavish proscenium created for a György Ligeti opera. Though historical references to the Belle Époque are inherent in the composition, the overall theme elicits a parallel universe – one wherein things have a natural tendency to fall upwards. With soaring ceilings reaching for the sky, stately brown stone rising against a glimmering Crystalux wall, an expansive ascending metal balustrade, and columns like ovoid shells stretching towards some unseen gravitational center overhead, the sensibility is one of Art Nouveau-meets-contemporary weightlessness. This idea of elegant ascension is translated into everything from design to cuisine
Ensconced within the city’s most exclusive fashion and gastronomy oriented district, the Kempinski is a bastion for several colliding realms: Váci Utca’s elegant Champs-Élysées-like promenade, the panoramic strand running alongside the Danube with its view of castle-topped hills, the bustling Bohemian Jewish Quarter and the Neo-Gothic realm of the parliament and its surrounding area. Highlighting this decadent dualism, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant named, appropriately enough, És Bisztró – És meaning ‘and’ or ‘as well as.’ Judging from the endless battery of sumptuous choices, it‘s clear that the French inspired brasserie lives up to its moniker. Its cuisine is both Hungarian and Viennese; the ingredients local, the approach international; the milieu casual, the variety resplendent; the service personal, the mood haunting. In short, the brasserie-cum-bistro-pub-wine bar is Austro-Hungarian tradition presented in the form of a 21st century remix. It is a venue perfectly up to the task of hosting the hotel’s complimentary breakfasts – a place where both discerning locals and savvy hotel guests can be equally astonished.
Helmed by former BMX champion Norbert Körösi, És is a balancing act between showmanship and content, reasonable pricing and high standards, down-to-earth fare and razzle dazzle. Of course, dazzle is something the hotel has mastered on many levels. With the finest corporate collection of Modern Hungarian art anywhere, it’s easy to get lost among the glass mosaics and fine fabrics. The hotel is a world of beige offset by turquoise and punctuated in silver. Each room and suite is adorned in New Empire style and includes all the state-of-the-art amenities of a Five Star Hotel. With spacious rooms, king sized beds, individually controlled air-conditioning, LCD TV’s, DVD players and large bathrooms with heated floors, separate bathtubs and showers, Kempinski makes it easy to look out over the city’s fairytale landscape and feel as if all of it had been written especially for you.
From the spectacular view it’s on to the fitness club – with its fully equipped elliptical trainers, treadmills, recumbent bikes and cutting edge machines – before winding down at the Spa. Whether its bubble baths, steam baths, Finnish saunas or specialized massages and Elemental Herbology treatments you’re looking for, Kempinski won’t disappoint.
Although the entire neighborhood is crawling with some of the best restaurants imaginable, it is Budapest’s Kempinski which boasts the only Nobu restaurant in all of Central Europe. With 326 rooms and 33 suites, it makes sense that Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa shoes Kempinski as the perfect place in which to expand his dynasty.
With theme suites that include everything from Herend porcelain to Queen Erzsébet, the hotel is a journey through Hungary’s past as much as it is a symbol of its ambitious future. Though it’s rare to take special positive notice of staff at a massive hotel, Kempinski’s crew was yet another example of ‘És:’ attentive and inconspicuous, convivial and unobtrusive. They were as ready to entertain with a humorous anecdote as leave you to your own devices. In short, they possessed all the charm of the city itself. Overwhelmed, blown away… call it what you will. Staying at Kempinski allows one to inherit several centuries’ worth of tradition with all the ease of a monarch and all the pageantry of a coronation.
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