x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

InterContinental, Bucharest

Hotel insider The only place to stay in town, mainly because the hotel itself is a tourist attraction, but also for its proximity to all the major sights.

The InterContinental in Bucharest, Romania, is part of a worldwide top-end chain.
The InterContinental in Bucharest, Romania, is part of a worldwide top-end chain.

Black Mercedes at the airport and a suited driver to carry my bags and whizz me through the warm summer night, through Bucharest's suburbs and down the wide boulevards to the city's very own Arc de Triomphe (Arcul de Triumf). Swift check-in, lots of smiles and in bed less than an hour after de-planing. That's faster than Singapore.

Hard to look down from your balcony and not remember the crackle of AK47 fire and the dreadful metallic whine of Communist tanks and the cries of the revolutionaries. The hotel overlooks Piata Universitatii (University Square), which was the centre of the action in the December 1989 revolution that finally overthrew Romania's dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. If you watched TV footage of the events, you may recognise the view because this was the hotel in which the media camped out, relaying the scene to the world from these balconies.

A friend told me Romanians can be hard and frosty, but thankfully none of them work at the InterContinental. The girls in the Club Lounge were especially delightful and introduced me to the hotel's ad hoc minigolf area on the roof of the porte cochere: an outdoor green carpet dotted with nine bricks. Not exactly Gleneagles, but fun nonetheless.

Suite actually; I got an upgrade due to a burst water pipe flooding most of my floor and necessitating a rather hasty repack. It was huge and decorated in slightly old fashioned decor, with a red and flamboyantly patterned carpet. I sat in the living room on a sofa whose cushions wrapped around me and were unwilling to let me go. Then I dragged an equally flamboyantly patterned chair onto the balcony and drank in the summer evening as the swifts wheeled and the sun seeped across the terracotta rooftops.

Where to change money, and to his credit he said, "Don't do it here in the hotel, the rate is no good." He drew me a very detailed sketch map to no fewer than three foreign exchange places, "some better than others", he winked. He also called his friend who works at the famous and frequently packed Caru cu Bere restaurant and managed to book a table for me and two friends.

The Americans are back in former Soviet Romania. A gaggle of them arrived as I was checking out - a sea of checked trousers and Pringle flat caps making me think their last stop on this European tour must have been a tartan shop in the Highlands of Scotland. It means Romania is back on the global tourism radar, which is significant because it needs the cash. About 35 years ago the scene was very different: the place was full of spies having clandestine meetings and passing microfilms to each other in rolled-up newspapers. Very James Bond.

Playing minigolf in the evenings and listening to the strains of an alfresco jazz band waft across University Square, and being thankful nobody was firing AK47s or driving tanks about. Also loved the hotel's Communist decor in the lobby - bold colours and striking motifs.

Honestly? Nothing. A terrific hotel in a thrilling city, both emerging from a dark and stormy past into the light of what should be a healthy and prosperous future as eastern Europe's new "it" city.

The only place to stay in Bucharest, mainly because the hotel itself is a tourist attraction (due to the symbolic role the hotel played during Communism and its demise) but also because it is in the dead centre of town. Most of the sights are walkable from here.
InterContinental, 4 Nicolae Balcescu Blvd, Bucharest 010051, Romania, +40 21 310 2020. Doubles from Dh1,020 per night. @email:www.intercontinental.com