Budapest trip report

When I got an Air France voucher to use in compensation for delayed luggage at Amsterdam airport, I did not have to think long before deciding to use it against a week-end in Budapest. I already been twice, in 2011 and 2012, and fallen under the charm of its long avenues and magnificent buildings.

IMG_0612We were delighted to arrive in a sunny Budapest on a Friday, and quickly checked in at the Sofitel chain bridge. Sadly the room was not as big as the one I enjoyed during my last visit but it was good to get a special welcome from Accor (I am a silver member of their loyalty programme). We were soon outside again to cross the chain bridge (one of the only two surviving bridges designed by William Tierney Clark, with the other one being in the opulent Thames Valley town of Marlow, which we visited this summer) and climb the hill towards the Habsburg castle. On previous visits I had used the expensive funicular but actually the walk up is fairly short and you will enjoy the view even more.

After enjoying the last warm rays of sun, we were on our way down again to experience the hotel spa and swimming pool. If the facilities are not too busy, you will get to enjoy a decent size swimming pool and a sauna for free. The spa treatments offered are also well-priced on the whole, with a selected few being on offer (the offer changing every month). A pedicure was sampled during this stay, which was carried out diligently and to a high standard.

After a glass of delicious Hungarian wine at the bar (and free as part of our special welcome), we decided to have dinner at the restaurant (you can also enjoy some bar snacks). We sat down to a long feast of pleasant flavours and friendly service: only the appetiser, tomato and tasteless mozzarella, was disappointing. After the goulash, with the right flavours to balance the richness, and some tasty foie gras, we enjoyed a delicious sorbet made the local staple, palinka. It proved highly refreshing and a nice pit stop before embarking on our final course – the Dobos torta, which with its sponge cake and chocolate layers, is not dissimilar to an Opéra cake, and which rounded off our evening of Hungarian culinary delights beautifully thanks to its elegance and simplicity.

The following day, we enjoyed a comprehensive breakfast. The service, the atmosphere and the quality of some offerings (orange juice) could do with a little improving, but I would nevertheless be grateful to get the same standard on most of my travels.

Once again we were up the hill to visit the Budapest History Museum, with a permanent exhibition about the history of the city. We definitely recommend it. After a short stop at the hotel to drop off the jackets, which proved unnecessary under the warm sun, we headed off to lunch at Fausto’s Osteria, near the synagogue. Catering to the local wealthy and tourists, it offers tasty Italian cuisine (the portions are very big). After visiting a nice Capa exhibition at the Hungarian National Museum – which also has some interesting historical exhibits, with little commentary in English though, it was time to go back to the hotel and catch the last rays of sun on the terrace with a delicious and refreshing cocktail.

IMG_0619That night we visited an authentic Hungarian restaurant, Kisbuda Gyöngye.  Over live piano, it was the chance to enjoy some proper Hungarian food and chat with the friendly owner about the difficult economic situation in Hungary, as there were only another couple of diners in the restaurant that night. Coming from France, where the recession has been greatly cushioned by generous safety nets, it was striking to see the dignity of many Hungarian people and their warm welcome.

Sunday was also spent under a warm sun and we started near the massive Parliament building with a walk and a delicious lunch at Biarritz. It was then time to enjoy some more scenic Budapest views (Szabadság tér, Andrássy út, Hósök tere) before catching the flight back home.

The architecture, the scenic views and the succulent food would give us great pleasure to return.

Advertisements

Hotel Principi dI Piemonte, Turin

The location

After a pleasant journey on a tiny plane towards the small Turin aiport, my suitcase showed up almost immediately on the carousel and I embarked on the usual scary taxi ride towards the city centre.

I was a bit disappointed with the drive through decrepit, slightly dangerous looking suburbs as I did not get to see much of the city centre. I was however to later fall under the dignified spell of Turin, with its large squares, its arcades and its delicious restaurants with the Alps in the background.

The room

IMG_0563I was very lucky to be upgraded to a suite. While the traditional Italian design may not have been my cup of tea, I liked the large shower, the very comfortable bed and the silence. I however found the wifi to be too expensive and I would have liked a bottle of water in the room.

The breakfast

I am yet to find an Italian hotel were breakfast is up to international standards. This one is no exception: they even bring you filter coffee if you are not careful!IMG_0564

The price

For three nights, the bill came to a non-negligible 540 euros. While I will certainly contemplate coming back to Turin for holidays, I will consider other accommodation options in future.

Innside by Melia, Derendorf, Düsseldorf

The location

This hotel is located in a quiet bit of Düsseldorf which is home to a seductive mix of businesses (mainly clothing companies) and residences (sumptuous block of flats opposite the hotel). Despite being only a short tram ride away from the centre, the hotel can seem to be a little far away from the action, which it compensates for by being good value for money.

Arriving on a Sunday night is not ideal if you would like some food. The receptionist could also have been more welcoming.

DUSThe room

It was spacious, dark and silent at night. I enjoyed the very comfortable bed (shame about the one-person duvet though). While I also enjoyed the rainforest shower and the free bottled water, I was less enthusiastic about the transparent bathroom and the wifi (not free).

The breakfast

A disappointment for a hotel of this standard: the Radisson Blu in the harbour at the other end of town does a much better job. While the cooked options are of poor quality, the orange juice and the coffee are good.

The price

258 euros for 2 nights: good value for money, but I will continue to explore the large supply of Düsseldorf hotels.

