Once Christmas is over and the spring still feels like a distant dream, head to Budapest for a bit of luxury to banish those winter blues away.
Travelling in January and February, you can treat yourself to a 5* hotel at a similar cost to a 3* hotel at other times of the year. We stayed at the 5* Sofitel Chain Bridge Hotel and what an experience it was. As the name suggests, it is located just a short walk from the magnificent Chain Bridge with some rooms overlooking the Danube river. From the hotel, you can walk to many of the main sights in Pest and also head over the bridge to enjoy Buda.
As you step in to the hotel, there is a replica aeroplane suspended from the ceiling of the atrium. The lobby has a colourful and flamboyant style of 19th century Hungary. The hotel breakfast was one of the best I have had with everything you could think of. A great way to start the day once we had decided on what to have. After a long day exploring this fascinating city, the hotel spa with its swimming pool and sauna was just what was required to rejuvenate us, ready for a night out at one of the city’s excellent restaurants. At night, the views over to Buda Castle from the hotel bar are spectacular, especially with a delicious cocktail in hand.
Travelling at this time of year may not seem as ideal as a spring or summer break, but enjoying a hot chocolate in the café within the walls of Fisherman’s Bastion on a cold, crisp, sunny day was perfect. It is also a lovely time of year to enjoy one of the thermal baths Budapest has to offer. Szechenyi Baths is open in winter months. With both indoor and outdoor pools, the naturally hot spring waters provide relaxation for bathers with a thick steam over the baths.
The traditional Hungarian cuisine is also ideal for cold winter days. Hearty goulash made with potatoes and meat, dumplings and fruit strudels will be sure to warm you up. In recent years, the dining scene has transformed to offer creative gourmet dishes whilst retaining traditional flavours. The standard and range of cuisines has also increased so there is something for all tastes.
With plenty of museums and art galleries, it’s easy to escape the cold if it gets too much. We visited the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum (Sziklakórház Atombunker Múzeum) which is part of an approximately 6-mile stretch of interconnected caves and cellars. With fun and informative guides, it was a great insight to the former secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker used in World War II and then later on for potential attacks during the Cold War. The Great Market Hall is another great place to stop. The beautiful Neogothic building has a distinctive roof with colourful Zsolnay tiles. It is as famous for its buzzing vibe as for its choice of produce with meats, cheeses, pastries, paprika and handicrafts. Lunch at one of the cheap food stalls upstairs is a fun experience.
A beautiful city with so much to see and after experiencing it at winter time, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a winter break especially with some luxury and pampering we all need at this time of year.