This weathered Art Nouveau masterpiece could be the most prestigious hotel in Budapest, but lack of financing keeps it looking a bit like a Hungarian Angkor Wat minus the vines. Unlike Budapest's top hotels such as the Kempinski or new Le Meridian, however, the Gellert still hovers in the affordable range, although steady price increases with no comparable quality upgrades make this less true every year.

Still, there are reasons to make this your home in Budapest. The first is the thrill of driving or walking up to this still-impressive hotel with its dramatic location on the Danube at the mouth of the Szabadsag ("Liberty") Bridge and just under jagged Gellert Hill. The second is the hotel's expansive and lavishly decorated turn-of-the-last-century baths, which are also free to hotel guests. Inside, the bubble pool sparkles under a captivating two-story, yellowed glass atrium supported by rows of columns and lined with galleries. Seraphim fountains gush thick pool water from walls of glazed blue tiles. In two separate halls on either side of the main bath are the thermal pools for men and women, complete with sauna, steam bath and massage facilities.

Outside, the grounds are lined with long pools and sculptured gardens for lounging in the summer sun. The overall effect is quite captivating; the air of opulent decay serves only to enhance the splendor of the experience. The Gellert's baths alone are enough reason to visit Budapest. (When the border guard asked us why we were going to Hungary, we simply told him we were going to the Gellert, an answer he found more than satisfactory.) That said, there are certain flaws anyone contemplating booking a room here should be aware of. The first concerns the rooms. All but about 30 haven't seen major refurbishment since the 1950s, when the hotel was rebuilt from war damage. Since then, only the fabrics and carpets have been changed—though not that recently—and some of the 50s-era furnishings are beginning to make the transition from dated to collectible, thus adding to the hotel's charm. Still, at these rates, the rooms are a disappointment as they are neither Art Nouveau nor Art Modern. The 30-odd premium rooms are attractively decorated in a traditional style with quality materials worthy of the hotel, though at a higher price, of course.

The Gellert's second flaw is breakfast. It seems to be a throwback to the communist days. There are lines for everything, and where there is no line, it's because the item is gone. On our last visit, the staff and kitchen couldn't seem to cope with the crowds and most guests stood in long lines, hoping what they wanted wouldn't be gone before they got to the buffet. The other option was to try to assemble a decent breakfast from remainders nobody else seemed interested in. A very Darwinian experience at the beginning the day.

However, the baths certainly provide enough of a counterbalance, at least for a short stay. And while they are open to the public, you need to be a hotel guest to enjoy the full effect. You will find a thick bath robe hanging in your room (but not any slippers, so bring your own). Then, robed and with a towel thrown jauntily over your shoulder, you will pad your way down the hall to the antique wrought-iron elevator at the end of the hallway. There, you will ring for the elevator attendant, a slightly grumpy woman in a white apron, who will transport you down to a small private room next to the main entrance of the baths. After you have finished with the baths, she will carry you back, robed and refreshed, with all the tensions of the day—and of breakfast—erased and forgotten.

Street Address: Szent Gellert ter 1
City: Budapest
Country: Hungary
Phone: 011 36 1 20 460 2134
Fax: 011 36 1 236 50 11
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Quality: Rating: 2 stars
Value: Rating: 2 stars
Price Level: $$$$
Type: Hotel