Novotel Bourges

The location

As with a lot of Novotels, this hotel is located in a soulless industrial estate, in the periphery of a city. Even if you experience none of the charm of the medieval city centre of Bourges, you will however enjoy a convenient stopover right in the middle of France, for the hotel is located very close to the A71 motorway.

The room

We checked in a superior room, and we liked the supremely comfortable bed as well as the relaxing sense of space. We were also most impressed by the quietness of the room, seeing as the hotel is located very close to the motorway and as our room was directly giving onto the swimming pool. We also liked the free wifi, but not so much the dated bathroom.

The breakfast

A surprising mix of expensive, quality offerings (Kusmi tea, fresh orange juice) and disappointing options (dreadful looking sausages).

The price

90 euros for the room, which is reasonable. €15 each for breakfast, which is farcical. I would however recommend this hotel as an easy, comfortable stop during a long car journey, even if I may be looking for other options in future. Also be aware that the hotel is very popular with families, with kids under 16 going free.

Blue Bell Hotel, Neath

The location

We arrived on a very hot July afternoon in the little town of Neath, which seemed quite empty on a Sunday. We were lucky enough to get a space at the hotel’s underground car park, for it would be a real challenge to squeeze more than two cars in there. Luckily for us, the hotel was quite empty, perhaps due to its odd location. I would however recommend trying to get into the car park (more of which later).

The room

We were quite suprised by the quality feel of our spacious room, which was all nicely set up with a sitting area and a desk, as well as a large bathroom. Wifi is also available for free. All pointed towards a comfortable night, were it not for the fact that the window had been left open (due to a complex system I only noticed the next morning), despite the room being air-conditioned, which allowed us to ‘enjoy’ the active Neath nightlife fully. We had felt when we arrived in town that it was quite impoverished. This feeling was even reinforced at night thanks to the arguments of some of the local population. With the central government in London bent on cutting even deeper into public services, you wonder what communities like this one are going to become.

The evening meal

We dined in the large brasserie downstairs, “La Mancha”. The food was not exceptional, but decent enough and provided in large quantities. The espresso was also good.

The breakfast

An excellent cooked breakfast is on offer. On top of the bacon, eggs, mushrooms, black pudding and other delicacies, I had cockles and loved them. Do not attend if you are into continental breakfasts though.

The price

Accommodation for one night, a meal for two and two breakfasts came to a total of £120 (€143). This is exceptional value for money, so despite the hotel’s slightly odd location, I would heartily recommend it, for it can be a nice starting point to enjoy Wales’ natural beauty.

Lincoln House, Cardiff

The location

We enjoyed a couple of very nice days in Cardiff, which gave us time to enjoy the city’s shops (although the lack of independent retailers is always something we bemoan about the UK high street), the bay and the beautiful collections of the National Museum. We were also to enjoy Welsh hospitality at the Lincoln House, which was reasonably easy to find and offered parking at the back.

The hotel is located in a leafy residential area of Cardiff, but eateries also abound. Coming from France, we always welcome these tasty, innovative and inexpensive dinner options.

The room

After a friendly welcome, we were led upstairs (no lift) to a spacious but slightly dated room, which was also far too hot on that day, although this level of heat is really exceptional for Cardiff. There was also a problem with water evacuation in the shower. Nevertheless, the room was clean, the bed comfortable and wifi available.

The breakfast

Definitely the highlight of the stay as far as I am concerned, as it is cooked to order. Make sure you try the laverbread.

The price

£180 (€210) for two nights and four breakfasts. This is quite good value for money if you are looking for a quintessentially British experience away from the international chains, which also offer reasonable options in Cardiff.

Sir Albert, Amsterdam

The location

Although further away from the train station than the hotel I chose for my previous stay in Amsterdam, the Sir Albert is in a fairly nice bit of town, close to the world-famous Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum. What is not so convenient is the flight of stairs to enter the hotel and the sit-down reception: by the point I make it to a hotel, often after a stressful flight next to noisy children or a smelly fellow traveller and a dangerous taxi ride, I usually want to check-in quickly. I can see however that Sir Albert is trying quite hard to make a good first impression (you are offered a drink on arrival).

The room

My room was located below street level and was therefore lacking in luminosity. I also did not really like the fact that were was no bathroom asImage such (just a very large and luxurious walk-in shower and a sink in the room). There was also this terrifying feature for the seasoned traveler: the nightlight. I managed to occlude it with a bag, but there stayed one on the magnifying glass next to the sink. Good job I am not too fussy about this (I know some colleagues who are). Also be careful to choose the free wifi option. I got charged 30 euros for using the paying option, surely because of a misunderstanding on my part. The hotel was however gracious enough to remove the amount from my bill. On the other hand I liked the supremely comfortable bed very much, the quietness of the room and some nice touches such as a PG Wodehouse book on the shelves (there is quite a British theme here, more of which in a moment). There is also an Illy expresso machine that makes brilliant coffee.

Room service

There is a 24-hour room service and you can also order burgers at meal time. They are provided by a nearby eatery, the like of which abounds in Amsterdam. I did not try the burgers, but if the fish and chips I sampled are anything to go by, I can heartily recommend them. There is also a rather expensive Japanese option (the hotel houses a Japanase restaurant, which gets really busy).

The breakfast

My only disappointment with it was the price (25 euros), but for that you get cooked options and a buffet breakfast. I went for the English breakfast, which was fairly acceptable, and also sampled excellent bread, cereal and orange juice.

The price

Including breakfast and a meal, it came to a total of 219 euros. Will return.