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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Budapest's Ritz-Carlton a jewel in capital's crown

Magnificent property owned since 2012 by the Dubai billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor

The 400-square-foot club rooms feature a king-size bed, lounger, worktable, and dressing and ironing nooks. Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest
The 400-square-foot club rooms feature a king-size bed, lounger, worktable, and dressing and ironing nooks. Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest

Staying in a hotel when the prime minister comes to dinner always means tight security but in Europe these days it can feel a bit like being under siege in a castle.

The Ritz-Carlton in Budapest was literally surrounded by police and vehicles when we visited recently and we found ourselves escorted past a barricade into the reception by a policewoman rather than a hotel concierge.

From the large windows of the signature Deak Street Kitchen restaurant we could watch as the pedestrian street of shoppers outside was cleared for the arrival of Hungary’s premier Viktor Orban.

But it is evident why he chose the Ritz-Carlton for his dinner. The food and service are excellent. It is also bang in the centre of this dynamic city and so ideal for business meetings.

Owned since 2012 by the Dubai billionaire Khalaf Al Habtoor, this 200-room hotel was converted from a police headquarters to its current use at the turn of the century under the Le Méridien banner.

Just over a year ago Mr Al Habtoor rebranded it to the Ritz-Carlton group after completely refurbishing the elegant, art-deco building.

Rooms start from US$488 per night including tax for 36 square metres, and offer every modern convenience from marble bathrooms to a laptop safe and Apple TV. The 2mbps Wi-Fi is complementary but you pay €20 (Dh85.70) a day if you want 10mbps.

A club sandwich from room service will set you back €11, and a steak and chips €30; bottled water is €2 and a coke €2.50.

Upgrading to a club room brings the advantage of a stylish lounge with skyline views, non-stop food and beverages, and a complementary boardroom for meetings.

On my visit a security man gave me a quick scan before I could enter the lounge but this not normal of course. This is a homebase for single travellers albeit with constant attention from the very able staff, which includes a dedicated concierge to arrange tickets and restaurant bookings.

The hotel boasts a 250 sq m ballroom and four other meeting spaces for five to 180 guests, while the beautiful Kupola lounge under an magnificent art-deco skylight and chandelier is a fine place for more casual meetings.

For the best experience take the 116 sq m Ritz-Carlton Suite with floor-to-ceiling views to the Buda Castle and the famous parliament building modelled on London's Westminster, and a wrap-around terrace. In prime season from May to September this will cost around $5,500 a night.

There is also a 24-hour fitness centre with three treadmills and multigym, and a stunning 15 metre indoor swimming pool with natural daylight through a glass roof and jacuzzi.

This is part of the Ritz-Carlton spa located on the eighth floor with sauna, steam bath and several treatment rooms, ideal for rest and relaxation at the end of a long business day.

However, you are advised to book early as a friend of mine - who ended up staying elsewhere - discovered recently. In peak season this hotel is at near 100 per cent occupancy as it only has one true luxury competitor in town, the Four Seasons Gresham Palace.

A W hotel opposite the Opera House has been announced as opening next year but with work yet to start that schedule might prove challenging.

Anyway it will probably not be enough to keep up with burgeoning demand for high-end accommodation in Budapest, increasingly a safe haven favourite with global travellers and foreign investors, and a rare GDP hotspot in the European Union.

The Ritz-Carlton Budapest is popular with Americans as it comes under the Marriott umbrella and also well liked by guests from the UAE, which is not so surprising given its ownership and the direct Emirates flight to Dubai from Budapest.

Budapest airport is about half-an-hour by taxi or limousine from the Ritz-Carlton.