The Buda on the Hill.. the Budapest Hilton
As far as I’m concerned, the only hotel in Budapest is the Hilton. I felt this way over twenty years ago on one of my first ever cycle tours, and I decide it all over again as I return to the city, two decades later with three children in tow.
Twenty years ago there was no question of us staying in the five star Hilton Hotel. We were on a tight budget and passing through the city as quickly as possible on our journey from Prague to Kosice. Back then it was all about the cycling, and how many kilometres we could do in the shortest time. To save money and kilometres we took a room out of town and caught a bus in to see the Danube by night. But as dusk arrived on the Chain Bridge that connects the former cities of Buda and Pest, a traveller arrived with a message for us. “If you want to do one thing in Budapest, then go and have a drink in the Hilton Hotel wine cellar. It’s something you will always remember.”
We visited the fairy tale hilltop before
We followed his instructions, crossed the fairy-lit bridge with its lion guardians, walked up the hill to Castle District, and in atmospheric caverns sipped on a range of special Hungarian wines. At the time we congratulated ourselves that we weren’t having pizza down-town with the masses. And the stranger was right; the elixir of the Tokaji is the only thing I remember from that first cycling trip. Whether he was a messenger from the heavens or from the Hilton we’ll never know. But we strolled back down the hill, unencumbered by bicycles, knowing we had experienced quite a special night out.
This time it’s different
Over twenty years later we have a little more baggage. This includes three children, two tandems, a child’s bike and a trailer. And we are sure there’s no chance of ditching them all and running off to a wine cellar. But this time around we are staying at the Hilton. We’ve been looking forward to this treat for weeks, and we are sure the thousand kilometres of cycling will be worth it for the moment our heads touch those soft pillows.
But it’s not the pillows that grab our attention when we enter one of our connecting rooms; it is the picture window that makes us stop in our tracks. We gather around it, and gaze out onto the whole of Budapest. The river stretches across the canvas, with the iconic parliament building right in the centre. There can be few hotels in the world that have a view like this.
A Hilton hotel in a world heritage site
The Hilton is high on the hill in the Castle District part of Buda. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was once a Medieval monastery. From the hotel bar, you can still see what’s left of the arches of the cloisters, an intimate space where weddings are held, and a historic attraction in itself. The Castle District is like a city within a city. Built on limestone hills, with caves running underneath, its high walls, pedestrian streets, exclusive shops and terraced bars take you far away from the rush hour traffic, the city smog and from real life in general.
Stuart fancies a concert in another part of the city, but the boys and I want to stay here. So he takes Hannah off, while we go for a wander around the old part of Buda. In the evening sunlight Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion are a beacon for tourists. Unfortunately they in turn are a beacon for violinists in search of florints and euro’s. While people pay to have their drinks enhanced (or spoiled?) in the restaurants, and climb the fairytale towers for a view of the city, we buy a picnic and return to our room which has a comparable view.
We sit on the window ledge to eat and play ‘spot the attraction.’ I crack open a bottle of wine, pour myself a glass and smile. Twenty years ago I had a romantic evening with the man of my dreams and a bottle of wine in the Hilton Hotel. Ironically tonight I actually have a room in the hotel , but find myself drinking supermarket wine while I babysit my own kids and he goes out for the night.
Buda is the star of the show
But I am convinced we are watching a better show high on the hill in Buda than Stuart is in down-town Pest. And the programme is always changing. By 10pm it is dark outside and the city is lit by Tinkerbell’s wand. From the palaces to the churches and the bridges, Budapest is a city that knows how to light itself up.
I wake up at dawn. Stuart has long since returned, and I can’t figure out why I’ve woken so early. But then I catch the view once more. Sunrise is burning a deep pink layer of mist into the skyline, with layers of blue and grey lining it like fine tissue, while the river winds a silver course through it all. I take my place back on the window ledge. The whole of this great city is mine. There is no one else in the world. Thanks Hilton.
Disclosure note: Thanks to the Hilton Budapest who provided accommodation to allow us to bring you this story.