Four Seasons in the city and an e-bike - how to spend a lavish, but exciting weekend in Budapest
'If you're going to do it in a short space of time, you might as well do it in style', I said to myself as we drove down to Heathrow the night before our early Saturday morning flight to Budapest.
By Sunday evening, we'd be on a cruise ship sailing down the Danube River, but we simply couldn't miss the opportunity of spending a large chunk of the weekend sampling the delights of one of Europe's most beautiful cities.
The sightseeing would wait for another day, but first it was time to relax, let our hair down and be pampered in the luxury surroundings of our five-star accommodation for the night - the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. And with such a short time-frame, why not spoil ourselves?
Located in the heart of the city overlooking the Danube, the Gresham Palace is an 'art nouveau' architectural masterpiece embodying the spirit of Budapest's ‘Golden Age’ glamour.
From the moment you pass through the hotel's iconic wrought-iron peacock gates and step into the huge lobby adorned with over two million mosaic tiles and striking chandelier, you immediately realise you are somewhere special.
We were booked into one of the fifth floor Danube River-View rooms looking down on Budapest's landmark Szechenyi Chain Bridge, but we were spoilt for choice of panoramic camera shots thanks to great views of other famous sights including the Buda Hills, Royal Castle and historic Fisherman's Bastion.
Entering from the plush-carpeted corridors through a large wooden door, the room itself was opulent to say the least, with an art-deco interior, king-size bed and large marble bathroom, plus all the amenities you'd expect to find in a five-star hotel room including satellite TV, in-room safe, private bar and Nespresso coffee machine.
With stomachs rumbling, nipping out for an early 'goulash' lunch seemed sensible considering we had an evening dinner reservation in Muzsa, the hotel's latest dining offering, with the aim to be as hungry as possible for the occasion.
A couple of hours winding down in the hotel spa would help build up the appetite and being so relaxed it was difficult not to fall asleep, with only the odd dip in the infinity-edge swimming pool keeping the 'zzz's' at bay.
Suited and booted for dinner, it was time to immerse ourselves in the elegant, yet playful atmosphere of Muzsa and an evening of 'Live Musings', where we would enjoy a cabaret-style experience of live music, inspired artisan cocktails and a blend of Asian and Hungarian delicacies.
During a few lost hours our taste buds were taken on a culinary journey, sampling a selection of delightful small plates from Beef Tartare Cone with soy and truffle to Seabass Sashim with yuzu-say, tobiko and radish, as well as Peking Duck Dumpling with spring onion, cucumber and hoisin. Sumptuous desserts were Citrus Variation with coconut and sesame, Black Sesame Panna Cotta with sudachi and Matcha Creme Brulee with mango. Delicious!
Cocktail picks included the luscious and thirst-quenching 'Pure Destiny', and 'Shine Through Clouds', which was crisp and refreshing with hints of lemongrass and grapefruit.
There was also some five-star theatre thanks to my wife's 'Secret of the Dome' order, which could only be consumed after the popping of a giant sphere which was created in front of us, taking me back to the days of school science classes.
After sleeping like royalty, an early hot buffet breakfast and copious amounts of coffee fuelled the tank for the sightseeing leg of our trip, a two-hour e-scooter 'Grand City' excursion with Luna Tours.
With experience of a few European city tours by bicycle, Segway and on foot, hopping on an e-scooter would be a first, but one we were excited by.
Although fairly heavy, the e-scooters are perfectly safe and their low centre of gravity makes falling off difficult. But with safety in mind and to avoid any unwanted accidents we took up the option of wearing a helmet and listened carefully to the 10-minute pre-tour briefing.
Setting off on our urban adventure, our tour guide led the way through the streets of Budapest, which didn't seem overly busy for a capital city centre, and gaining in confidence it was only the sharper corners and clutches of pedestrians that provided the 'manoeuvre' challenges.
A tour like this is a great way of seeing the city's main highlights in a short space of time, with the e-scooters able to reach landmarks quickly using minimum effort, which is handy when it comes to negotiating the more hilly terrain.
During the two hours we discovered both sides of the city - Buda and Pest (split by the river) - taking in the vibrant downtown areas and historic Castle Hill, visiting the must-see attractions of Saint Stephen's Basilica, the Hungarian Parliament, Fisherman's Bastion and Mattias Church.
It was a lot of fun and at just over £40 per person, was very reasonably priced, so if you're looking for an exciting riding experience with some memorable photos and local history thrown in, Luna Tours have it covered.
Helmet off, it was time to head back to the Four Seasons to collect our luggage before the next part of our trip, but as I glanced back at the stunning hotel building one last time I knew, as far as short weekends go, this had to go down as one of the best.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL GRESHAM PALACE – A two-night stay in Danube River View Room is priced at around £570 (September 2022), but for the latest rates visit the hotel website.
LUNA TOURS – The ‘Grand City' tour costs around £41 per person, minimum age 16, departs five times a day in high season and three times a day in off season; maximum 10 people, visit the Luna Tours website for more information.
PARKING, HOTEL STAY AND LOUNGE AT HEATHROW – With our flight leaving early in the morning we made life easier for ourselves with a night's stay at Terminal 5's Hotel Sofitel, arranged by Holiday Extras. Booking an airport hotel with parking means you can enjoy more holiday with less hassle, plus with Flextras, if you need to cancel or amend you can without charge. One night’s accommodation at the Sofitel Heathrow with nine nights’ Blue Circle Meet & Greet Parking is available from £397.80. Entry to the No1 Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 is available from £23.40 per person. To book, visit the Holiday Extras website or call 0800 316 5678 (price based on arrival in September 2022).